Watch Your Language: Your English Might Not Speak To Europeans
In my last post here I gave some tips on which events you could go and visit in Europe. One of the sentences I used was “The SES circus opens its tents in London.” After that post I got an e-mail from someone asking whether I meant that in a positive or a negative way. A “circus” in the US apparently isn’t always a positive thing. Over here in Europe it is. When a circus is in town everybody is happy. It’s a show which travels around and makes people happy, hence the analogy I chose.
The e-mail got me thinking, however, about the differences between Europe and the US and what I have been writing about here during the past one and a half years. There are more of these differences in language which make it hard for Europeans and US-based SEOs to work in each others areas.
Let’s take a closer look at three languages which you have to be careful with.
English: UK English Vs. US English
The first and most obvious one is the difference between UK English and US English. When you take a good look at both of them in some cases they can seem like two completely different languages.
The simplest examples of the differences you need to keep in mind in the two languages is that some words are written with different letters. In the UK for example it is “optimising” while in the US its called “optimizing.” There are other textual differences to keep in mind that go beyond using different letters in the same words. Did you know that what you call a “bathroom” in the US is mostly called a “loo” or “toilet” in the UK? Or an ATM is a “cashpoint?” It can even get complicated. A “bandaid” in the US is a “plaster” in the UK, where plaster in the US is what you use to patch walls with (or in slang, “plastered” means really, really drunk).
In general you can say that UK English usually is a bit more “formal” and feels more like a “written” language where US English is more of a “speaking” language. You can actually hear people saying it when you read it.
Keep in mind that if you are optimizing (or optimising?) for Europeans and you are still using the English language that most Europeans are taught the “standard English” version, which means the British one.
Spanish: Castellano Vs. Mexican Spanish
In Spain they speak Spanish. Well, actually, what they speak is “Castellano,” which in English (both versions) is “Castilian.” The language is as old as Spain itself but has recently gotten its first “big” changes. Where the Spanish alphabet used to have letters like “ch” and “ñ” those letters have now been removed.
The Spanish conquered the world in the 16th and 17th centuries, taking their language everywhere, but especially to South and Latin America. There they still speak Spanish in many countries like Argentina, Peru and Mexico. And even within other countries Spanish is spoken as a primary language by a large number of people—in the US alone there are over 35 million native Spanish speakers.
Wikipedia even states that global internet usage statistics for 2007 show Spanish as the third most commonly used language on the Internet. But not the entire world speaks the same kind of Spanish.
Again, there is the difference in “sound.” The accents are different, which you won’t notice that quickly online (unless you are watching video of course). Sometimes the differences are grammatical; sometimes they’re more in the words themselves. In Latin America for example they use “tuteo” when addressing someone, while in Spain that will be “tuyo.” You even have to be careful to watch your language. “Coger” in Spain simply means “to take,” where in Latin America it means “to have sex.”
The second-person plural pronouns can also differ. In Latin America there is one form of the second-person plural for daily use: “ustedes.” In Spain there are two: “ustedes” and “vosotros,” which is more familiar.
So as you can see, Spanish is popular all over the world, but there are still many differences depending on the region.
Dutch: Dutch Vs. Flemish
In the northwest of Europe there are two countries, the Netherlands and Belgium, which several hundreds of years ago were one country. In that country they spoke one language: Dutch. In Holland they still do (except for the dialects of course). In Belgium they speak several languages: French, German and Dutch. And here’s where the issues come in: Belgian Dutch is in many cases completely different than Dutch Dutch. The language even has a different name: Flemish.
Both languages are similar, and without a doubt speakers of the two will understand each other, but there are many differences. There is the difference in how it sounds (Flemish is a lot “softer”) but that is not something which will bother you if you are building websites.
More important are the differences in expressions. There are typical Dutch expressions and typical Flemish expressions. They may mean the same thing, but in written text they mean something completely different. Its much like the “circus” example in English: an expression in one country might mean something completely different in another.
There are also textual differences between the two. Some Dutch even say that Flemish is the “bad spelling” of Dutch. It’s not, its just different.
Key takeaways for SEO
- Be sure to watch out for different meanings of sayings.
- Always check with a resident of a country if you are using the right “version” of a word or phrase.
- Remember who you are targeting—they want their native language, not a copy.
- Don’t try to copy and paste a site to a different language—have a professional translator do the job.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)
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