Why localization matters in the English-speaking world
English. It’ s one of the most widespread languages on planet Earth. Roughly a billion people speak it as either a first or second language. It is often used as the official language of business, international trade, and diplomacy.
Yet, even among native speakers, English is not universally understood.
The Doctor and the American
Ah, The Doctor. That loveable, ancient, time-travelling madman in a blue box.
If you’re not familiar, The Doctor is the lead character in the BBC’s long-running science fiction series, Doctor Who. He’s an alien whose spaceship is also a time machine. In it, he travels throughout history and the universe using brains, bravado, and far-fetched technology to fight monsters and evil robots.
The Doctor is famous for fast-talking gibberish. He confounds friends and enemies alike with babble about timey-wimey, science-y stuff.
But as an American watching the show, it’s not talk of quantum locks, vortex manipulators, or pocket universes that throw me off. It’s the everyday expressions; the ones I haven’t encountered this side of the Atlantic.
4 Britishisms I learned from Doctor Who
For a man who is supposed to be over 900 years old, The Doctor sure has a way with the ladies. And why not? He’s brilliant, funny, handsome. . . and he’s got a time machine.
But when I first saw this scene from The Girl in the Fireplace,
I had no idea what snogging was. Not that it was all that hard to figure out.
#2 Stag Night
The Doctor’s way with the ladies sometimes leads to tension with the fellas (or blokes – but that’s another word I never hear Americans say). For example, the time he crashed Rory’s bachelor party in The Vampires of Venice. Only bachelor party is not what they called it:
When I read the title of this episode, the words The Lodger had no meaning to me. I also hadn’t yet figured out that flat means apartment.
But I quickly learned that if a strange man shows up on your doorstep with a bag full of money, go ahead and rent your spare room to him. He might just save you from the sinister alien living upstairs.
When I hear torch I think, “burning stick.” And quite frankly, burning sticks would have looked right at home as The Doctor and Queen Nefertiti ran from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. Apparently, though, torch is just another way of saying flashlight.
Since we don’t have a TARDIS translation matrix...
Encountering words from a different English dialect can be fun. Confusing at times, but mostly harmless and humorous.
In a professional setting, though, communicating with precision should be your highest priority.
Localization is the process of adapting communications (especially marketing materials) for a particular audience. Its importance is epitomized by embarrassing mistranslations, like the time KFC’s “finger-lickin’ good” became “eat your fingers off” in China.
Cultural faux pas can leave your customers baffled, or worse, offended. And that’s just not good for business.
Localization, even within the English-speaking world, helps your customers relate to you. So when you’re targeting the US market, always hire an American copywriter. Someone who will naturally write in a voice familiar to your audience.
Alexa Steele is an American copywriter and sci-fi junkie. She is available to help your brand develop US-focused content marketing and native-English communications.
If you enjoyed this post please give it a buzz. And if you’re a Whovian, leave a comment with the name of your favorite companion.