The internet has made it possible for U.S. companies and organizations to expand their reach into international markets. Whether you’re a small business marketing products in other countries, a nonprofit bringing your mission to other regions in need, or a global enterprise with offices around the world—writing for international audiences poses unique challenges.
For starters, the English language itself varies by region: from the U.S. to the U.K. to Australia, we all have our own unique take on our mother tongue. Just the simple matter of using the word “friend” instead of “mate,” for example, could make your piece sound foreign. Consider how your words and phrases might go over in other English-speaking countries—or when translated into other languages. Even if your readers understand English as a second language in their countries, you should still make sure your writing is as clear as possible and localized for the right audience.
Here are a few tips so your message doesn’t get lost in translation.
1. Avoid colloquialisms and slang. Read your copy aloud to yourself as if you were visiting this country for the first time. Does it make sense? Clever phrases that might make American readers smile could be lost on those who don’t understand U.S. street speak. Avoid texting and chat abbreviations and English internet slang so your copy isn’t an international “epic fail.” 😉Whether you’re a small business marketing products in other countries, a nonprofit bringing your mission to other regions in need, or a global enterprise with offices around the world—writing for international audiences poses… Click To Tweet
2. Live locally, write globally. Be mindful that monetary denominations and measurements vary from country to country. References to dollars, inches, feet, and miles might not add up for those who don’t live by those numbers. Also, be aware that seasons are different around the world. Your summer may be your reader’s winter. Avoid seasonal or vague time references (such as “last year”) that could wilt your otherwise evergreen copy.
3. Write short, clear sentences. Marketing writers for tech companies cover a lot of complex material. It’s tempting to string together long sentences with dashes, semi-colons, and connective words and phrases. Try to shorten those passages to make them easier to translate. Keep your sentences simple. Where feasible, use bullet lists to break out large chunks of information. Technical writers should also keep localization, translation, and internationalization in mind.
4. Leave room in the layout for more. Translations can add greatly to your word count. We suggest allowing 40 percent more space in your page design to accommodate translations. And don’t forget other design elements; oftentimes, writers work in collaboration with designers or choose/recommend pictures to accompany their articles. Consider what your picture, layout, or color choice might mean in the context of the culture you’re writing for.
5. Invest in a reputable translation service. Good translation is an art practiced by people who love language and conveying clear meaning. We all use and appreciate automated translation tools. However, if you really want your message to ring true, an experienced human translator is the best bridge into another country’s language and culture.
6. Don’t forget keywords and SEO! Work with your in-country partners to identify the right keywords to support your writing’s local search engine optimization efforts. Make sure any translations from English to other languages flag these keywords for inclusion and are localized for the greatest impact and meaning.
Last words: A creative writer’s voice comes alive on the page. There’s a balance between lively writing that engages readers with compelling narrative and clever turns of phrase, and clear writing that can be easily translated and understood in other languages. Writing for global audiences doesn’t mean losing your creative spark and passion for writing. It just means paying a bit more attention to phrasing—knowing your words may flow across borders, speaking to new, global audiences.