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Question for non-US English-speaking persons

I am developing CBT, with first version in American language. My question is: for users from UK, Australia, Canada, etc., is this version of "English" an irritant?  I'm thinking of the variants in spelling as well as quirks in usage.

Any thoughts?
Misanthrope
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
 
 
No. Center. Centre. Big ****ing deal.
Li-fan Chen Send private email
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
 
 
There IS something called International English, that might be one way to go about it. But at the end of the day, you're better off trying to 1) ensure correct usage and 2) minimizing americanism or ensuring it's not too american (ex: in the book Programming C#, there's an example involving the american election, but it was tastefully done) and 3) other more fundamental editorial challenges than regional preferences in spelling. Once if you got the foundations of communication down, you can try to find the budget to make it native.
Li-fan Chen Send private email
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
 
 
As a user in Australia, I find the use of the term "US-English" and the different spellings a bit irritating.

That said, it wouldn't sway my decision to by any software at all.
Kim
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
 
 
Li-fan: Perhaps you're right; no big deal. It would be interesting to find out how that works out in reverse; i.e., is "English English" irritating to Americans (the spelling variations, anyway)?

I do not plan to have voice-over.  For an international work, that would present yet more choices.
Misanthrope
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
 
 
I can't speak for the other 29 million-odd Canadians, but personally I can never remember which spelling of Centre, Colour, Flavour, etc. is the right one anyway.
NetFreak Send private email
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
 
 
I'm from Australia as well, and I don't really see it as an issue. I think most people from a non US-English background are used to seeing the occasional US spelling here and there.
I think that you should probably pay more attention to making sure that you don't use any US expressions that wouldn't make sense outside of the US.
Andrew Knock Send private email
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
 
 
I'd like to know whether, conversely, there is a problem within the US with English spelling. Flavour, centre, metre etc.

I have no problem with American English, I just don't use it. IMHO it's better to be consistent than occasionally wrong trying to get it right.

So as Li-Chen says, it's no biggie if you retain clarity.
trollop
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
 
 
I think it's important to choose one spelling variation (US-English if you want) and then consistently stick to that.

I don't find US spelling irritating, but I do find an exclusively US-centric view of the world annoying. Rather than worry about spelling, spend you time considering whether your examples and terminology are sufficiently neutral.

Unfortunately the only good way to check this is to have a non-US native English speaker take a look at your examples.
Spider Send private email
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
I'll start a flame war ;-) As an Australian I think most "non-americans" are more accepting of US spelling than americans are of "proper" engish. Having US spelling in an application would have no effect on the purchasing decision of most people I know.
Craig
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
As a non-native speaker (Dutch) who is a fluent speaker of English nonetheless:

The difference between British English is American English is largely irrelevant. However, Americans (more than English in my experience) often make a number of very irritating errors in their use of language:

1) use of abbreviations that I as a non-native speaker do not know and that are not in a normal dictionary, including the popular 'ZIP'
2) use of slang, ethnic words such as nada, zilch, wanna, gonna, walhalla, ain't. These words are not in a dictionary
3) use of words from popular (American) culture such as references to television series, movies, nursery rhimes, etc.
4) use of non-ISO compliant units, i.e. non-metric units, without also providing the measurement in metric units in parentheses
5) use of domestic telephone numbers only
6) use dates like 05/06/04
7) use of times on a 12-hour clock with AM and PM (even most Englishmen and Americans do not get this right for the times between 12 and 1)
8) use of proverbs. Never us proverbs, not even when they where invented by Shakespeare. Other countries have authors that dwarf Mr Shakespeare

Some of our best practices regarding use of English can be found here:
http://www.hello.nl/articles/InternationalEnglish.html
Karel Thönissen Send private email
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
An emigre professor in Randall Jarrell's one novel skewers a college's provincial mindset with the epigram: The Patagonians have two poets, the better named Gomez. The Patagonians call Shakespeare the English Gomez.

"Match" Shakespeare, perhaps. "Dwarf" Shakespeare?

And if the great fault of American techie writing were a tendency to over-quote Shakespeare, how happy we'd all be.
George Jansen Send private email
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
It honestly depends on the circumstances.

