The case for International English

Time to retire the 2 by 4!

International English 2x4In our 20 years in business, we were at many times asked by US-based companies to offer an International English version of their products. This is not surprising. With roughly 1.8 Billion people around the world with English being their first or second language, it is easy to see why English translation services are so important for global commerce!

What is International English?

First, it is important to note the difference between localizing into “International English” and modifying the US-based English to meet other specific English-speaking countries’ needs.

For instance, we’ve been asked to convert US based products and websites for the UK. In this case, references to specific US based websites, products, and services, will be converted to equivalent UK-specific websites, products and services. 401Ks and 529s for example are understood in the US but are not understood in the UK. They may or may not have equivalents in each of the different English-speaking countries.

Also, spelling and terminology changes to UK English includes changes for words ending with –or to –our (ex. color to colour), –ize to –ise (ex. localize to localise), or more importantly terminology related to industries, like in automotives, hood becomes a bonnet and a muffler, a silencer. These changes vary for each English-speaking country.

The term “International English” is typically used by US based companies to have their products converted to target all other English-speaking countries around the world to include Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand…

Since all these countries understand the American English language well, the main reason for the conversion is to change from the old-fashioned, and mainly used in the US, Imperial system to the widely internationally adopted Metric system.

Imperial vs. Metric

Companies that offer scientific products like computer aided design software, computer aided manufacturing or computer aided engineering, medical and scientific equipment and test and measurement instrumentation … need to allow other English-speaking consumers, properly use their products. This International English conversion effort typically involves the conversion of units from Imperial to Metric opens in a new window: like gallons to liters, yards to meters, pounds to kilograms, Fahrenheit to Celsius…

What is important to note is that often it is not enough to convert the units. Examples, tutorials and demos will have to be adapted to the correct standards. For instance, if a design calls for the use of 2x4s to build a door frame, the international equivalent of a 2×4 will have to be used as opposed to simply converting the “2×4” (actually 1 1/2 × 3 1/2 inches) dimensions to their corresponding metric values!

Beyond US English

Once an international English localization takes place using the Metric system is available, it can then be the basis for localizing into other languages like FIGS or Asian languages.

To allow American English to become the true International English, the USA will have to drop the Imperial system and adopt, like the rest of the industrialized world, the Metric one.

Yes it is a major undertaking, for the US is entrenched into the Imperial system. It will require much retooling and new measurements to get used to. But it can be done gradually and systematically. For instance, a first step can be to drop Fahrenheit and adopt Celsius. The rest can be financed with the hundreds of billions that the government is pumping to revive our ailing economy.

It is hard to imagine the US construction industry without the common 2×4 or New England winters without the foot-deep snow storms, but in this forever increasing global world and economy, clinging to the past will only slow us down!

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