Ian Mac Eochagáin
Why is Neste’s English so bad?
Updated: Mar 22
(Lue tämä kirjoitus suomeksi tästä.)
The oil-refining giant Neste is the third-largest company in Finland. Neste is truly international, with operations in 14 countries, and its corporate site, neste.com, is in English. However, the level of the English it uses on that site leaves a lot to be desired. I suspect Neste has not put the resources, particularly time and coordination, required into the standard of its corporate English.
The examples below all come from neste.com. I’ve divided the examples of sub-standard English I’ve found into grammar, Finglish (English that sounds like Finnish), voice and formatting.
Neste has a problem with verbs following other verbs and nouns:
Neste was founded in 1948 with the purpose to secure Finland’s oil supply.
The correct way to put this is “with the purpose of securing Finland’s oil supply”.
Through co-processing and retrofitting of units, and benefiting from available refining assets, experience and know-how, Neste targets to significantly grow its renewables and circular production in Porvoo long term.
This is better expressed as “Neste targets significant growth of its renewables and circular production”.
We are committed to reduce our customers' GHG emissions by at least 20 million tons CO2e annually by 2030
“We are committed to reducing” is the correct way to put this.
It’s hard to know what follows certain verbs in English. Some are followed by a gerund (the form ending in -ing), while some are followed by “to” and the infinitive. Additionally, the noun “purpose” is usually followed by a gerund, not an infinitive: “the purpose of doing”, not “the purpose to do”. If you’re not a native speaker or don’t speak English at a near-native level, you may be stumped as to what to choose. In the examples above, I suspect a non-native speaker wrote the texts and then simply ran a spell check. No native speaker was involved.
Here’s another example of verbs causing problems for Neste:
“Before discharging into waterways, all wastewater passes through on-site treatment plants.”
This should be “before discharge”. This is because “discharge” is a transitive verb, meaning it has to have an object. We cannot say “the water discharges”; either “the water is discharged” or “the refinery discharges the water”. To correct this, the verb “discharging” could be changed to the noun “discharge”.
“Before discharge into waterways, all wastewater passes through on-site treatment plants.”
Neste’s incorrectly placed adverbs remind me of Finnair:
“In December 2021, Neste also signed its first hydropower agreement with Vattenfall, which means that Neste will achieve its renewable electricity target in Finland already in 2022.”
Here, the adverb “already” is in the wrong place. This is a very common mistake in Finland. One solution is to move the “already”: “Neste will already achieve its renewable electricity target in Finland in 2022”. Another is to replace it with “as early as”: “Neste will achieve its renewable electricity target in Finland as early as 2022”. Finally, Neste could drop “already” entirely: “Neste will achieve its renewable electricity target in Finland in 2022”.
“We, for example, require our palm oil suppliers to carry out regular monitoring of water usage.”
“For example” is in the wrong place. The correct place would be:
“For example, we require our palm oil suppliers to carry out regular monitoring of water usage.”
Articles in English are difficult. It shows when a non-native speaker has written something and not had it checked:
“We create value for the society by helping our customers reduce climate emissions.”
“The” is unnecessary here:
“We create value for society by helping our customers reduce climate emissions.”
Another article error:
“Treated wastewater is discharged into waterways in Porvoo, Naantali and Rotterdam refineries.”
The article “the” is missing before “Porvoo”:
“Treated wastewater is discharged into waterways in the Porvoo, Naantali and Rotterdam refineries”.
Finglish: when the English sounds like Finnish
This is from a blog post:
“We have achieved a lot as a team - teamwork is at the heart of our success,” enthuses Calvin.
I’ve already written about reporting verbs in Finnish and how they should be translated to English. This is a good example of a reporting verb that shouldn’t be translated to English. Here, “said Calvin” (or actually “saysCalvin”) would be enough.
