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I've just joined a company as an intern making Widgets as one of few foreigners. As part of this, I read some training material used in courses that customers buy for the company's products and discovered that substantial parts of it were written in very poor English. I'm not native but I found mistakes all over the place and cringed at the bad structure.

I passed by the higher boss who oversees my team as well as the training department. I offered to correct it; he appreciated the gesture. The training department didn't seem too interested or helpful but were like 'oh sure, go ahead'.

Now I'm concerned I've embarrassed the department in question having sent in the corrections:

  • I involved the higher boss in trying to tread carefully with people who I didn't know. He now knows that I think it's bad and might follow up on the matter.
  • I also somewhat inappropriately ranted/complained to a few of my close colleagues that the English was bad (they laughed at the mistakes) though I don't think any of that got out. However, knowledge of the matter has spread.
  • All edits have to be formally approved. I might have caused them a fair bit of unappreciated extra work. I think they might have known about the problem but just ignored it.

I've realized that they probably didn't overly appreciate getting corrected by the new intern. Should I do anything to seem helpful rather than just obtrusive and superior? I suspect that I might have to do more work with the department in question.

  • I could stop by and ask them if my edits were useful and if they need more help.
  • I could also just leave the matter.

I'm not in the position to direct people, but I think that this stuff was unacceptable and feel a bit of personal interest of maintaining the company's professional image.

Industry: Engineering, Europe

Addition: I've been respectful/soft in all communication.


Footnote: When customers fork out substantial amount of money for training courses, they should be able to expect that materials are free of for instance elementary spelling errors (e.g. it's vs its). Nobody in the department are native speakers but I think it's unacceptable in the safety-critical industry in question.

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    Are you a native speaker? Why are you so sure that they didn't like it? If you just happen to know English better than they do, they shouldn't be offended unless they were specifically hired for their grasp of the language. – JPhi1618 Nov 25 '15 at 20:49
  • Are you sure they were mistakes? I see plenty of mistakes in the English of the question you posed. – Kilisi Nov 25 '15 at 20:59
  • @Kilisi I'm not native (and I'm dyslexic) but I'm certain of their mistakes. – Antonio Nov 25 '15 at 20:59
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    I think there are 2 different matters here : 1. internal documentation ==> no need to correct: it does not impact company's reputation, and people already seem to work well with it. 2. External communication documents ==> Definitely correct them. The common advice is to be civil, polite, and to avoid pointing fingers. Sure people wrrting this doc are aware their English is not very good. But being reminded of that and hearing discussions about how poorly their English is might make them take it personally. And obviously you don't want that... – Puzzled Nov 26 '15 at 8:42
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    "I also somewhat inappropriately ranted/complained" Keep in mind that you should be very careful with these kinds of complaints, especially when you're new to a company and especially when you're an intern. First impressions are important and the attitude towards jokes and friendly banter can vary hugely across companies and departments. – Lilienthal Nov 27 '15 at 12:41
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Your question is buried in the mass of text; I suggest you edit it to stand out (bold it, for example). As far as what you should do, it's simple:

Just be civil and polite to them in the future.

Sure, you rocked the boat, but you had good intentions, and a pretty good reason to point out the issues (you could be more diplomatic in the future). There's no point apologizing for your actions, because you'll only bring more attention to having handled the situation a little poorly.

Definitely stop talking about it with other people.

In the future, if you notice any more mistakes, simply tell your boss you noticed a few more things that could be improved. Don't lord it over anyone, don't even mention it to your team-mates. Just translate and send it to the department in question.

Most people appreciate getting help, however they prefer it come from someone who is (or at least acts) like they're genuinely trying to help them improve, not who is feeding their sense of self importance by feeding you the correct answer. You want to avoid coming across like that.

Example:

Condescending: Boss, I noticed ANOTHER mistake on pamphlet X. It's not "abc", it should be "def". I can't believe those guys didn't catch that, it's basic English!

Versus:

Helpful: Hey boss, I think there might be a few more areas in which our documentation could be improved. With your permission I'd like to suggest some improvements to the text which will help our company come across as more professional.

Be equally polite to the department in question:

Hello, guys. I couldn't help but notice that there's a few ways in which our documentation could be improved. I have some suggestions which I think could be really beneficial.(if you're there with your manager's blessing as well as being polite you should have no issues)

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You are an intern working at a foreign company. Own your cultural differences and be yourself. If they wanted the exact same thing they could have hired a worker's daughter/son.

If you find more issues do the common sense thing to you. I am not saying go off on poor work or bad employees but bring up glaring mistakes or anything that you think is relevant.

You have already made changes to their culture and made them follow up on things that they have pushed off too long. Either the bosses love this attitude or hate it. There really isn't an in between. I would continue on your quest to make them a better company. Either you will move on to your next job/internship or they will be looking to have you fill a strategic role. Having a mediocre attitude is just blah.

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I translate manuals as part of my services, in a similar situation I would certainly bring the corrections needed to the bosses notice, but I wouldn't make a big thing of it. Carry on suggesting fixes, but just be aware of other peoples feelings (which I think you now are anyway). Your little rant on bad English will soon fade into the past. The biggest risk you face right now is not correcting it, but the quality of the corrections being commented on which could easily backfire your rant back at you. So when doing so take especial care with the grammar and spelling.

I once had a manager correct my English (just on an email he was supposed to approve before I could send it) and due to my English being better than his, I wasn't happy about it and told him so. At the end of the day, if they're not in your face complaining, then don't worry about it, it's probably not a big thing unless you make it one. Just another foreigner showing off (no offence intended).

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For the cases you've already reported, I recommend dropping it. Don't go ask them if your edits were helpful; that runs too much risk of rubbing their noses in it. If answering that question isn't likely to improve matters, don't ask it.

Before you find yourself in this situation again, find out what the preferred channel is for bug reports. A complaint that went up to your boss and down through somebody else's boss to the person who has to fix it (and get it approved) sounds like it was a messy escalation even if it wasn't. Is there a bug-tracking system? A feedback form on the online docs? Something else? Report issues the same way other people do and that allows the people responsible to triage, prioritize, and group the work. (For example, it makes sense to make all changes in a certain part of the documentation at the same time, even if that means the typo you found is going to sit there for a week or two while the other work gets done.) Also ask about granularity and grouping -- do they want one bug report with 50 corrections, one per, or something in between? (I'm betting on something in between.)

There's no shame in people finding bugs. Everybody, including you, is going to make mistakes that will be caught by coworkers; be professional about it (as you say you've been) and carry on. If you've been talking at lunch about those doozies you found in the docs, it's time to stop that. Focus on getting the information to the right people in the usual way.

(This answer is based on many years' experience in the US software industry as creator, finder, and fixer of bugs ranging from the trivial to the "yikes how did we miss that?".)

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