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Many have asked about non-native, but what about Americans born and raised here that work in a professional environment working with clients on a daily basis?

I believe that when talking to clients it's important to have a strong foundation. You should know how to use seen/saw, your/you're, there/their/they're just to name a few examples.

When I see emails with a list of CC'd clients and we're not using the proper English it makes us look uneducated and unprofessional. Am I overcritical and if I'm not how do I approach this?

Yes, I know mine isn't perfect either. I personally don't take offense when someone does point out that I'm abusing the comma, ending a sentence in a preposition, or using the wrong spelling of 'principal' for example. In fact, I'm thankful. It's partially how I've gotten much better with it and maintain it after not having been in school for years.

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    Related, possible duplicate: Should I correct my coworkers' language mistakes? – David K Sep 19 '16 at 19:50
  • It kind of depends on who the customer is and how bad the grammar but I would still leave it to their boss. An what is their job. A DBA telling them he will be on sight next week in not the same a the account manager. – paparazzo Sep 19 '16 at 19:52
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    Ending sentences with a preposition is just fine. That's a Latin grammar rule that a movement in the 17th century tried to "import," and it just won't die. English is a Germanic language, and it's just fine. And you can have my Oxford comma when you pry it from my cold, dead hands! :) – Wesley Long Sep 19 '16 at 20:09
  • Remember too that formal English differs from country to country, and is not always considered "correct" idiomatically. One of the most obviously "wrong" things about a non-native's writing is often excessive attention to this kind of detail. Don't assume they are wrong -- ask why they aren't. You probably have more to learn than they do. – keshlam Sep 19 '16 at 22:30
  • "You should know how to use seen/saw, your/you're, there/their/they're" -- this is where you could say lead by example. Don't correct someone, but just do it the correct way when you write it. – Brandin Sep 20 '16 at 7:05
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Unless they're making mistakes that would make them look ridiculous, I never correct them. Simply put, it's not my job. Unless you're in PR or the person's manager, it's really not yours either.

I say this as a pedant myself: nobody likes a grammar cop unless you're an editor, and even then. :)

  • Reading this answer made me think of an otherwise awesome girl I dated in college, who was an editor for the school paper. She constantly corrected my grammar in instant messages I sent her. The relationship ended very quickly. – psubsee2003 Sep 19 '16 at 22:49
  • I concur. Plus, if they're adults who presumably made it through school and into the work force, there is no way you're going to get them to learn proper grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc, at this late date in their lives. Worst case analysis: they turn their written communications over to you since you do it so well, and nobody wants that. – Nolo Problemo Sep 19 '16 at 22:58
  • This is my dilemma because I think it does make them look ridiculous. Your additional point that it isn't my job is a hard one to argue. You're right, it isn't my job and I'm not in PR or anything even close. – spezticle Sep 20 '16 at 19:47
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DON'T correct them with a bunch of clients cc'd

Otherwise yes, it's important to use correct English or whatever language you're communicating in. Especially if you have international clients. Because many like me would have learnt their English formally, understand proper English better, and look sideways at people who can't be bothered writing it properly even though it's probably the only language they know. It's indicative of a lack of pride amongst other things.

It's best done wholesale, stipulate to employees that correct English is expected in all communications internal and external. Then the ones that don't comply will stand out easier at which time you can focus on the issue at an individual level.

I have gone as far as to sack a guy who persisted in using some sort of shorthand gibberish in internal communications (some sort of phone text abbreviation rubbish) and it kept leaking into client facing communications. I have also sacked a professional translator who couldn't be bothered using the diacritic marks despite numerous (actually two) warnings, this wasn't English though. The reason behind stipulating 'internal' communications as well is to help build the habit.

Look professional = be viewed professionally

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Yes, you should correct it, but not at an individual level. This is the sort of thing that has to be organizational. If you focus on the individual, it comes across as personal. Focus on the team, if not the company.

Also, you are correct that it makes your group appear uneducated. I wouldn't say unprofessional, but certainly uneducated. Misspellings and grammatical errors always crop up from time to time, but when a message is riddled with them, it does make the author appear to be a dolt. I work with several very intelligent people who are not native English speakers. I can see that they take great care to spell correctly, and use the proper forms of your/you're and two/to/too, but the adverb/adjective/noun order gets twisted around sometimes, and that's not a big problem.

Then I work with native English speakers who can't spell, punctuate, or even tell time. (Using "EST" instead of "Eastern" is one of my personal favorite irritants.) They come across as "less than trustworthy" as a source of data or expertise.

Now, however, you need the approach. This is how I lay it out:

  1. Email is a form of communication. The purpose of communication is to convey data and concepts from one person to others.
  2. If you are communicating, then you are wanting your information to be understood by the recipients. If you don't care enough to send the information in a respectful, correct, and informative manner, then you should not be communicating, as you are being disrespectful to the recipients.

Bad spelling and grammar is not just lazy, it's disrespectful. That's the piece that most "offenders" don't grasp.

  • "EST" is not an abbreviation of "Eastern" but of "Eastern Standard Time". In the US, "EST" is GMT-4. "US/Eastern" is GMT-4 or GMT-5 depending on whether Daylight Saving Time is in effect. – kevin cline Sep 19 '16 at 21:43
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    Exactly the point, @kevincline. People using "EST" when it is actually "EDT" and don't know when/why to switch should just stop and use "Eastern." I've worked primarily in broadcasting for 25 years. I know time zones better than any sane person should. – Wesley Long Sep 19 '16 at 22:11
  • "ET" generally accepted as DST agnostic label for US Eastern timezone. – Ben Taber Sep 19 '16 at 22:52
  • @BenTaber - Yes, yes, yes. I get all that. My point is that the people who don't annoy me. – Wesley Long Sep 19 '16 at 23:23
  • Comma splices are my bugbear nowadays. The dang things are everywhere. – Lightness Races with Monica Sep 19 '16 at 23:43

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