English Translation - Whose English?

Published on May 15, 2019

by Marcos Dinnerstein

Summary: Variants in a language can be big or small. Understanding the difference is crucial when considering an English translation of your content. Go local or global?

George Bernard Shaw, the English writer never said the following: “The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.” In his published works there’s no record that he ever said this but still, people give him credit for this quote.
Oscar Wilde, another Brit with a gift for a clever line, is attributed with, “We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.”


The larger point -  there can be confusion and misunderstanding within what is called one language. For some Americans traveling in England, an English translation might be necessary to understand what the locals are saying. 


Or when someone in Australia says the word, “barbie”, an American might think of the doll that can be dressed in an endless array of clothing styles. They’d be wrong. For Australians ‘barbie’ means barbequed meat. 


Here’s a fun post found on 20 Australian Words That Mean Something Totally Different in the U.S.
And an American or Australian might need an English translation of these 20 British Words That Mean Something Totally Different in the U.S. Among, “shag”, “rubber”, “hooker” and “pants” there are plenty of ways to have embarrassing misunderstandings with words we think we understand. 


What do all of these amusing examples mean for a business person looking to market internationally? That’s where things get serious. But the idea of needing an English translation for content in English is not far fetched. You cannot assume that common language in one country will be understood or have the same connotations in a different country.


To illustrate: You’ll enjoy this video that underscores how we often don’t understand each other, even when we speak a common language.

Americans Don’t Understand English 
 

The beautiful ways different cultures sign emails, from the BBC’s website. (the British take on international affairs and culture is always a fun read) This piece highlights how our cultural differences in writing emails can have real repercussions in the business world. 

You could easily alienate a client or be misunderstood by a coworker. Being in the U.S. - New York City in specific - you wouldn't give a second thought to signing a letter, “Regards,”. But after reading this article you might realize that what some consider to be a pleasant tip-of-the-hat can be read as aloof and impolite in other English speaking locales. Since that would never be the intention, it is safer to sign off with “Best regards” or “Kind regards” or maybe even a “Warm regards”. 


In taking a company to market in other countries, understanding nuance in a language is critical. No one cares what you meant to say if your language is understood as saying something else. And that’s the risk one encounters when dealing with other cultures. Something said innocently can be taken badly.


MotaWord’s co-founder, Evren Ay, when writing about localizing your content put it best: Speak to Global Customers in Their Own Language


Imagine going to Amazon.com and trying to shop in a different language. Talk about a poor user experience! No sensible company does that in 2019. A company that’s serious about globalizing will, on average, translate their content into 32 different languages. That’s not merely considerate. It’s good business.


So here’s some advice on entering new markets. One, localize your content. Use an expert with knowledge of the local market, language, and customs for business communications. And second, go that next step by learning how to communicate one-on-one with your customers in that market. This is a must-have and not a nice-to-have. You’ll need to know how people communicate in writing to be effective with customer service and any in-country partners.


Have a nice day,
Regards,
Ciao for now,
Ta ta,


Where are we? Ah yes! In the U.S.A. No English translation is necessary.
Best regards,
Marcos


PS - At MotaWord we truly understand how to localize your content and would love to take that task off of your hands. See 
how affordable we can be.

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