Are you using the wrong kind of English? English content can seem foreign to English speakers if it isn’t localized.
There are around 375 million native English speakers in the world. Add in all the non-native speakers and the total is over 1.2 billion.
There are only six countries where English is spoken by the majority of the population. In order of population, they are:
- the United States
- the United Kingdom
- New Zealand
However, English’s acceptance as the world’s lingua franca has made it an official language of over 60 countries around the world.
Originating from England, the English language has taken root and developed independently in different parts of the world over the last 200 years.
The Variety of English Dialects Presents a Business Challenge
These variants of the English language mean that, while there is a common core that allows all English speakers around the world to communicate with each other, there are significant differences that make more detailed and precise conversation confusing at times.
This is especially so with the written word, where vocabulary, spelling, grammar, and practices regarding date, time, and units of measurement can vary quite significantly.
This creates a problem for international companies with a presence in different English-speaking countries. Although marketing material, web content, and official business documentation in one ‘flavor’ (or is it ‘flavour’?) of English will be understood in each English-speaking territory, it will seem ‘foreign’—the opposite impression a business wishes to give its potential customers.
This also has major implications for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). For a business’s web content to be found, it must contain the words that people in different countries are entering into their respective search engines. See later in this article for examples of how the same words can differ across different English-speaking countries.
To demonstrate a local commitment to an international market, a business needs to ‘translate’ one form of English into another. To create a seamless user experience, it’s also important to align with different cultural references and ways of living and working in each country—and this requires localization.
Localizing for Different Types of English
Here’s a rundown of the varieties of English and what aspects of each language are important for localization.
Also known as UK English, this is the oldest version of English spoken in the world today.
British English is the preferred variant in most countries that were once part of the British Empire. The language is spoken with many regional accents and dialects, even within England itself. The written form of business-related content, however, remains the same throughout the country.
The UK is also the country where the imperial system of measurement originated. However, after almost half a century as part of the European Union, the process of decimalization has made the metric system the norm for most measurements, with imperial resurfacing mostly only in spoken English.
The United States has the largest number of native English speakers in the world—over 225 million—and is the form of the language used in Latin America and East Asia.
There are many differences in spelling between UK and US English. Words ending ‘ise’ become ‘ize’ in American English. The ‘u’ is also dropped from many US English words, for example ‘favorite’, ‘honor’, and ‘color’.
Many US words have different meanings from their UK counterparts:
- ‘pants’ in America is ‘trousers’ in the UK (pants means underwear)
- ‘bill’ in America is ‘a note’ in the UK (bill is an invoice)
- the ‘first floor’ of an American building is the ‘ground floor’ of a British building
- Americans write dates as ‘month-day-year’ (compared to ‘day-month-year’ in the UK) and describe the time as ‘three-ten’ (compared to ‘ten past three’ in the UK).
One thing the Americans have kept from their English heritage is the Imperial system of measurement (along with only Liberia and Myanmar)—despite inches, feet, yards and pounds being largely replaced by the metric system in the UK.
A common misconception is that Canadian English is the same as American English. While Canadian English closely replicates its neighbor’s language, it has retained some of its British English roots and also evolved to include some distinctly Canadian touches.
For example, ‘colour’ and ‘centre’ retain British spellings, whereas ‘customize’ and ‘criticize’ retain the American –ize ending. Canadians wear ‘runners’ or ‘running shoes’ on their feet (not sneakers or trainers) and a toque to keep their head warm in winter (not a beanie or woolly hat).
Dates and measurements are a bit of a mishmash too, with both American and British styles being used depending on the circumstances. For example, a person’s height and weight tend to be measured in pounds and feet, but distance is measured in kilometers and the weight of food is measured in kilograms.
Australian and New Zealand English
While the written form of English used in Australia and New Zealand mostly follows the rules of British English, in this part of the English-speaking world, the line between formal and informal language is blurred, with vocabulary that includes a dazzling array of colloquialisms and contractions.
For example, an Australian may stop off at the bottle-o (bottle shop: the off-licence or liquor store) to buy some tinnies (cans of beer) to enjoy with snags (sausages) cooked on the barbie (barbecue).
What Do English-Language Differences Mean for Translation?
This article has just touched on the different variants of the most widespread language in the world.
To communicate like a native, each version must be treated almost like a completely different language. When you consider the cultural and regulatory differences, localization should be considered a strategic necessity for any global business.
Summa Linguae Technologies can give your English content, not only the vocabulary and grammar, but also the look and feel of documentation produced by a native speaker in your target market. This is true even when the foreign language used is an alternative form of English.
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