In the case of a small company, with limited resources, releasing their program in US English only - because they're Americans and their target market is Americans - I couldn't care less if a few words look weird, or if the examples in the Help talk about alien concepts like "ZIP codes", or if the "mail" icon is a picture of an American mailbox with, for some incomprehensible reason, a little red flag on the side.  They're a small company, they aren't particularly interested in international customers, I'm just happy they even went to the trouble of letting me buy their product.

In the case of Microsoft?  It's a pet hate of mine.  You have the biggest, most profitable multinational software company in the world, selling their product in a hundred or so different languages.  And do they bother to release a version of their software localised for the world's FOURTH LARGEST ECONOMY?  No, they don't: they give us American spellings all over.  That's not a minor deal - that's a massive slap in the face.  Microsoft are saying "sure, you're one of our biggest markets, but we don't give a fuck about the language you speak".  Microsoft are saying "we'll translate our software into Urdu and Swahili, but we're damned if we're going to give British customers a version of Internet Explorer with 'favourites' spelt the British way".

Summary:
ISV sells software in US English only? Fine.
Multinational sells software in US English only? Not fine.
Iago
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
It really depends on how the text is used.

If it's the help system then on the whole I can generally ignore the issue but if its within the body of the application and the application is intended to be used for local cultural concepts, addresses for example then if it doesn't take account of standard English (not non-existent British English, but non-American English) then I'm going to assume that the designers of the application used US centric standards and concepts.  This might prejudice me against the application.

However, there's a far more important issue.  If it's a problem to have non-American English as well as American English versions then it will be a problem to have a French version or a German or Spanish version (let alone Arabic and the rest).

If the application is meant to be International then it should be built that way from the start, then the question about whether you use two l's in adverbs or the letter 'u' in Norman French descended words is only a matter of resources and not a matter of design.

This isn't a unique problem for English speakers, French applications should be in both standard French and Canadian French.
Simon Lucy Send private email
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
The approach I took to this, and I'm certainly not saying it's the correct one, was to adjust the text for menus depending on location. Now that was straight forward enough for the US and Britain, where there's no element of doubt over which version of English should be used, but it all started to fall apart when I looked at other countries.

Does India's historic ties with Britain mean British spellings should be used, and the Philippines' links to the US mean that US spellings should be used?

And what about Canada, where the best research I found suggested a combination of both?

In the end I settled for English spellings where I was certain they should be used, and defaulted to US spellings for the rest, with the help files all written using US spellings.
Darren Send private email
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
Well...these comments have been very helpful. Thank you, one and all!

My tutorial is in a scientific area, so idioms should not be a great problem. But some of the ideas mentioned I would not have otherwise considered. So, thanks again. I'm glad I asked.
Misanthrope
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
Pardon my facetiousness, but British English seems a redundant term to me.  British English (AKA English English) *is* English, variations of that are qualified: US English.

Speaking as a non-US Citizen, of course.
Peter Ritchie Send private email
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
Peter: You're right, of course. And I was being a bit facetious--but how do you make the distinction between English variants?

H.L. Mencken called one variant the American Language. But that leaves several others with inadequate labels.
Misanthrope
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
So we have US English and English?
Misanthrope
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
One last question: does anyone know of a utility that would parse text/HTML to convert US English to English (or vice-versa)?
Misanthrope
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
----"The Patagonians have two poets, the better named Gomez. The Patagonians call Shakespeare the English Gomez."----

A poet called Gomez who wrote in Welsh! Or perhaps he wrote in Spanish which explains why the Patagonians thought he was the better of the two: they could understand the other!

---"British English (AKA English English) *is* English, variations of that are qualified: US English."---

Well said old bean! Don't want these linguistic wallahs to think they know anysshhing!
Stephen Jones Send private email
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
Reading US English spellings isn't much of a problem. The program should accept both spellings, though...

A personal bugbear is when setting Imperial/US measurements drags in the letter paper sizes! (I think Word does this. Very annoying!) Everyone in Europe uses A4 (A5, etc.).
Tom_
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
Whether the term "British English" is technically correct or not, I think it's perfectly reasonable to use it in a discussion of the variants of the English language for the simple reason that it makes the discussion clearer. In this context English could mean the entire family of dialects, or just those spoken in the UK as Peter suggests.

