UK English and the Importance of Localization

Category: Culture, Translation Services

As you may have seen in our newsletter article, there are differences in spades between American and British English when it comes to bringing your business across the pond. Think we’re off our rocker? Consider:

False Cognates

American and British English are close dialects but they share many false cognates. The following have significantly different meanings in American and British English:

bill, blinkers, bomb, carryon, casket, closet, college, creek, elevator, fall, first floor, football, hole-in-the-wall, holiday, home, homely, loveseat, mate, nervy, pants, restroom, rundown, to sack, seeded, shingle, shorts, to slate, sod, solicitor, to stash, store, tip, tout

Business terms find distinct expression in British: pay “rise”, “flexi” time and “bespoke” (custom), for example. You may want to study up on them for your own benefit as well — it could spare you a gaffe or two on your next business trip to London.

Foreign Sounds

British English counts thousands of words that have a foreign ring to American ears. Here’s a small sampling:

bog standard (ordinary)

bunce (windfall, profit, bonus)

car hire (rental company)

car park (parking lot)

dibs (cash)

freephone (toll-free number)

googled (confused)

Spelling Changes

Using American spelling for your British marketing content will make it seem riddled with typos, even to those who are used to reading American publications. It’s worth it to “Briticise” your spelling to ease the reading for your potential customers. Some common examples include “-s instead of -z” (realise, organise, and yes, even…localise) and “-our instead of -or” (colour, flavour). Don’t forget “-re instead of -er” (litre, centre), too.

Idioms

UK English is idiom-rich, and if you want your copy to sound British, you’ll need to adjust your idioms. Sometimes it’s just a matter of swapping out a word or two. You “touch wood” for good luck instead of knock it, for instance.

Why UK Localization Matters Online

We’ve seen increased demand for UK localization over the past few years. American companies understand the upside of tailoring their business specifically to the UK audience. Apple, Ralph Lauren, Netflix, Ben & Jerry’s, and Eventbrite have all gone the distance to localize for the UK.

You’ll notice (when applicable) how currency, VAT (value-added tax) and shipping are handled transparently and with local flavor. There are local store locations and customer service options. For something as simple as a website form, there are several word changes from American to British English: “post code”, “flat”, “surname”. When you adapt digital content for the UK, it makes your brand appear less “foreign” and more invested in the local culture.

Your translation agency can also help you achieve this same level of local British flair. This American-friendly market is within your reach (as are more details in our full newsletter article!)