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Language for correspondence
Thread poster: Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith
Local time: 13:45
German to English
+ ...
May 10, 2006

Hi,

I was wondering about what the generally accepted rules are for what language to use when corresponding with clients. Generally, I have responded in English no matter what language the customer originally writes to me in, but I'm wondering if this might be considered a bad practice.
I generally write in English because I compose my thoughts better that way and I want the correspondence to be elegant and professional. A response with mistakes or with text which simply "sounds weird" is perhaps not as professional as I would like to be. I am not as good at writing in German as I am in English and I want to ensure there are no misunderstandings. I generally assume that the other party can read English (what with working in translation and all) even if they write to me in German.
My responding in English to German emails is not an attempt to change the language of the conversation. However, a response in English always seems to make it such that all correspondence from there on out takes place in English. They are more than welcome to respond in German, of course, and in some cases I would understand them better if they did, depending on how good their English is.
My basic question here is whether, in your professional opinions, I should start responding to German language emails with emails also in German (risking grammatical errors and text that reads strangely) or if it is acceptable to respond in English, which I have yet to have any client not understand, however my client list is still rather small.
Thanks for your thoughts.

Bryan Smith


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German Services
Local time: 14:45
English to German
+ ...
Ask May 10, 2006

I usually ask politely if English is okay when I want to use it. It's really just a matter of asking and "getting it out of the way"

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RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 21:45
German to English
The Willi Brandt principle May 10, 2006

Bryan Smith wrote: I was wondering about what the generally accepted rules are for what language to use when corresponding with clients.


I'm not 100% exactly how he phrased it, and there are loads of slightly different versions flying around cyberspace, but Willi Brandt certainly said something along the lines of "If I'm selling to you, I'll speak English, but if you're selling to me, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen".

My basic question here is whether, in your professional opinions, I should start responding to German language emails with emails also in German (risking grammatical errors and text that reads strangely


Most definitely, so much so I'm almost tempted to say that it's a no-brainer. If the contact person at your customer is an English speaker, then by all means write in English. But if they're German, or German is otherwise their main non-English language, then it's not only seriously impolite, but also very bad business practice to continue writing in English.

Must say I'm a bit astonished to read such a question from a translator, seeing as how we're supposed to be the experts in multilingual, intercultural communication. If you're worried about the grammar, have a copy of Hammer's Grammar on your desk, and don't worry if you make the odd mistake. That won't bother your German readers in the slightest, and they will be much more appreciative of your efforts than if you write English.

For translators, I think that corresponding in your foreign language(s) just goes with the territory.


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Andrea Lorca  Identity Verified
Chile
Local time: 15:45
Member (2004)
English to Spanish
+ ...
respect language used by client May 10, 2006

Hi Bryan
I usually try to answer clients in the language they use to write me. Of course it's not always easy, writing in german doesn't come so natural to me either but I keep basic correspondence phrases and adapt them to the situation so I don't have to think so everytime I had to answer a client in german.


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 21:45
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
You'll soon get used to writing simple e-mails in German May 10, 2006

Yes, it's hard to start with, but not for long. You soon get used to it with a bit of practice - and they are usually only short, simple e-mails after all - nothing fancy. With a bit of practice, you will soon be rattling them off.

Astrid


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Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 21:45
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
The Willi Brandt principle May 10, 2006

I totally agree with RobinB that corresponding in a foreign language goes with the territory and I totally agree with all others that it's not always easy. My biggest clients are German companies. Composing sophisticated e-mails in German still is a challenge for me but I make the effort anyway.

Of course all our German clients understand English. Sometimes I'm so tired, and deadlines are so close, that I revert to English. My dearest German client always responds to those English e-mails in Dutch. I love that but I feel ashamed anyway.

Using standard correspondence phrases is always useful but it only gets you halfway. Normally, translators should be able to correspond in their source languages but checking sentences can be a burden. It's so easy to look like a complete fool when you write in German.

Probably sounding stupid in English too,
Gerard


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