Knowing the 'English Language' isn't enough. As the third-most popular first language in the world, it differs wildly by country and you'll need to know those differences even if you're fluent. Spread all over the world, this mix of German, Latin, Greek, Swedish (yes, seriously) and other influences is highly diverse. While there are tons of dialects, a nice place to start is the US vs UK difference. You can't just copy and paste English copy across marketing materials.
Here're four reasons why.
This is key if you're in fashion retail, as clothes have plenty of US/UK differences. Firstly, a shirt in the US can mean one you button-up, or one you don't. In the UK, it's only the former, the other's a t-shirt. In the UK, runners wear trainers, but sneakers in the States. Brits see pants as underwear, yet Americans see them as trousers. These are just a few of the many differences. If the two countries use the same word, you'll also have to be careful with spelling (chequered shirt in UK vs checkered shirt in US). But, we'll get more into that later.
Now this is the biggest area where Brits and Americans clash. Let's get one thing straight to start:
Chips: fried potato you have with fish or a burger Crisps: crunchy potato slices out of the packet
USChips: crunchy potato slices out of the packet Fries: fried potato you have with fish or a burger
Both countries use the word sausage, but banger is a common (and much-loved) alternative in the UK. You'd have pasta with eggplant in the US, but aubergine in the UK. Brits spread Jam on toast, yet they spread Jelly on toast across the Atlantic. Jelly for Brits is the wobbly kids' treat (that's Jello in the States). There are more here, but do you see how complicated it can get?
Here's another potential mind field – especially if you're writing for a London-based audience. Londoners won't like it if you call their beloved Tube/underground the subway or metro. The former's in New York, and the latter across Europe. Otherwise, try spotting the vocab differences in the following sentences:
I walked on the pavement, got into my car and drove on the motorway. There were loads of lorries causing traffic, but I overtook some and got to the car park on time.
USI walked on the pavement, got into my car and drove on the highway. There were loads of trucks causing traffic, but I passed some and got the parking lot on time.
All English speakers would have no problem understanding either, but you lose out on making a connection with your audience if you don't get the terms right.
Even if you use the correct vocabulary, spelling can be tricky to localize. Here're just a few differences to take into account.
Americans prefer the ize. For example:UK – apologise, incentivise US – apologize, incentivize
They often cut the 'u' in America. So:UK – colour, neighbour, humour
US – color, neighbor, humor
Brits keep the more complex originally spelling, while Americans often simplify them:UK – leukaemia, manoeuvre, aeroplane, paediatric US – leukemia, maneuver, airplane, pediatric
If you want to avoid the risk of being out-of-touch with your market, you need to make sure you not only use the words that they do, but also write them like they do.
While it's entirely possible to study these subtle differences, it's always better to put it in the hands of a professional. A mother-tongue speaker has the natural sense to ensure texts are localized properly, so you'll know for sure you're hitting the right notes in your marketing. After all, if something's going to be done, it should be done right.
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