Written on 11 September, 2018

Localisation and its Pitfalls

Localisation can be a veritable minefield – instead of watching your p’s and q’s, the s’s and z’s are your main focus, and don’t forget those oxford commas! Our clients are often surprised when we explain to them that, actually, there are many things when it comes to language choices that make a reader’s face crumple up in disdain, so localisation is a must. Here one of our resident Brits tells it like it is. Don’t worry if you’re on #teamUSA though, as one of our US natives will soon have their say!

So, what’s with all the capital letters, guys?

US English capitalises all words (except conjunctions, articles, etc.) in titles and headings, as well as words following colons. Formatting is a wonderful tool that allows the reader to easily decipher what is a heading and what isn’t… just saying.

The great spelling war

US English struggles with certain aspects of spelling, for example travelling vs. traveling or flavour vs. flavor. I’m not sure what these letters did to be dropped, but I think it’s quite unfair. All silent letters are also banished (oestrogen vs. estrogen) and don’t even get me started on ag(e)ing. Cue a lifelong battle with those squiggly red error lines telling you you’d fail a year 4 spelling test (that’s 3rd grade, by the way).

“It’s 78 degrees out!” – “Oh my god, is the world ending?!”

To this day, America remains the only industrialised country in the world that does not use the metric system and the Celsius scale as its predominant systems of measurement. As a Brit, going on holiday and getting the weather forecast can be a nightmare – the only weather programme you can find in English is from CNN and it tells you you’ll all be boiled to a crisp by midday. 90 degrees is not a thing, unless we’re talking about the perfect tea-brewing temperature.

Food for thought

Measurements in cooking open up a whole other Pandora’s box. America may have some of the tastiest recipes you can think of, but you need advanced algebra skills (or at least a good Google conversion tool) to figure out how much flour you need. Woe betide you if you decide to grab a ‘cup’ from the kitchen cupboard and crack on.

Anything food related can really be quite tricky when working across language variants. Who knew that ‘biscuits and gravy’ isn’t as disgusting as it sounds?! Asking for some chips as a side dish in an American restaurant wouldn’t get you the hot, salty goodness you were craving, and if you’re trying to locate an aubergine in a supermarket, they start mumbling about plants and eggs. Sweet treats can cause a lot of confusion, too – I can’t be the only one that thought for years that Americans would eat peanut butter and actual fruit jelly on their toast?

As you can tell, there are so many ways in which Brits can get lost in American English. Stay tuned for the next blog in this series, where one of our US natives gives as good as she’s gotten here…

If this has given you the (not so) gentle push you needed to make sure your text is appropriate for your target market, please get in touch via hello@surreytranslation.co.uk for more information on our translation and localisation services.