"An idea does not pass from one language to another without change."
– Miguel de Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life

You may often hear the advice, “write like you talk.” That’s good guidance. It can make your writing more conversational and easy to follow. But not for everyone.

If you’re writing for an international audience, some of the phrasing and word choices you typically use in conversation can lead to confusion and misunderstanding.

For example, I recently used the phrase “second to none” in a corporate brochure intended for a worldwide audience, which met with the comment, “Say this in plain English, please.” Surprisingly (for me, at least), the reader had interpreted that phrase to mean “average” or “just OK.” (To clarify: in the US, the expression means the best, first place, highest ranking, etc.)  I wrote it instinctively — like I talk. But what was plain English to me, wasn’t to my audience.

So, for international communication and marketing, don’t write like you talk.
Write like they hear.

It’s challenging to train yourself to reread everything you write to look for phrases and word choices that won’t work for an international audience.  After all, your own language is ingrained in you.  But it can be done. And it doesn’t have to leave your text stilted and boring.

Some simple tips for writing for an international audience:

» Read through some online idiom dictionaries to remind yourself of what isn’t always plain English to non-native speakers.

» Use a thesaurus, but not like many people do:  looking for fancier words to sound smarter (which rarely works, but that’s another topic). Look for simpler, clearer ways to say things.

» Reread anything you’ve intended to be funny. Is it still funny outside of your own culture or region?

» Ask a non-native speaker to read your work before you publish.

» Be smart. Only change what you really need to for clarity. Preserve your unique writing style to retain the energy and personality in your text — especially in letters and blogs.

What phrases or words do you think are the worst culprits for international miscommunication?

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European marketers and business owners: are you interested in B2B (business-to-business) opportunities in the United States? I'm guessing that places like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago spring to mind, right? Of course, these are huge metropolitan areas filled with every kind of business you can imagine. Yet, allow me to direct your attention to the southwest for a moment. Texas, to be more precise. What springs to mind now? Cowboys, longhorn cattle, and rodeos? Oh, but there's so much more.

This year's ranking by CNBC crowns Texas as the top state in the USA for business in 2010, citing Texas' strong economy as an important factor. In fact, the study describes the Texas economy as "the 15th largest in the world, according to government figures; larger, for example, than all the Scandinavian nations combined."

Now, Texas is my home state and I'm certainly "Texas Proud" about a lot of things the Lone Star State has to offer. But when it comes to business opportunities, I'm not unduly biased. The evidence is clear.

Here are just a few of the characteristics that make Texas a top place to consider for B2B marketing and other business opportunities in the USA:

Since 2008, Texas has been home to the most Fortune 500 company headquarters in the United States. (Tied this year with California — each has 57.)

Texas is centrally located, making communication and travel across the USA's four time zones very convenient. Texas is home to two of the world's busiest international airports: Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) and Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), with DFW ranking 3rd in the world for operations.

Cost of Living:
Business and living costs in Texas are relatively low. For example, you can buy a 4,000+ ft² (370+ m²) home in a Dallas suburb for less than $400,000 (300,000 Euro), while a comparable home near Los Angeles, California could cost millions of dollars.

Technology & Innovation:
Texas has a strong presence in technology research and education. My own alma mater, Baylor University, ranked among Tech's 29 Most Powerful Colleges this year along with the University of Texas. Also, Austin (the state capital) hosts the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Conferences and Festivals in March, which include a world-renowned Interactive Festival highlighting emerging media and creative technology.

Population/Workforce & Land:
Texas is 268,820 mi² (696,241 km²) — larger than any country in Western Europe. As of 2009, the state has an estimated population of 24.7 million — 2nd largest in the USA. Yet, in population density, Texas ranks 26th. (I.e., It's a big state with lots of room.)

Texas has a lot to offer — from friendly people and fantastic food to outdoor adventures and a sparkling social scene. You'll find sandy beaches in the south, pine forests in the east, prairies and rolling hills in the middle, and deserts, mountains, and canyons in the west. And, of course, big cities like Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio offer everything you could want in dining, entertainment, arts, culture, music, education, high tech facilities, and more.

More Fun Texas Facts

► Interested in learning about effective B2B marketing, communication, content marketing, corporate communication, and copywriting for Texas and the rest of the USA? Please leave a comment or contact me with specific questions and/or topics.

Related Posts:

How to Avoid the Stereotype Trap in International Marketing & Communication

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cookies3_istock_000012992760xsmallRecently, I was talking with a friend of mine from London about what we were planning for the upcoming weekend. I mentioned we were hoping to have a big family breakfast with scrambled eggs and homemade biscuits.