“Get to know our products”
This is in large letters on the Neste corporate homepage. It’s clearly a rendering of the Finnish “tutustu tuotteisiimme”. This is very common indeed on Finnish corporate websites. It doesn’t sound streamlined or corporate; it sounds like your mother telling you to make friends with an unpopular child. Better alternatives would be “Explore our products”, “Read about our products”, “Browse our products” or “Our products in depth”.
“In Finland we monitor the sea areas next to our refineries and the quality of the water together with outside experts.”
This is a literal translation of the Finnish “yhdessä … kanssa”. If you speak Swedish you’ll know about “tillsammans med”: Swedes are guilty of this error too. “With” alone is enough:
“In Finland we monitor the sea areas next to our refineries and the quality of the water with outside experts.”
By voice I mean the way Neste speaks about itself as a company. I think a company should either choose to speak about itself in the first person (“we”) or third person (“Neste”), and not mix the two up.
“For example, we are increasing the use of renewable electricity at our production sites. In order to proceed with the target to use 100% renewable electricity globally by 2023, Neste has increased the use of renewable electricity at its Porvoo refinery in Finland.”
If Neste has decided to speak about itself using the first-person pronoun “we”, it should stick to that decision, and not switch from “we” in one sentence to “Neste” in the next. (This snippet also contains a double whitespace and another verb mistake, “target to use” instead of “target of using”):
“For example, we are increasing the use of renewable electricity at our production sites. In order to proceed with the target of using 100% renewable electricity globally by 2023, we have increased the use of renewable electricity at its Porvoo refinery in Finland.”
The passive voice can negate efforts to speak in the first person:
“Water and steam are used in Neste’s refining operations. Most of our water consumption takes place in refining.”
I thought Neste liked to speak about itself as “we”. If that’s the case, then it needs to drop the passive:
“We use water and steam in Neste’s refining operations. We consume the most water in refining.”
In my rummaging on the Neste website I found a number of errors that were more visual than linguistic.
Our water sources:
the River Maas, Rotterdam
the Mustijoki river, Porvoo, and
the Kokemäenjoki river, Naantali.
All three rivers should be named using the same convention:
Our water sources:
the River Maas, Rotterdam
the River Mustijoki, Porvoo, and
the River Kokemäenjoki, Naantali.
Even though “joki” means “river”, making the last two tautologous, this looks a lot better than the inconsistent list above.
There are small errors which a practised eye can spot:
Calvin says Neste’s investments in Singapore send a strong message: ”The opening of
Your browser might not display it, but the quotation marks before “the” are in the wrong direction. The blog post this snippet came from was typed with a Finnish keyboard. Quotation marks in Finnish, both opening and closing, point right, whereas in English only the closing ones do. Even if you type in English with a Finnish keyboard, though, Word corrects the incorrect marks, so I don’t know what went wrong here. The text could have been typed directly into a browser-based word processor. The correct formatting would be:
Calvin says Neste’s investments in Singapore send a strong message: “The opening of
Another punctuation mark that can cause difficulties is the hyphen:
“The late-1990s and early-2000s introduced a change of course”
No hyphen is needed here. We’re not writing “the mid-1990s”. The correct formatting is:
“The late 1990s and early 2000s introduced a change of course”
The English this oil-refining behemoth uses on its website isn’t bad; it could just be better. With such a large budget, Neste could put a lot more effort into making its English consistently good on its global corporate site. Finnish looms large in the background, and the company could do a lot more work on converting its Finglish to English. It could also write and abide by a style guide if it doesn’t have one yet. This would require time and effort, with dedicated people ensuring the English was sufficiently and consistently correct sitewide.
The English on the homepage and other main pages on the site was good, but the deeper I got into the subpages, the worse it became. The Sustainability section, in particular, provided a lot of the examples above. Make of that what you will.
Maintaining consistently correct English on any corporate site is difficult, but Neste has the resources to make it happen. It simply has not yet chosen to do so.
If you want your company’s English to sound consistently good, choose a professional like me. I’ll produce English you won’t be ashamed of — or your money back.