In a Globalized Economy, It’s Important to Know Your Audience

When communicating with people in The Netherlands, one of the easiest ways to get in dutch is to refer to their country as Holland. North and South Holland are just two of the 12 provinces in The Netherlands. Calling the whole country Holland is like referring to the United Kingdom (or Great Britain) as England. (For that matter, it’s like referring to the United States as America when you are speaking to Canadians.)

These are just a couple of small examples of the kind of idiomatic and cultural knowledge it is increasingly important to have, whether writing a speech, an article, a report or any other communications tool aimed at reaching a foreign audience.

A growing number of people around the world speak English. But at the same time they appreciate it when someone trying to communicate with them demonstrates a grasp of national and local idiom. Speechwriters, for example, are best-advised to eschew colloquialisms like ‘shake on it’ if they are writing for an Asian audience, for whom the handshake is not a traditional symbol of agreement. There are a lot of linguistic traps out there, which is making speechwriting (and all other kinds of business writing) a more challenging field, demanding more globalized expertise.

Allan Golombek

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