That’s when she looked at me with a strange expression on her face.  “Biscuits?” she asked. “For breakfast?” 

You see, in the UK and most of Europe, the English word biscuit refers to what Americans would call a cookie or cracker, which is usually sweet, hard or crispy, and often has a cream filling, icing/frosting, chocolate chips, etc. 

biscuits1_istock_000013341813xsmallIn the USA, biscuits are small, round leavened breads – slightly crispy and golden brown on the outside, fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth soft on the inside.  They’re not sweetened and are typically a breakfast food, often eaten with scrambled or fried eggs, sausage, bacon, ham, cheese, or butter and jam/jelly.  In the south, buttermilk biscuits and white “country” gravy are popular. Is it the healthiest breakfast? Not at all. But oh, so yummy.

Why am I writing about biscuits? Simply to remind you that regional differences in word-choice and phrasing can have a dramatic impact on your business success internationally.

My friend was disgusted when I mentioned having biscuits and eggs for breakfast. We were both speaking English, but our minds had conjured very different images and emotions from just that one word. It was startling, confusing, disconnecting, and it threw off the whole conversation.

We laughed about it, of course. And it was educational. But when you’re writing to customers or business partners online, in brochures, or via email, you don’t get to know immediately if they’ve misunderstood something. You won’t know if they’re thinking or feeling something completely different from what you’d hoped.

In your international marketing and communication, you want to connect clearly, easily, and naturally.

Before you mail your next sales letter, print a new brochure, or click send on your latest email blast, give it a “biscuit test.”  If anything is unclear (based on feedback from native regional English experts), consider creating separate communications for each target region.  It may take some extra effort, but the returns will be worth it.

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Yes. You read that right. I think translation is a bad idea. Direct, untargeted translation, that is. Why? Let me give you an example.

As I was planning a family outing last week, I turned to that handy little resource — the Web — to get information I needed from a particular Swedish company. I'm always happy when I see the UK or US flag icon on a website signaling English-language pages. It makes it much quicker and easier for me to find and absorb the information I need.

But happiness turned into frustration within a few seconds of reading the copy. Let's just say, I could forget about quick and easy information. After flipping back and forth a couple of times between the Swedish and English pages, I found the 3 main culprits.

► First, the original Swedish copy wasn't great.

► Second, they'd most likely used translation software or a translation service to directly translate the average Swedish copy into terrible English copy.

► Third, they'd obviously not bothered to ask a real live native English speaker to read through the copy after translating it.

My first thought was: "Wow. Why did they even bother? They must not think English-speaking visitors are worth their time and attention." My second thought was, "This company must not be as professional as I'd hoped."

How unfortunate. Yet, I see this kind of average, quick-fix English translation all too often on Scandinavian and European websites. My Swedish friends might call it lagom (good enough), but I call it a mistake. Why? Because your English-speaking customers will feel like they are an afterthought, rather than a priority, for you — diminishing your reputation in their eyes.

Some may argue that English-speaking customers accessing European websites should overlook poor English communications since they know it's a foreign language for those companies. That may be true when meeting people in person, but not for online and print marketing.

Everything you post on your website is a reflection of your work ethic, professionalism, expertise, and credibility. The moment you put English-language content on your website, you acknowledge that English is important to your business and clients; therefore, it requires the same effort and attention as any other marketing.

Also, consider your global exposure. It just doesn't make sense to put subpar copy on your website where it's accessible 24/7 in a language used globally for business.

English copy on your website is marketing, PR, and customer service all rolled into one. It's a golden opportunity to attract customers and boost your reputation. Don't just translate. Communicate in a way that shows you understand and value your English-speaking audience.

► Remember: an undervalued customer isn't a customer at all, but an offering to your competition.

Concerned about the quality of your website's English translation? Call or email me. I'm always happy to give you some feedback.

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Welcome to our new website and blog!  My name is Ann-Christin, and I'm the writer behind GlobalReach Copywriting.   As you've probably figured out from reading through the site, we're all about helping you get the best results from your English marketing and communications.  Hopefully, you'll find in this blog a wealth of information to encourage, motivate, inform, and support you. 

As you can imagine, we have a lot going on around here as we launch the new site.  So, please bear with us as we go through a bit of a testing phase in the coming weeks.  Please, drop by often to see what's new and visit us on twitter, too!

It's my privilege to partner with you in achieving your business goals.

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