Considering expanding to the US? Whether you’re specifically targeting the American market or you’re seeing organic growth in the region that you want to capitalise on, many UK businesses are surprised to learn that despite our shared language, the US is quite a different place to do business.
At Bubbles, our professional language translation services mean we have a huge amount of experience when it comes to supporting companies as they expand into overseas markets. But the shared language between the UK and the US makes America an interesting case study to look at the fact that translation is about so much more than a simple exchange of words and meanings; it takes cultural consideration, care and attention to detail to really connect with an overseas audience.
The language differences between American English and British English are the very first hurdle you will encounter. Don’t make the mistake of assuming they are the same.
Here are just a few of the major differences between British English and American English:
Americans will use collective nouns when referring to a group of individuals in the singular. For example, ‘band’ refers to a group of musicians and ‘staff’ refers to a group of employees. However, in the UK, collective nouns can be singular or plural, “the group is rehearsing tonight” or “the group are rehearsing tonight”.
Auxiliary verbs or helping verbs vary between British English and American English. These verbs will help the main verb by including additional information about modality, time and voice. In British English, the auxiliary verb ‘shall’ is sometimes used for the future, i.e. “You shall go to the ball” but in American English, although they might understand the word, it’s rarely used and they will instead say “You will go to the ball.”
There are also some major differences between spelling in American English and British English. The American lexicographer Noah Webster, who made an effort to reform English spelling in the 1700s, wrote the Webster’s dictionary that still carries his name in America today.
Frustrated by the many inconsistencies in English spelling, good old Webster decided that words should be spelt the way they sounded. It was also a convenient way for the newly independent country to shed the yolk of English dominion.
If you’re writing any content for your target American audience, then you will need to ensure that you have a firm grasp of the language differences before you hit publish or send marketing and sales collateral off to publishers.
But perhaps the most interesting point for the team here at Bubbles is the cultural gulf between our two still essentially English-speaking nations.
While there is some variation in language, the gap in our cultures is a perfect representation of why it’s so important to work with native language translation services experts on your marketing and business documentation when expanding to new countries.
It’s the perfect exhibition of a point we’ve made many times – it’s not just about the words.
Even on a surface level, it’s quickly apparent that office culture in America is vastly different to the UK, with barely any legal guarantees of maternity or paternity leave (the US is actually one of the worst countries in the entire world in this regard), limited paid annual leave, longer working hours and more.
It’s often commented that American businesses have an all-work-and-no-play mentality with many companies adopting the practice of employees staying until their boss has left the office. This is something you should bear in mind when considering entering this market.
Then there is the size of the US. The 50 states might all be united in name but they each have their own individual characteristics and traditions. To start with, you’ll need to take into account the different time-zones across the US, depending on which state you’re keen on opening up shop in.
All this needs to be factored into scheduling calls and meetings, and even the time of day you want to be pushing your social media updates, email marketing and advertising.
On a more complex level, there are the many cultural and racial minorities to consider. From Latino and Korean, to Japanese, African American and Native American, the US has markets within markets, so consider your demographics carefully if you’re embarking on an expansion.
Of course, your business will need to get used to the USD exchange rate and list all prices in USD, but there are wider implications of the US economy that you will need to be aware of. Since the end of the Second World War, the US economy has enjoyed steady growth, low levels of unemployment and inflation and America is now one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world.
Industries such as aerospace, pharmaceuticals, information technology and defence are all strong. The GDP of the US was $19.39 trillion in 2017 putting it at the highest in the world, but recent years have seen growing competition from China.
The country is also looking at a number of potential future problems on a more local level including wage stagnation for lower-income families, deteriorating infrastructure and inadequate investment to restore this, the increase in healthcare and pensions costs due to an ageing population, budget and current account deficits and energy shortages.
But it isn’t all bad news. In fact, the US employment rate has risen in recent months. The country’s official statistics show that the employment rate increased to 60.60 per cent in October 2018, up from 60.40 per cent in September.
Exactly why the employment rate is up is a more contentious and complex issue and we don’t have the time or space here to delve into Trump’s foreign policy! But if you are considering expanding to the US it goes without saying that the current Administration’s attitude of putting US companies and workers first needs to be taken into account.
Is America still a good place to do business?
Although there are linguistic, economic, political and cultural differences between the UK and the US, the US is a huge trade and investment partner for the UK.
UK businesses will need to be aware of the tariffs that President Trump is imposing on many imports. While it is predominantly the manufacturing sector that is being hit by these, it’s worth keeping an eye on any changes to taxes and quotas in other sectors in the coming months.
Overall, the US is a bit of an unknown beast at the moment but its sheer scale and continued dominance in terms of the scale of it GDP make it a market that many companies looking globally simply can’t ignore.
If you’re expanding to an overseas market with a different language, it pays to have native translation experts on hand. Contact the team at Bubbles today to find out how we can help.