Which English Should Your Website Use, and Why Does it Matter?

Posted on June 2, 2016 · Posted in Website Translation

The project prompt is simple: translate our website from [insert language here] into English. But the follow up question stumps many potential clients: which English would you prefer?

The answer to that question matters. Your website translation could be completed in either US or British English, and the implications range further than you may think. Join us for an examination of the difference, and how to determine which version of the language is best for your brand.

3 Major Differences Between US and UK English

Many of the differences between the two languages are nuanced, but they boil down to three major categories:

Spelling is the most commonly known difference between US and UK English. British English words like honour, labour, and endeavour are simplified as honor, labor, and endeavor in its American alternative. Similarly, centre, theatre, and meagre are spelled center, theater, and meager, respectively.

The origin of these spelling differences comes from a source you may find familiar: Noah Webster. An American Lexicographer born in the 18th century in Connecticut, Webster devoted much of his life to developing a more streamlined version of the language he found to be complicated and devoid of rules. Even today, his legacy – the Merriam-Webster Dictionary – remains one of the most common English dictionaries around the world.

Vocabulary is another significant difference between the two language versions, and one that many not equally familiar with both don’t consider quite as often. Hundreds of words are used in different contexts in UK and US English, ranging from slight differences (such as mum vs. mom) to complex (an articulated lorry in England is a tractor trailer in the United States) and downright contradictory. For example, public school in British English means private school in its American alternative.

This difference in vocabulary is where knowing the two versions becomes important as it relates to your website. Use American spelling, and British audiences may give you a pass. But if you use the wrong vocabulary, they may simply not know what you’re talking about. For a more in-depth examination of the differences in vocabulary, this list gives a great (though still incomplete) overview.

Grammar is the final major difference between both versions as it relates to writing, and another important consideration. Past tenses of verbs, delexical verbs, auxiliary verbs, collective nouns, and a use of prepositions within British English are all crucial to know about when translating texts into one version or another. Check out this comprehensive discussion of each concept as it relates to both UK and US English.

Which Version of English Works Best For My Website?

As you might imagine, there is no universal answer to this question.Given the pronounced differences between the two versions, finding the best solution is crucial to enable your website to be successful. Ultimately, the best version for your website comes down to that website’s goal, and – more importantly – its audience.

Naturally, you need to adjust your version of choice to the people who will be most likely to read your website. American audiences will prefer their own version of the language, just as their counterparts in the United Kingdom prefer theirs. A little over 100 countries in the world currently speak English as their first language, amounting to a total of approximately 339 million native English speakers.

Of those, more than 200 million live in the USA alone, but the rest – particularly individuals in Great Britain and Australia – will probably prefer English spelling. Once you begin to consider countries who learn English in school, some of whom learn American English and some learn British English, the picture gets even more murky.

That’s why knowing your target audience is crucial to determining which of the two versions of English works best for your website. By using tools like Google Analytics, you can find out where the majority of your traffic is coming from, and adjust your language accordingly. So when you contact us with a desire to translate your website into English, and we follow up with the ‘which English’ question, you will know exactly what to say.