American English – do we need to localise?

Working for a leading Language Service Provider and having a keen interest in languages, I always pride myself on my knowledge of linguistics and identifying cultural differences between countries; before going on holiday I always learn the local words for “hello”, “thank you” and “the bill please” and try to immerse myself in the local way of life as much as possible.

However, before going to America for a business trip (my first trip to The States) I didn’t think it was necessary for me to brush up on my American English, how different can it be?

This I found to be a bit of a mistake, and I soon felt like an ignorant tourist when asking for the “toilet” instead of the “restroom” and “the bill” instead of “the check”  to name but a few.

American English vs. British English

It soon became very apparent that the differences between “The Queen’s English” and “American English” are quite vast and don’t simply comprise of changing an “s” to a “z”; it was at this point that I truly understood the value of localisation between the two languages.

What if I asked to borrow your barrette for my bangs? Or if I told that I was broiling a rutabaga? Suddenly it’s like I’m talking a completely different language. Here are some more examples:

Localisation is not simply changing one language into another, it is a process in which a linguist uses their in-depth knowledge and understanding of a country to adapt content so that it is culturally fit for use locally and resonates with its local audience; to get this right is a true art form.

Another striking example is the difference between UK and US date formats. If a website promises to deliver your product on 01/02/2017, then American customers would expect a parcel on the 2nd of January, while their British counterparts would be waiting for the postman on the 1st of February.

While this may seem like a minor point, a customer left feeling confused or unsure is much more likely to take their business elsewhere.

The importance of qualified translators

Here at Capita Translation and interpreting, we spend a lot of time and resources in sourcing and vetting linguists to ensure that we only use the right people for every project. In addition to this, it is vital that each project is set up correctly to fully understand the scope, target audience and purpose, which allows us to use the right linguists for the right jobs.

As an Account Manager it is my job to truly understand the requirements of each of my clients and we work closely together to understand exactly what is required from each piece of work they send to me; this is to ensure that we use the correct linguists, the best internal teams and apply an efficient workflow; translation is not a one size fits all business.

Shaping your content to cater to a specific market demonstrates an awareness and appreciation of local standards, with even small changes hugely increasing a website’s appeal.

Localised content which uses area-appropriate language, grammar, and formatting, demonstrates that you care about and respect your customers, essential in gaining their trust and custom. I learnt some valuable lessons whilst in America and I ask that you all take heed and take time to understand the value in localisation.


Alicia is an Account Manager for the Manufacturing and Engineering industries. Outside of work she enjoys the outdoors, running, biking and walking but when she has to stay inside you can find her in the kitchen cooking up a feast or planning her next adventure.

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