British or American English? Or maybe international?

British or American English? Or maybe international?

One of the most common questions asked by our project managers when customers request translations is:

Do you want British or American English?

Sometimes the customer answers straight away, as there’s no doubt about where the translated text will be used: “American! We’ll be using the brochure at a trade fair in Houston.”

Published 9/6/2016

But at other times it’s harder to answer, since the target group consists of readers in different parts of the world. Or there might not even be a single homogeneous target group of readers with English as their native language – they might be people of different ages in many locations scattered around the globe, with English as their second or even third language.

Why does the language variant matter?

We don’t ask the question just to be linguistic pedants, but because the answer will help us to deliver a better translation. English is English, of course, but depending on the type of text product we will be helping you to localise (e.g. a brochure, a website, advertising text or a handbook) and the subject area, the version of English used may affect how readers perceive the text and hence also the product. Sometimes it’s more important and sometimes less so, but the more aware and informed we and our customers are, the better the end-results.

As Swedes, we might think of the differences between British and American English mainly in terms of accent and the fact that the spelling isn’t always the same, but there are also other aspects to consider. To begin with, there are many other variants of English: Canadian English, South African English, Indian English, Australian English and so on. If you want to translate material that is primarily aimed at New Zealanders, we can deliver the best possible texts if we know about this and are able to engage a translator from New Zealand.

A lingua franca?

Growing globalisation brings a growing need for translations into English that work for many different groups of readers around the world, with varying levels of English-language knowledge. As someone who works with languages, I think that in this situation the first thing to think about is whether you should have the texts translated into additional carefully selected local languages. This will probably result in more satisfied customers, a greater inclination to buy, fewer misunderstandings, etc. Obviously, this all depends on the intended purpose of the text.

International English?

However, I fully understand that it isn’t always possible to translate into all local languages, and that our customers sometimes need an English translation that works as well as possible for as many readers as possible, whatever their location and their language skills. They simply need some kind of international English version that won’t result in misunderstandings due to local word choices and overly complicated language. Naturally, this is something we can help with. The important thing is that we know this is what you need so that we can choose a translator who knows how to produce this type of international English.

Let us share our knowledge and experience!

If you have any questions about which version of English to use and whether you can rely on English or should consider using additional local languages, get in touch! We have extensive experience and can give you the information you need to decide what’s right for you and your text.

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