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Hal Licino

Composing Emails In The Type Of English Your International Customers Speak

Jun 29 2010, 12:35 AM by

If you were a member of a bilingual society and called upon to do a presentation in front of an audience whose native tongue was 15% English but 85% German, what would be the logical language to present in? It would seem clear that the presentation should be done in German. Since that is the case, why does your brand insist in writing its emails in the American English form which is emphatically not the language of 85% of the web’s English speakers?

Out of the two billion people who live in nations where English is an official primary language, barely 300 million live in the United States. If your brand markets internationally (and most do) you are not only writing for an audience which resides between Maine and California, but for a prospect who may live in Canada, Australia, Britain, India, South Africa, The Philippines or more than fifty other nations. Although the population of these countries speak English, it is not the American English you have been brought up with. They speak the British English established in their colonial past, and it is a significantly different language than that spoken in modern day New York or Los Angeles. Here are just a few examples:

Anorak - Parka Flyover - Overpass
Articulated Lorry - An 18 wheeler truck Football - Soccer
Aubergine - Eggplant Gammon - Ham
Bangers - Sausages Hooter - Nose
Biro - Ball point pen Lay-by - Roadside rest area
Bonnet - Car hood Lift - Elevator
Boot - Car trunk Loo - Toilet
Caravan - Trailer or Motor Home Mac - Raincoat
Chemist - Drug store Nought - The number zero
Chuffed - Happy Petrol - Gasoline
Courgettes - Zucchini Pram - Baby buggy
Crisps - Potato chips Serviette - Table napkin
Custom - Patronage Stone – A person’s weight in 14 pound increments
Dual Carriageway - Divided highway Swede – Turnip
Estate Car - Station wagon Tyre - Tire
Fag - Cigarette Wellies - Rubber boots
Faggot - A sausage-like meat Wing – Car fender
Flat - Apartment Zed - The letter "Z"

Identical terms can also have different meanings. If an American invites you over for tea, it’s for a hot beverage. However, a British speaker will serve you a full evening meal. An American pudding is a spoonable flavored cream, but a British pudding is everything from cake to pastries to ice cream.

There are variants everywhere: Canadians, for example, tend to speak a more Americanized English, but steadfastly insist on inserting those British u’s inbetween the o’s and r’s, as in "honour the colour of your neighbour." Indians tend to use colonialisms such as “do the needful” which have passed away in most modern English speaking countries. Australians have specific terms such as “fair dinkum” which are found nowhere else.

The variants even extend to the way sums are written:

USA: $1,234,567,890.12
Continental Europe: 1.234.567.890,12$
India: $1,23,45,67,891.12

In most British speaking countries a billion is what Americans call a trillion. Thus if your email refers to Carlos Slim as the world’s richest man with $53.5 billion, a non-American audience might interpret that as an amount greater than the GDP of North America and Europe combined!

As there is no universal English, email marketers are well advised to craft their targeted messages in the specific type of English which is practiced by their audience. Your list’s statistical data has to include your customers’ nationalities, thus there is no more excuse than to supply a recipe for a treacle glazed, rasher wrapped hand of pork with capsicum, silver beet and sultana forcemeat to an American audience as there is to provide the same molasses glazed, bacon wrapped pork shoulder with red pepper, swiss chard and raisin stuffing recipe to your prospects in New Zealand, Ireland, Kenya, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Singapore, Jamaica…

 

 

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