Hey Swedish people, you have great English skills. I, a Business English teacher in Sweden for almost 20 years, think that you are fab. Throw that Jantelagen out the window and be proud – but don’t be too arrogant about it. You are not perfect (but your pursuit of perfection keeps me in business, so I thank you). You often carry over Swedish emailing habits into your English emails. These errors are easy to fix, and I am here to help.
Here are the top five errors Swedes make when writing emails in English:
5. Inconsistent Greetings and Closings
In Swedish, you can start any business-related email with “Hej!’ and end it with “Med vänliga hälsningar”, even a very negative message of complaint. Not so in English. We have choices and formulas dependent on how well you know your reader, what the message content is, and what sort of tone you want to set. For example, we typically do not use any of the “regards” family unless we are familiar with the recipient. It is not a “one-size-fits-all” system.
4. Date Formatting
Y-M-D, D-M-Y or M-D-Y? If you write a message suggesting, “Shall we meet on 1/12?”, most people will probably show up on 1 December as you probably planned. A North American, however, will not show up until after the new year on January 12. Always write dates with at least the abbreviation of the month, i.e. 1 Dec. or Dec. 1. This will prevent a lot of misunderstanding.
3. Slash Endings
You Swedes like to end your email messages with a mysterious slash, e.g. /Rolf. Nobody else does this. To a non-Swede, this slash looks like some sort of secret code. What does it mean? I have heard that even you are not sure. Just type your name to sign off – no slash necessary.
2. Apostrophes vs Accents
Many of you mistakenly type an acute accent such as over the ‘e’ in “café” when you really want an apostrophe as in the word “it’s”. If you are using a spell checker (which I highly recommend), your software will go crazy with any word in your text that you typed an accent rather than an apostrophe for. You will think that your spell-checker is broken because your text looks fine to you, but it is not fine – an acute accent is not an apostrophe. It is flatter and it takes up more space. In short, it is indeed wrong, and the computer is telling you so. Listen to it.
1. Exclamation Marks!
An exclamation mark in Swedish is used to indicate a positive, friendly tone. In English, however, it indicates, 1. yelling, 2. extreme excitement, or 3. sarcasm. Exclamation marks are used sparingly in English. They are very “special occasion”. When you use them in your English writing, they just make you seem very dramatic and possibly aggressive. Exclamation marks usually have no place in business emails, so start replacing them with calm little periods instead.
Cynthia Morissette is an American who has taught Business English in Sweden for 19 years. She teaches, translates and speaks.