There is no such thing as one kind of English. So, even if you use international words, you still have to make a choice which English your company is going to use. In this article you’ll find out if you should use US or UK English for your business. Or if another kind of English would be better. Just answer the questions as you go along, to find out which English you should be using.
Does it really matter which English you use?
Try this experiment:
First imagine 2 dialects in your own language, which are really different from one another. Then take some of the most typical words from one dialect and use them in a sentence in the other dialect. How does that sound to you? Now you get an idea of what mixing up US and UK English can sound like.
Is this how you want your English to sound? Probably not.
But it really boils down to what matters to your (ideal) clients. Some clients don’t care about this at all, others do. You might already have an idea if this could be important to them.
The differences between US and UK English
Well, there are lots of differences. Here are some examples:
- Vocabulary – government/administration
- Grammar – I write to clients/I write clients
- Spelling – a center/centre of excellence
Listen to these two clips for an idea of the differences in pronunciation:
In this article you can read about some words which you really need to pronounce in the right way.
So, what English do you speak Lynn?
I was born and raised in the UK, so I speak (and write) British English. Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time speaking English to non-native speakers and I’ve also spent 18 months in the US.
Are you pushing one particular type of English?
Nope, I don’t have a favourite. I think you should choose the kind of English which is going to help you best in your business. I have no preference for US English, UK English, Australian English, Canadian English, European English or whatever. They all have advantages.
Personally, I really enjoy the subtleties of British English and the straightforwardness of American English. And I love the versatility of this language, which is spoken by so many people throughout the world.
So, US or UK English for your business is up to you.
The best type of English for your business
In the end, there is no single type of English which is best for every business. Anyone who tells you that is thinking about themselves and not about your business. This means you need to work out which type which will work best for your business.
Sometimes the best type of English for your business isn’t quite what you’d expect. When I lived in Texas, lots of people told me they could listen to me all day. I remember thinking that I should have had a job in sales there: I could have made a fortune!
How do you choose US or UK English for your business
As always with a marketing decision, start with your clients or ideal clients.
- Where do your (ideal) clients come from?
- Which language(s) do they already speak?
- How will they feel most comfortable talking to you?
If your clients are native speakers of English
In this case, you need to look at where your clients come from. Do your clients all speak the same kind of English? Then your answer is clear. Just use that kind of English.
It gets more complicated if you have clients speaking different kinds of English. Then you’ll need to take a decision. To do that, look at the numbers and your expected growth. So, please take some time to think about this carefully.
Subtle or straightfoward?
Sometimes it helps to look at your clients in more detail – are they more likely to respond to subtlety or straightforwardness? If it’s subtlety, I’d suggest British English. Where straightforwardness is needed, go for US English. If being accurate is important, think about British English, if you want to sound snappy, then go for US English.
Read more about different tones in English here.
If your clients aren’t native speakers of English
In this case, it depends on the English that your (ideal) clients are most comfortable with. In Europe, most people learned British English at school. Choose US English for the Americas. In Asia, people often learn British English, but are increasingly speaking US English because of tv and media influences. So, in Asia you need to be especially careful what you choose.
How important is it to get the type of English right?
For some (ideal) clients, it’s really important, for others less so. How important do you think language is for your clients?
Sometimes you can use a mix and get away with it. By that I mean one kind of spelling and grammar along with some words from another type. I see this most often with British spelling and grammar with some US words in the mix.
Difference between written and spoken English
As with every situation, there is more room for differences in spoken English, than in written English. So, if you’re only using English mainly for doing lives or webinars, don’t worry about this too much.
What you do need to do is make a definite decision about written English. This means you can’t mix and match US and UK English when you’re writing. You need to use 1 type of spelling, which needs to fit the grammar as well. Otherwise your English will sound really strange. And I guess that’s not the impression you want to make.
A change in English you need to know about
Here’s a quick lowdown on changes that happens in every language. This could also influence your decision on which type of English to use.
Every language changes all the time, they’re organic. A language often takes on new words and phrases from other languages (we call them loan words), when these languages are seen as more creative, higher class or more useful. In other words, it’s fine to use loan words if they add to what you’re trying to say.
US words in British English
US words and phrases are constantly coming into UK English. This is especially the case in businesses with new trends and industries.
Here’s an example. In 2013, Aileen Lee came up with the term unicorn to describe a privately owned start up worth over $1 billion. The term is now used in the US and UK.
So, if you have a mainly British audience, it is fine to use some US phrases and words. But, be aware, there’s a fine line between being hip and being tacky. Don’t overdo it!
The debate about US English and UK English isn’t new. We’ve even come up with a sort of solution, which is mid-Atlantic English. Originally Mid-Atlantic English was a US invention to sound more sophisticated.
See the urban dictionary’s definition of Mid-Atlantic English
Later it was used in a lot of songs, often with British bands using US words. It was also put to good use by Darth Vader:
I love British/American English and that doesn’t fit my clients. What now?
Again, this is a marketing decision. Can you be yourself in the other type of English? How extreme is your US English or UK English? If you speak a pretty neutral type of English, you’ll be fine when you’re speaking. Then just adapt your writing to your clients.
What if you didn’t have the answers to all the questions? Or if you have another question?
In this case, your situation may be a little more complicated. Hey, language isn’t always simple. Add a comment below or send me a message and I’ll do my best to help you out.
What’s your conclusion after reading this article?
Please share your comments below. Do you use US or UK English for your business? How did you decide which one to use?
What kind of English do you use?
I love this statement: “What you do need to do is make a definite decision about written English. This means you can’t mix and match US and UK English when you’re writing. You need to use 1 type of spelling, which needs to fit the grammar as well. Otherwise your English will sound really strange.”
I am currently reading a book — a major book by a major (Australian) author published by a major (American) publishing house. It’s meant to be an autobiography of a British woman, written in the first person and including quoted material (emails, texts, blog notes, etc.)
It’s a great book, but the vernacular makes me crazy, careering between British, Australian, and American English. It’s kind of shocking that the editors didn’t sort that. In fact, I believe they contributed to the mess by introducing the American aspect.
Clearly, they didn’t read your article before publishing it!
Hi Ben, it can be really confusing can’t it? Sounds like you could justify Australian English for the main text and British English for the quotes etc in this case.
Not so sure where the American comes in though.
In marketing texts you should definitely stick to one spelling. Any confusion will really take you off track.
The American part comes from the publisher via spelling and formatting. It makes the text lose the authenticity of the faux autobiography, unfortunately (it’s all written in the first person, like journal entries).
My biggest single issue with the whole book is referring to banknotes as ‘bills’. I’ve never heard a British person do that. I think that’s an expression from countries that use the dollar (like Australia and the US). I think most Brits think of bills as invoices, not currency.
Same with referring to ‘cots’ as ‘cribs’. I think of that as American (although, it has gained some traction in Australia — but not the UK that I know of). There are little things like that scattered throughout the book. I could go on… and on and on!
Yep, bills are invoices to Brits or what you ask for in a restaurant (if you can find one open 😢)
I think you could use crib for a new born in the UK, but that’s not for long. Alternatively, use crib
for Nativity plays or Christmas scenes.
Isn’t English gloriously complex at times? 😀
There was another lexiconic speedbump (if that’s even the right term!) in today’s chapter when they referred to ‘Dancing with the Stars’ — the Australian and American versions of Strictly (Come Dancing). It’s unbelievable that no one caught this! The book itself is really, really good. And it was made into a great TV drama!