American English for the Internet – does it even matter?
American English for the internet does matter. It’s the language of much of the software used for the internet. Furthermore, American English is the language of commerce, even in English speaking countries outside of the United States.
American English is a term somewhat tinted with irony. It is descended from and almost identical to Canadian English, which is pretty much identical to British English, apart from the way it sounds and some of the more interesting idioms. Yet the United States is a country, while descended from British immigrants in British colonies that fought a major war to throw off the rule of England when it fought for independence over two hundred years ago.
Yet if you ask most Americans what the official language is of the United States, and you will almost invariably be told, “English.”
That’s not even true. English is the most commonly spoken language in the US, followed by Spanish, yet, in fact, the US does not have an official language. I kid you not. In the more than two hundred years that the US has existed, the founders and those elected since then have never felt the need, at least as a majority, to make any language official. The majority simply chose to continue speaking English, and so it is, today. American English for the Internet is the choice, not the mandate.
But is American English… English? American English is not the same as British English. Okay… It’s very similar, but it’s not identical. For example, the British write colour, neighbour, harbour, saviour, etc., while Americans spell them color, neighbor, harbor, savior, etc. Canadians, at least in some places, say “eh,” while Americans say, “huh.”
We have differences, but we can easily read each others’ literature and understand each others’ speech. Therefore, really, what does it matter?
It matters in online commerce, immensely. American English for the Internet, like it or not, is the unofficial standard that has simply been adopted by the English-speaking world.
The major language of the Internet is English. AS of March 12th, 2014, according to Wikipedia, English accounted for 53.6% of all website languages used. Second was Russian at 6.4%!! American English for the Internet makes even more sense when the statistics are examined.
While British English is spoken and used in many places in the world, there is no single market quite like the US market for size and wealth, meaning that if you can sell your service or wares to the US market, you will have your greatest overall chance for success if you are using American English for the Internet for any kind of business site in English.
Apart from the fact that virtually all coding language used for websites in the entire world is in American English (no, sorry… align = “centre” will not work. It has to be “center.”), most English text on websites catering to the international market is also in American English.
Not everyone is aware of the fact, but remember that I said earlier that most Americans assume that English is the official language of the United States, even though it isn’t? Well, probably the same number, if not more, believe that all English they read and do business in should be American English. This phenomenon exists in other English-speaking cultures, as well, but not nearly to the same extent as in the US.
Therefore, if your intended market is international, it will successfully reach the greatest number of sympathetic consumers (those who are most likely to buy from you) if it’s in American English for the Internet.
Most companies around the world seem to realize the importance of the English market, these days, so many non-English companies try to create an English site for the huge English market. Unfortunately, apart from the need to decide if it will be in American English for the Internet or some other form, it is even more important for it to be natural.
The fastest way to lose many native English-speaking visitors, regardless of where in world they hail from, is to have the translation done by someone who is not a native English speaker. English is a complicated language, made up with words and phrases borrowed from many other languages. It is not a Latin language, nor does it follow the same rules as other languages of European origin. In fact, the European language most similar in structure to English, Russian, doesn’t even use the same alphabet!
This makes it very difficult for non-native speakers to master. That shows in prose. Most native English speakers immediately notice something out of place, which has given rise to derisive terms, such as Franglaise and Engrish. While the more progressive thinkers might find fault with those who find fault, pragmatic marketers will understand the importance of having translations done by someone who is a native English speaker.
Nothing runs off potential buyers faster than language mistakes. The website can be beautiful and professional in every other way, but if the language has errors, it will lose potential buyers quickly, especially if they come from the United States.
The best way to solve this challenge is to hire a translator who is a native English speaker.
(This article was originally published by this author in 2016 on ClassifiedAdLand. This is an edited version.)