Introduction to localisation

 

As our world becomes increasingly international, the need to make your goal, message or campaign accessible on a global scale is essential for any growing business. But, it’s commonly thought that when it comes to English, everyone speaks and understands the same language, right? We all know that US and UK English have their differences; there’s the age-old Football vs Soccer discussion, and the missing (or extra) ‘u’ in colour. Other than that, it’s all just English. Or is it?

 

While Brits and Americans (mostly) understand each other, what you may not know is that there are a number of more complex areas that lead to slip ups, confusion and, frequently, general amusement. In a series of four blog posts, we will address a few significant differences between English variants and the importance of choosing the right language variant for your target market.

Here are a few of our favourite examples of UK English phrases that often stump our stateside neighbours:

 

UK EN: Bob’s your uncle.

If your British friend exclaims “Ah! Bob’s your uncle!”, it’s best to wipe that bewildered expression from your face and don’t try to adamantly argue that your uncle is in fact called Tony. This phrase, which is common on the British Isles, actually means “you’re all set” and has nothing at all to with your uncle, who may, or may not, be called Bob.

UK EN: ”See you on the first floor!”

You’ve arranged an important meeting with a British client for midday. Your watch reads 12:14 and you know you’ve got the time right, but as time passes with still no sign of your client, you double check what you actually agreed on: ‘Meeting 12:00, first floor.’ Ah… there’s your problem. If you tell a British person to head to the first floor of your office, more likely than not, they’ll end up on the floor above you as the first floor in Britain is known as the second floor in the States.

 

UK EN: Having your finger in every pie.

You’ve probably guessed by now that this phrase should not be taken literally. In the UK, when someone tells you that they have a finger in every pie, it means that you are involved in a number of projects, that’s having your hands in all the pots if you’re in the US.

 

UK EN: To spend a penny.

Your British friend tells you that she’s off to spend a penny. So, why does your friend then walk straight past the shops and into the toilets? Most toilets don’t double up as shops in the UK – to spend a penny is actually a polite way of saying that you need to find the restroom. (And not to have a rest, which is a whole other point of confusion for US v. UK English discussion!)

 

While these examples are more light-hearted attempts at showing the potential for misunderstanding, there are numerous other words and phrases which can cause major confusion among Brits, Americans and speakers of other varieties of English. At Surrey Translation Bureau not only can we help you to pick the right language variant, but we also offer a localisation service which takes into account not just words, but culturally-specific factors.

You can reach our English language experts at hello@surreytranslation.co.uk for more information about translations into English and our localisation service.