Common Cover Letter Mistakes by Non-Native English Speakers

Common Cover Letter Mistakes by Non-Native English Speakers

Before we analyse common mistakes committed by non-native English speakers, let us first commend you for being brave enough to write a cover letter in a foreign language! That takes courage, concentration, and probably more time than you would like to admit checking definitions on WordReference or Linguee to avoid those pesky little mistakes that will give you away as a non-native English speaker.

It is undeniably difficult to write a cover letter when you are not familiar with the etiquette or terms of address typically used in a certain language. Yet, do not fret! Below you will find corrections for the most common grammatical errors so that you can disguise yourself as a non-native English speaker in your writing.

Making English mistakes is completely natural, charming, and endearing. However, in a professional context - where you may be competing against the profiles and cover letters of native English speakers - it is important to go the extra mile to really show off your language skills.

Here, we will focus on specific mistakes made by non-native English speakers, so if you need a recap on what a cover letter should contain, check out our previous posts on how to compose the perfect cover letter and guarantee yourself an interview


Setting the tone 

Unlike French with the ‘Vous’ form and Spanish with ‘Usted’, Modern English lacks a polite version of the second-person singular pronoun to indicate one’s respect for the person he/she is addressing. It is therefore necessary to use other methods to maintain a courteous tone throughout your cover letter and ensure it does not come across as too direct. The main way this can be achieved is through the use of conditional verbs. Although it is crucial that your cover letter conveys confidence, present-tense verbs of desire or necessity can be construed as being rather brusque in English.


Instead of:

I want the opportunity to…


I would be extremely grateful for the opportunity to…


Instead of:

I need to gain experience in…


It would be really beneficial for me to gain experience in…


The same goes for imperatives; where possible, rather than bluntly commanding the recruiter/employer to do something, you can turn the sentence into a question using a conditional verb. You can also add adverbs of courtesy and don’t forget ‘please’ and ‘thank you’!


Instead of:

Send me your skype address


Would you kindly send me your Skype address, please?


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Formatting your cover letter 

Now that you are beginning your cover letter in the correct frame of mind, the next step is to format it! The recipient’s address is placed on the right-hand side of the page above the text you will write and don’t forget to add the date.  If you are going to use the format with superscript letters (e.g. 4th November 2020), a key mistake non-native English speakers often commit is putting ‘th’ after every number. Although the ‘th’ is applicable to the majority of the days in the month, it is important to bear in mind that dates ending in the figures 1, 2 or 3 require the superscript ‘st, ‘nd’ and ‘rd’. Moreover, months in English always need a capital letter!


No sign of a non-native English speaker yet! Let's continue... 


Beginning the cover letter

You must first greet the recipient of your letter. It is always best to use the recipient’s name as it shows you have done some research into the company to which you are applying and are clearly interested in who they are and what they do. Make sure you use the relevant prefixes ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs.’, or ‘Ms.’ if you are unsure whether the woman is married.


However, if you really cannot find a name, you can opt for:


Dear Sir/Madam

To Whom It May Concern


The way you begin your cover letter determines how you must sign it off.


If you did use the person’s name, you can close your application with:

Yours sincerely,


If you did not:

Yours faithfully,


Get these the wrong way round and you might just blow your cover as a non-native English speaker!


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Common mistakes committed by non-natives in the body of the cover letter

The English language is riddled with irregular verbs, so the past tense can certainly be a challenge for non-native speakers to master. Let’s look at two useful verbs in the context of cover letter writing that often lead to mistakes:


  1. Teach. The past tense of 'teach' is taught. Although it is tempting to stick ‘ed’ at the end of every present tense verb in the hope of rendering it past tense, this formula is not foolproof and ‘teached’ does not exist.
  2. Develop. Develop does follow the ‘ed’ rule, just make sure not to add an extra ‘p’ -> developed.


Furthermore, whilst talking about previous experience, non-native speakers often confuse the verbs ‘make’ and ‘do’ when describing different types of activities they have completed (as in many Romance languages there is only one verb to mean both). ‘Make’ is linked to the act of creation whereas ‘do’ is more commonly associated with actions, so if in doubt, always use ‘do’.


I did an internship/a course/an investigation…


Of course, sprinkle in synonyms (such as ‘complete’, ‘participated in’, ‘took part in’ etc.) so that you do not overuse the verb ‘do’.


This leads us onto the next section…


Make your writing flow 

A cover letter is essentially a list of your skills and aptitudes that correspond to the offer for which you are applying. However, this is not an excuse to be a broken record that repeats ‘then I did this, then I did that, then…’ Instead, introduce a range of conjunctions to add variety to your text just as an English native speaker would.


You should also search for alternatives for common adjectives; ‘happy’ and ‘good’ are vague and weak, try to be more creative and specific.


Do not end your sentences with prepositions! This is a golden rule that is drilled into native English speakers at school from childhood in order to produce smooth, professional writing. It sounds rather clunky to leave a preposition hanging at the end of a phrase, so be sure to reorder the sentence to raise the register of your writing:


I am very grateful to all the people I worked with.

-> I am very grateful to all the people with whom I worked.


What’s more, English speakers tend to prefer shorter sentences. In order to maintain your disguise as a non-native speaker, break up rambling sentences that are full of commas/clauses and will detract from your valuable experience you intend to highlight.


Signing off

If one of your final lines informs the recruiter that you have added your CV to the email for them to look over, the correct verb is ‘attach’:


Please find attached my CV

I have attached my CV below


Do not say ‘I have attached you my CV’ as this sounds like you somehow managed to include the employer him/herself in your email. Nor should you use the verb ‘join’ as it does not make sense in this context. 


To conclude, there is no reason to stress nor obsess over a cover letter with 0 mistakes! If you have followed these tips and checked your work thoroughly, then you are sure to produce a cover letter of which any non-native English speaker would be proud! Remember, being a non-native in an English-speaking office is a huge asset: you bring valuable insight and new perspectives to the workplace!


What do you usually slip up on as a non-native speaker? Let us know your silly mistakes in the comments section so we can all avoid them together!