I'm not a native English speaker, but I still notice some basic mistakes in grammar, pronunciation and wordings when my colleagues are talking to customers. But when I try to correct them, they rudely tell me not to do so. Their argument is that they don't need to speak perfect English, it just needs to be good enough for the customer to understand them.

Admittedly, I'm just an intern who will quit this job when school starts up again, so my opinion probably doesn't matter to them. Should I keep pressing the matter or ignore it?

  • I'd perhaps try to work on your own English skills at this point. If you're an intern intending to move on and you wish to work in English speaking offices, it's a worthwhile skill to improve :)
    – Jane S
    Aug 28, 2015 at 4:49
  • Well, I'm pretty confident in my reading skill, but my pronunciation is horrible :( Does you native speakers have any problem with badly-speaking business partner?
    – ProudNoob
    Aug 28, 2015 at 4:54
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    I've reverted your edit as that should really be a separate question, with the caveat that I'm not sure if it would be on-topic here. As a general point of advice though, you generally don't want to push coworkers on things like this when you're just there as an intern. It's admirable that you want to help them improve but it's really not your concern and you risk coming across as quite arrogant.
    – Lilienthal
    Aug 28, 2015 at 10:35
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    Also, it's not clear whether you're doing this or not, but correcting your colleagues' grammar in front of a customer is EXTREMELY inappropriate.
    – David K
    Aug 28, 2015 at 12:48
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    I would be very careful about giving feedback regarding pronunciation. This can often be a regional difference even within the same country. Don't presume that because you know one acceptable pronunciation, that it is the only one. Just ask someone from the south-eastern US to pronounce 'pecan' and then ask someone from the north-eastern region.
    – cdkMoose
    Aug 28, 2015 at 16:39

3 Answers 3


If it isn't broken, don't fix it.

Your colleagues have been working with the customer longer than you have, and if the customers are okay with the imperfect English, then you shouldn't meddle with it too much. You have shared your knowledge with them, let them decide if they want to consider your feedback or not. Be aware that every person has their own priorities, and improving English might not be your colleague's highest priority.

You also need to assess the benefits of the so-called improvement against the efforts required to achieve it. Would the improved English significantly benefit the customer, your company or your colleagues? The answer is probably no. Focus your time and energy on something else which benefits them.

  • ...Americans don't care about. Australians, either :)
    – Jane S
    Aug 28, 2015 at 5:16
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    "Americans don't really care about your grammar if they can clearly understand what you say", guess that I'm the only one who makes a fuss about this :(
    – ProudNoob
    Aug 28, 2015 at 5:38
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    Good anecdote, but note that the OP is talking about communication with customers. If these are customer service positions then customers could well be turned off by imperfect English. I would think that such companies would already have language improvement programs in place though.
    – Lilienthal
    Aug 28, 2015 at 10:45
  • @Lilienthal The anecdote was in response to the follow-up question by OP: Does you native speakers have any problem with badly-speaking business partner? In hindsight, I shouldn't have asked OP to edit his question to include it, you rightly removed it now. :) That aside, my answer is based on the OP's scenario where the customers are "okay" with the imperfect English, in a customer service scenario (such as a call center), that wouldn't apply of course.
    – Masked Man
    Aug 28, 2015 at 10:49
  • FWIW, I have now edited out the personal anecdote from the answer. If the OP asks that question separately, I will move it there.
    – Masked Man
    Aug 28, 2015 at 10:50

But when I try to correct them, they rudely tell me not to do so.

That settles it.

Their argument is that they don't need to speak perfect English, it just needs to be good enough for the customer to understand them.

It doesn't matter.

You're not their manager. You're the intern. It doesn't matter (even if you're right).

Most likely, you're a student, and you'll probably be moving to a higher paying job once you graduate, and those colleagues will probably be at that company long after you're gone.

Even if you tattle on them to management, in a misguided attempt to feel important, the owner/manager of the company will side with the long-term employees. Most likely, management already knows how your colleagues speak to customers, and they've already decided it wasn't a battle worth fighting.

Let your colleagues be. Knowing when to shut up is very important (even if you happen to be right). Not that I know if you're right or not, I don't know that. I'm just assuming that you're right for the sake of argument. If management has decided not to micromanage them, then it's not your place to micromanage any of them either.

If you continue trying to prove your case, to any of them or to management, those colleagues will just end up mistreating you and bullying you.


In addition to the existing answer, consider the possibility that your colleagues may be better speakers of the local dialect of spoken English than you are. What seem to you to be mistakes may be common usages that you are not familiar with.

For example, in colloquial spoken American English, adjectives may be used to modify verbs in place of adverbs: "He wrote it good." rather than "He wrote it well.".

  • Yes, this is also a very good point. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, or at least, don't tell the Romans what Romans should do. :)
    – Masked Man
    Aug 28, 2015 at 7:45
  • In your example "He wrote it good", 'good' is simply being used as an adverb - It is overgeneralizing to say that adjectives are generally used as adverbs - not true in colloqiual American English. See the adverb entry for the word here for an interesting history on the attack on "adverbial good" - merriam-webster.com/dictionary/good
    – Brandin
    Aug 28, 2015 at 8:05
  • You raise a very good point but I refuse to believe that use of adjectives as adverbs is a thing even in colloquial spoken English. As @Brandin says the use of good as an adverb might be a historical exception to the rule but I've never heard any native speaker do this. I'd sooner believe that they're having a stroke than that they're speaking informally.
    – Lilienthal
    Aug 28, 2015 at 10:30
  • @Lilienthal English is weird. A sentence like "My son drives too fast." is wrong, because fast is an adjective. Should be quickly ? Then something like "the little dog barked a little". little used as adverb and adjective. I'm from deep south, so don't matter none bit to me. :) Nov 18, 2015 at 19:50
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    @DanShaffer: Off-topic, but according to the entry in the Oxford Dictionary, "fast" is both an adjective and an adverb.
    – sleske
    Feb 12, 2016 at 9:26

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