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Because my organization mainly works with Americans, its website is 100% in English although the members 100% use a Vietnamese. Before we decide to close the comment section in the website, a person in Vietnam1 commented in English and we decided to email him back. I don't mind answering in English, but as a non-native speaker, one will be more comfortable to read in his/her mother language. I think I can build a better relationship by using Vietnamese with a Vietnamese person.

Should I reply to him in Vietnamese?


If I need to ask the customer what does he prefer, what should I ask? Just "I wonder if you want to communicate in English or in Vietnamese?"? Should that sentence be in English or not? And should we include the answer for his question in that email too?

1 His name is apparently a Vietnamese name, and his address is in the country, and I can guarantee that he is a native speaker.

  • 4
    You are overthinking this. The customer does not care in what language you ask him. The fact that you ask is what counts. – Jan Doggen Dec 22 '14 at 9:29
  • Our official company policy is that since our business is in the states, all official emails (contractual) are to be written in English. So our inner office emails are all English. However with our end-point customers, what ever language in, tends to be the language out. (Assuming we service that language) – Mallow Apr 22 '15 at 7:02
  • Why wouldn't you respond in the language the question was asked? Someone may have commented from within your country, but that doesn't mean anything except the person is physically there; it could be an American or someone else that doesn't speak your language. – Andy Apr 22 '15 at 13:41
  • @Andy because his name is apparently a name in my language, and his address is in the country. – Ooker Apr 22 '15 at 13:58
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    "as a non-native speaker, one will be more comfortable to read in his/her mother language." Not necessarily. I prefer reading and writing about programming topics in English. – CodesInChaos Apr 23 '15 at 13:26
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First of all, you cannot be 100% sure the members 100% use a non-English mother language. You always have the 0.00...01% chance that there is some member who understand only English.

Secondly, you always want to do your best to honor the customers' requests if you can.

Having said that, my answer to your question is: use English for the first e-mail reply to the customer. In that reply, you can say "I wonder if you want to communicate in English or in [mother language]?" in English.

If the customer's reply says, "Yes, I would like to use [mother language].", then you can start to use that [mother language]. Otherwise, continue to use English.

Lastly, let me give you my personal experience. I use both English and Chinese. But, there is no Chinese input software on my main computer because I did not install it. Inputting Chinese on that computer will be a pain for me. So, if I were one of your customers and you send me email using Chinese assuming I use Chinese, I probably will walk away and become your non-customer.

The main spirit of my answer is: don't assume anything until you get confirmation from your customer.

  • Thank you so much. But aren't all not-so-old machine can display almost all languages if you use standard fonts like Arial, Times New Roman? These fonts are using ubiquitously in email. – Ooker Dec 22 '14 at 7:55
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    @Ooker Display is never a problem. I was talking about inputting Chinese. – scaaahu Dec 22 '14 at 8:06
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    @Ooker The main spirit of my answer is: don't assume anything until you get confirmation from your customer. – scaaahu Dec 22 '14 at 8:13
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    There is also the chance that you will have to bring in an outside third party that only knows english or at least does not understand your mother language. Then you may need to translate the previous replys rather than just including the new person in and letting them read the context themselves. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Dec 22 '14 at 18:50
  • @ReallyTiredOfThisGame: Having been in the position of being that third party (level-3 technical support), I have to agree with that. Outside of English and trivial Spanish, I'm almost completely dependent upon the customer and/or the customer representative to translate for me. I can start responding much more quickly if I can real all the conversation up to that point immediately rather than having to wait for it to be rewritten... and it avoids the risk of important facts being overlooked during translation. Use what's best for the customer, but if they can meet us halfway that's better. – keshlam Dec 23 '14 at 1:56
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An important thing to know is why he is commenting in English. Is it because his superiors or client in another office only speak English?

I worked from Spain on an offer/study for oil project in Latin America. The end user, a large multinational based in France, hired a Latin American company to filter the offers from ourselves and our competitors. Most of the documentation was in Spanish, but there was set of comments done on the highest level technical documents (regarding the process design) which were done by the Latin American intermediary in English.

We justified the way we had done things (In English, as was required!) but to save face (not appear stupid), the Latin American intermediary edited our responses to some of their dumber comments before sending them to the French end user. As a result the end user complained that the responses did not make sense, which made everyone look bad.

This is a somewhat unfortunate example, but it illustrates the politics of the situation. If there is someone who does not speak the local language behind the scenes, you have to decide whether it is best to reply in English to impress them (bearing in mind your replies may be filtered) or reply in the local language to build a relationship with your immediate contact. As others have said, ask what the situation is!

Also, do not assume based on a name. Occasionally I write a brief internal email in Spanish based on a name, and then have to apologize when I find out the recipient is Filipino (there are quite a lot of Filipinos working in my industry in Spain, and despite their Spanish surnames, most prefer to speak English.) For external communication or longer emails I find out the preferred language first.

  • Can't the Filipino speak Spanish? Their parent seems to be Spanish. And I don't get why the Latin American company filtered your comment (in English, right?). In my situation, I guaranteed 100% that the customer could speak our language. As you say I like to speak in our language not because of fluency issue but rather to build relationship. – Ooker Apr 24 '15 at 14:50
  • @Ooker The Latin American intermediary made some dumb comments, and rather than just forwarding our polite justifications for doing things the way we did to the French end user, they wanted to save face (not appear stupid) so they edited our comments before sending them to the end user. As a result things got very confused and everyone looked bad. Filipinos speak their own language as first language and English/Spanish as second languages, with the younger generation preferring Engish Talented people can get a job in my industry in Spain or anywhere without knowing local language, only English – Level River St Apr 24 '15 at 16:03
  • LOL at the intermediary. And about the Filipino, I think your case is quite different to my case, since Spanish is a second language of other ethnic; Vietnamese is not. But the conclusion is still the same. Thanks for sharing. – Ooker Apr 24 '15 at 16:35
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Always answer in the language the first person used when contacting you.

True Story: I contacted Google support via email and described the problem in English, I got a reply in English from a person whose name sounded familiar. He added a note at the bottom in my native language, that we can talk in this language if I have any further questions. I never mentioned what my native language was though, Google knows.

  • This does not really add anything new to the already existing answers. Remember to not repeat others. While your anecdote is interesting, it would be better served as a comment. – David K Sep 10 '15 at 16:39

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