American English v British English

I was recently asked by a client to review about 50 pages of content on their U.S. website and edit this so that it was suitable for a British audience.

I thought that this would be a fairly straightforward task involving making all the obvious spelling changes…making sure that words like “color” and “flavor”  had a “u” in them, changing “center” to centre, “toward” to towards, “program” to programme and amending words like “organization” and “specialize” to the UK spelling.

The work actually turned out to be rather more time-consuming than I had anticipated. It was easy enough to go through the text and amend the American spellings of particular words, but what surprised me was the amount of additional work required to amend some of the grammar, vocabulary and punctuation.

You don’t very often come across words which have completely different meanings on either side of the Pond but you do have to take into account things like different noun usage, different verb patterns and use of tenses, and different use of prepositions and adverbs. Until I did this work I had never really appreciated the amount of divergence which exists today between American and British English.

In terms of the spoken word we’re so familiar with American English usage over here, through TV, music and films, that we rarely misunderstand what Americans are saying. We take American English for granted and new examples of American English usage are creeping into the way we speak over here all the time.

Look at the written word on pretty much any American website though and the divergence between the two forms of English is quite apparent. It would have been easy for me just to let many of the differences go, because at the end of the day a British audience will have little difficulty in understanding the content on an American website.

As a professional copywriter I wanted to do the job properly of course – my brief was to edit the content so that it looked like it had been written by a Brit. On each page of content I had to make perhaps 10 to 20 edits. In this type of work edits have to be done manually – as far as I’m aware there is no software available which can flawlessly amend American English to British English.

The key learning point for me from doing this, and one that I would like to pass on, was….don’t underestimate how much work is required to amend American English web content to British English.

 

Steve Shaw, Bishopsgate Copywriting

Bishopsgate Copywriting are based in Sevenoaks, England and specialise in financial and business copywriting and copyediting for websites and print media.

1 comment to American English v British English

  • Tony Wise

    Steve,

    What about the way the date is written; 12-1-2011 would be the 12th of January in British English, but the 1st of December in American English….many ‘snafus’ have resulted because of this specific misinterpretation!

    Tony

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