3 Tips for Communicating with International Audiences

As long as a company has a website, it must be aware that the content has a chance of being viewed by an international audience. Writing to an international audience is very different from writing to a U.S. audience. Inappropriate use of words and images can lead to confusion and insulted readers. Additionally, when communicating with international audiences in person, you want to be careful to conduct yourself appropriately. Here are some tips that will help you avoid alienating an international audience.

1.      Don’t use long and complicated sentences.  Instead, use short and simple sentences. This is especially important when writing to non-native English speakers. You are writing to help them understand, not to make them think you are smart.

2.      Don’t use slang or humor that only people from the U.S. will understand.  Using slang or humor may make the writing look appealing to you, but it confuses an international audience. Even worse, if the message is misinterpreted it can lead to your audience feeling angry or insulted.

3.      Don’t use inappropriate hand gestures.  Hand gestures are not often used in business situations. However, if you have to use them, use them with great caution. Some simple gestures can be insulting in another culture. The following table from Successful Writing at, written by Philip C. Kolin, lists the different meanings of some common gestures.

Gesture Meaning in the United States Meaning in Other Countries
OK sign
Index finger joined to thumb in a circle
All right; agreement Sexual insult in Brazil, Germany, Russia; sign for zero, worthlessness in France
Thumbs-up A wining gesture; good job; approval Offensive gesture in Muslim countries
Waving or holding out open palm Stop Obscene in Greece – equivalent to throwing garbage at someone
Pointing with the index finger This way; pay attention; turn the page Rude, insulting in Japan and Venezuela; in Saudi Arabia used only for animals, not people
Nodding head up and down Agreement, saying yes Greek version of saying “no”; in China means “I understand,” not “I agree”
Motioning with index finger Signal to “come over here” Insulting in China – instead, extend arm and wave to ask “come over”

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