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Are English speaking Countries Separated by a Common Language? How to avoid alienating part of your target audience…

Jennifer Alexander


      An opinion piece by Jennifer, our Account Manager, about UK versus US English in marketing.  


I recently read an article on Marketing Week’s website by the Secret Marketer from February this year, which inspired me to write this blog post. The original article can be found here but for a quick summary, the author expresses his extreme dismay at people incorrectly assuming that American English is the standard and therefore correct global version of English. I can empathise with him. I lived for almost a year in France alongside a few Americans who, after a heated debate about “a-lu-mi-ni-um versus a-loo-mi-num”, informed me that the Americans invented English. It was at that point in the debate that I gave up and decided it wasn’t worth the fight in defending the origins of our shared language.

Contrary to the above opinion, the English language was introduced to the Americans through British colonisation back in the early 1600s and over the past 400 years, the languages each side of the Atlantic have diverged in a few minor ways. Like every language, the spoken form of English varies greatly between different regions – half the time Scottish speakers have to be subtitled in film and TV shows that are shown in England – but the written forms are more similar, with a few exceptions to this rule. For example, a UK school child asking for a rubber would be handed something he can use to erase whatever he has just written in his jotter (a notebook for you American readers!) whereas an American counterpart would probably be marched down to the nearest family planning clinic!

UK versus US English

Better to avoid any confusion when communicating with your target audience!

The Marketing Week article made me think, how important is it to businesses to localise English copy to each of their local markets? Considering Matinée has web pages dedicated to each version of English and different voice artists for each dialect, the simple answer would be yes. If there is demand for English voice artists from New Zealand, Australia, Canada etc., then there’s obviously a business need for these dialects. The above world map shows the different regions in the world which speaks in some form of an English dialect, with the dark blue areas being those whose native language is English and the lighter blue areas are those who have adopted the language. As you can see from the diagram, you would be missing out on a huge part of your target market if you chose to ignore these regional preferences.

A valid argument for localising marketing content for different English dialects is that you don’t want spelling/pronunciation issues to distract your audience from the key message and the emotions you want that message to invoke.

But in what circumstances does UK versus US spelling really matter? Would an English shopper visiting a US site be put off buying something if they were asked to select their preferred color instead of colour? Would potential customers lose trust in your brand if they think you can’t spell? Research has shown that the rest of the world is more tolerant of US English spelling than our American counterparts are of UK English spelling.

So if your brand wants to compete at a local level, should they localise their English copy to the local marketplace? From an account manager perspective, if a client came to me and asked me to localise a web video in Spanish, the first question I would ask is whether the video will be targeting the European or Latin American market. Additionally, it is important to find out what part of the marketplace i.e. is there a specific country or region the company is looking to target? After all, this will influence the Spanish translator and voice artist we will use for the project. Similarly, in addition to voice artists from different English regions of the world, we have English translators based in different parts of the world, so that content is localised in the correct way. Therefore, I would recommend that localisation for each English language region is the most effective, and the correct way of translating video and also other marketing communications materials.

And remember, if you use different domains for different countries, it’s not enough to stop your localisation efforts at the URL! You should also localise your on site content too to avoid any confusion, and make sure you remember to localise your on-site currency!

p.s. throughout writing this blog article, I have had to fight WordPress regarding the “correct” spelling on every instance of the word localise or localisation…very frustrating!!!