How to politely ask for a letter of recommendation?
January 20, 2013 4:34 PM   Subscribe

How should I approach asking for a letter of recommendation when the letter writer doesn't write well in English?

I'm applying for a job that wants a letter of recommendation, and the person who I want to write my letter does not speak English. The sticky part of the situation is that she thinks she writes well in English but doesn't. She could write me a great letter and is the only person I know who can attest to my abilities in the field that the position is in. To make things more difficult, she lives in another country so all of our correspondence is via email. Would it be totally tacky to ask her to forward me a copy of her letter before she sends it in? What are my other options?
posted by tomtheblackbear to Human Relations (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No good options here: she will be doing you a favor, and particularly since she thinks she writes well in English, there is no graceful way to ask if she'd like a copy editor.

I'd suggest that rather than asking her to write it in English, you ask her to write it in her mother tongue (or another language you think she writes well in). You can tell her any reason you want for it other than "because you don't write well in English", depending on the position and company, it might actually be a great idea on its own. Once you get the letter, pay for a professional to translate it to English, and submit the original along with the translated copy.
posted by arnicae at 4:40 PM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

arnicae has a good idea, but I would expand it to ask her to write it in her native language and in English. Then translate the native one.
posted by Etrigan at 4:43 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

No good options here: she will be doing you a favor, and particularly since she thinks she writes well in English, there is no graceful way to ask if she'd like a copy editor.

This does seem to be the sticking point. I've worked for awhile in an industry that reviews many references, including those from international referees. I do know that for many international applicants, the referee will have the applicant look over the reference before it is submitted to give feedback, or check factual issues. Not ideal, I don't think, but not against what is expected to happen. So, for some referees, it would not be offensive to look the letter over first.

However, I'm not sure how to work it out with someone who thinks they already speak good English. So, in answering your question, it's not tacky per se, but it would be in this case. I think I would probably still ask her to write the letter, and to have it submitted as-is. If it's more about attesting to your abilities, I think this translates through well enough, and hopefully the committee will take the cultural difference into account. I know that we always did.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:48 PM on January 20, 2013

Why don't you write your own draft of the letter you want, send it to her and let her make any changes or additions, and get her signature on it.
posted by spatula at 5:12 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have been in your exact same situation. In my case, I basically did what spatula is suggesting.

First, I asked the individual if she would be willing to help me with a letter of recommendation. Then, I mentioned how busy I knew she was (she was a school principal) and said that perhaps it would be easiest if I wrote a draft letter for her to approve in order to be respectful of her time.

It worked wonderfully. I got the letter I wanted and she was able to express her willingness to help without a major time investment.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 6:11 PM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is this for a job or for grad school? Because if it's for grad school you're not allowed to ask to see it. Or you are, but then you have to tell the grad schools that you saw it, and they'll assume it's worthless.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:25 PM on January 20, 2013

How far along are you in the application process? Would you be comfortable letting the hiring manager/recruiter know ahead of time that the letter-writer is not a native English speaker/writer?
posted by radioamy at 10:36 AM on January 21, 2013

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