Monday, October 29, 2007

American English or British English?

Let's say that you're an entrepreneur who speaks English as a second language and needs to write published articles or technical documentation in English for an international audience.

You haven't time to waste, so here we go.

First you must decide whether to use British English or American English. Until recently, British English was the international standard. However, today American English is the standard for business, the Internet, and software documentation.

Even some British publishers have resorted to American spelling, because their readers are so used to American spelling that they think the British spellings in a document are misspellings. (What cruel irony!)

That said, there is no fixed rule, unless your publisher specifies which dialect of English you should use. In purely technical writing, native speakers of English throughout the world have no problem with whichever form of English you choose.

If your writing bears nuance though, unfortunate misunderstandings may occur. An American and a Briton may be carrying on an enjoyable conversation for twenty minutes when, suddenly, one of them feels that he or she has just been slighted. Why? Because some word choices and figures of speech have different connotations in American English than British English.

So, be careful, avoid all slang, and look up every word you're not absolutely certain about.

Consider your audience. Especially your readers for whom English is a second language, because they are the ones who can most easily be confused. Are they more familiar with American English or British English? Indians, for example, are so at home with British English that American English is no problem for them. But many Asians aren't as fluent in English and have been exposed to much more American English than British English. In other words, your choice matters little to Indians, but it may matter to people from the Far East.

When in doubt, go with American English.


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