KNOWLEDGE BASE Language Localization For The UK

The information on this page was current at the time it was published. Regulations, trends, statistics, and other information are constantly changing. While we strive to update our Knowledge Base, we strongly suggest you use these pages as a general guide and be sure to verify any regulations, statistics, guidelines, or other information that are important to your efforts.


April 11, 2019 UPDATE: The European Union has extended the UK's exit deadline to October 31, 2019. Should the British Parliament pass the withdrawal agreement negotiated with the bloc before that date, then Brexit would take place on the first of the next month.


On March 29, 2017, UK Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50, which formally started the process whereby the UK will leave the European Union. Article 50 was just the beginning of the withdrawal process, as it allows the UK two years to negotiate its leave with the other EU member states. The original plan was for the UK to leave the EU on March 29, 2019. but the process has proved to be very complicated and dates and outcomes continue to shift. The EU has granted the UK an extension to April 12, 2019. We cannot predict what will happen between now and then, with options ranging from a new referendum on Brexit to a ‘hard exit’. We will update as more clarity is achieved.


Language Localization for the UK


If you are from an English-speaking country, you are already one step ahead, but there are still some things you’ll need to consider when you are localizing the language for your products or services for the UK. Don’t just assume that American and British English are interchangeable, or you could be undermining your success.  


"England and America are two countries separated by a common language."

- Winston Churchill 


Spelling - British vs. American

There are many common words that are spelled differently in American English than in British English.  As mundane as it sounds, people notice when words are spelled differently from how they would expect to see them. Unless you have a strategy to embrace being an American company and using language to demonstrate it, read on. 

You would probably immediately understand that a company was not local if they told you to, “Get out your chequebook! Aeroplane tickets are on sale for your summer holidays!” And someone in the UK would notice  if they read, “Grab your checkbook! Plane tickets are on sale for your vacation!”

Stilted conversation aside, unless you are trying to capitalize on not being local, use the British spelling and phrasing in your written communications.  

To help you think about what words to be on the lookout for, here’s a guide with some common differences between British and American English.

Spelling guide for American vs. British English

You can easily find lists of words that differ between the two languages to help you review your copy, but definitely do a review and get local help in the form of experts or even trusted friends, at a minimum to make sure that you have properly localized the language you are using.  


Localizing for food words

Once again, though the US and UK are both English-speaking countries, there are different words for commonly eaten foods.  For instance, chips and french fries.  French fries is to the US what chips are to the British.  And chips to the British conjure up images of potato chips to us, except for ‘fish and chips’, which we’ve adopted rather than using ‘fish and fries’, at least when meaning what we all think of as the very British meal.  

Another difference is cookie vs. biscuit.  What Americans call a cookie is called a biscuit in the UK, and Americans think of a biscuit as something entirely different again.  


Pronunciation differences between American and British English

Again, though there are words that are common to both languages in their spelling, they may be pronounced differently.  For instance, brochure in the US is pronouced "broh-shoo r" and "bro-sh a" in the UK.  And the US garage is "guh-rahj" while in the UK "gar-ij". Be sure to have someone take a look at any copy that will be voiced in advertisements or elsewhere to catch any differences.

Of course, there are variations in accent throughout the UK, just as there are in the US.  This video is an entertaining way to hear the differences in pronunciation across the UK.

Words related to getting around

Some common differences between the US and the UK include elevator vs. lift, lorrey vs. truck, car trunk vs. car boot, and car hood vs. car bonnet.  And of course, gasoline or gas vs. petrol.  


Localize for language in the UK!

You are probably getting the idea that it’s not a good solution to just use American terms and spellings without giving it some thought.  Just as Americans notice the subtle (or not so subtle) differences, so do the British.  To fully localize for language in the UK, it’s best to get some local advice using experts in the market.  That can be local agencies or even people you trust to help you review your content.  


KNOWLEDGE BASE Language Localization For The UK