How to Successfully Write a Peer Review in English (When your first language isn't English)

It’s understandable if peer reviews or employee reviews are foreign to you. Not every country or company requests them. A peer review/employee review is really just an evaluation of someone else’s (and sometimes your own) work over a period of time. Traditionally, they are required every quarter or end of year. If English isn’t your first language, we can see how this may look daunting.

Culturally speaking, you can learn the art of The Sandwich review. This means that you give a positive comment, areas in which the employee can improve, and finish off with a positive comment. Basically, you’re ending and starting on a positive note. This might seem really American to you since we are known for our very positive ‘can do’ attitudes. We know some countries are blunter and don’t value the fluff. However, if you’re working in the United States or for an American company, then your coworkers/employees will value and appreciate The Sandwich approach.

Common Challenges Faced When Writing the Reviews

Now that you know how to structure the review, you’ll need to know how to make good word choices and account for tone. How you give a review or the way you say something about someone tells a lot about what kind of manager you are. Naturally, you wouldn’t want to give your employees the wrong idea about you. There are three main challenges we’ve heard that non-native speakers face when writing reviews.

  1. Their Feedback Sounds Too Serious
    It’s not that those whose first language isn’t English are trying to sound serious. However, oftentimes, their feedback comes across as more serious than how they intended to sound. The feedback may even come across as harsh.
  2. Their Feedback Sounds Too Formal
    Sometimes, the feedback ends up sounding way too formal which translates into an unfriendly review.
  3. Their Feedback Has the Wrong Word Choice
    The word choices and nuances are sometimes not correct. Therefore the employee isn’t saying what they really mean.

All of these challenges lead to miscommunication.

How You Can Overcome These Challenges

To avoid miscommunication, sounding harsh, and say what you really mean in a peer review, try role-playing with a native speaker.

Roleplaying is not just for kids, it’s actually a very useful tool. First, you will have to find a native speaker. This could be a friend or an online tutor that you hire. Since they’re a native speaker, they can detect nuances and help you pick better words so you can relay exactly what you want.

If you mean to be kind, but you came off as sounding judgmental, then you’ll want to know that and change your words or tone before you have the meeting. We do not suggest doing this with another coworker, as you do not want to talk about someone else at the office. You should also ask the native speaker if what you’re saying is culturally appropriate.

To summarize, here is a list of questions you’ll want to ask the native speaker or tutor:

  • Are the words you’re using appropriate for the office?
  • What about the tone – is it too informal or too formal for the office and for the employee?
  • Culturally, are you saying anything offensive, or are you in line with the culture, of not only the country, but also the company where you work?
  • Make sure you are using the correct words and that you aren’t saying something you don’t mean, whether with your tone or your word choice.

The next step is rehearsing or practicing for the next meeting.

Writing these peer reviews may seem challenging. The thought of doing them might fill you with anxiety because you don’t want to say the wrong thing or be misunderstood. They don’t have to be scary if you have a little help.

Choosing a language tutor will ensure that you can do your reviews without stepping on toes and being misunderstood. If you’re looking to get an English language tutor to practice with before meetings or for peer reviews we’ve got your back at You can have a trial class for just $35. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us, we’d love to help.