Different people are likely to take the unqualified word English to mean different things. "British English" is perfectly clear, if likely to make some Brits get a bit prickly.

Let's all just be glad we're not trying to sell software with maps of India and Pakistan.
comp.lang.c refugee
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
Yes it is irritating.

If it's CBT for adults, especially perhaps IT-related, then everyone has already got used to being irritated.

If it's for childres then, speaking as a parent, I'd see it as a problem.

I don't know what the capabilities of authoring tools are for this kind of thing but, as has already been pointed out, you should ideally seek to keep the "textual resources" separate from the very start.


> ..the letter 'u' in Norman French descended words is only a matter of resources..

LOL. Was that intentional Simon?
Abstract Typist Send private email
Friday, October 14, 2005
 
 
I find the use of ZIP code instead of Postal Code annoying. Even more annoying are fields that dont take valid data such as phone numbers or the State in an address because they arent in the same format as used in the US.

The format of dates are also often infuriating. Especially when you arent sure if its using the American date format MM/DD/YY or the Restoftheworld format DD/MM/YY. Using a YYYY-MM-DD style instead of either will alleviate this headache for both sides of the Atlantic.
Domainless
Friday, October 14, 2005
 
 
Nursery rhymes? Where be there nursery rhymes in an application?

(Also one should offer a version in Black Vernacular English, too.)
YaYaYa Send private email
Saturday, October 15, 2005
 
 
"use of slang, ethnic words such as nada, zilch, wanna, gonna, walhalla, ain't. These words are not in a dictionary"

From my 5 year old Chambers (plain single volume version) -

nada : yes.
zilch : yes.
wanna : yes
gonna : yes
walhalla : yes
ain't : yes

So maybe you should buy a better dictionary. It might help your understanding of Shakespeare too ...
revert my buffer
Sunday, October 16, 2005
 
 
Revert,

Let me guess, you do not speak any foreign language at all. You totally miss the point. I assume you have never experienced any of these problems in a language foreign to you.

I took the best English-Dutch dictionary on the market (Van Dalen Grootwoordenboek, last edition) and found that not all of these words are in the 2000-page dictionary. And the words in the list are the problematic words that I rembered from the top of my head (?). I have seen many more, that I just cannot remember.

But even if it was the case that these words were in my dictionary, do you think it is normal for non-native speakers to have a dictionary at their disposal all of the times? An English-English at that one too?  Or as the Wikipedia writes about Chambers: It contains many more dialectal variants and archaic words than its rivals.

Your remark about my understanding of English and Shakespeare disqualifies you as a cultural imperialist pig.

You seem to have problems with construing perfectly normal English sentences, because nowhere I wrote that I have problems with Shakespeare, just (by implication) that Shakespeare is not part of the curriculum in 90% of the world.

This very attitude of yours pisses people off when working on the Internet in the context of the question of OP.

Met vriendelijke groeten uit Nederland.
Karel Thönissen Send private email
Sunday, October 16, 2005
 
 
No one else commented on this, so perhaps I might make a (kindly intended) observation? The opening sentence,

"I am developing CBT, with first version in American language."

does not read naturally as regular English. I would find something like that more irritating in documentation or a CBT tool than whether the language conformed to British/Commonwealth or American usage but was otherwise correct.
Ian Boys Send private email
Sunday, October 16, 2005
 
 
From a South African’s point of view:
It’s irritating, especially with words like authorisation, where the US Eng spelling is authorization.
Developing companies in SA who write software for international use usually caters for the UK market, yet by default some companies use the US Eng dictionary. 
It doesn’t hurt business, but it’s a big pain, there’s absolutely no consistency.

“En ‘n hartlike hallo aan al die Afrikaanse mense.”
Celeste L Send private email
Monday, October 17, 2005
 
 
Hey Karel you might be on to something.

> do you think it is normal for non-native speakers to have a dictionary at their disposal all of the times? An English-English at that one too?

I bet if you start doing this you'll speak english better.

Get a good English-english electronic dictionary. One portable, one for the desktop. I would recommend the following for your desktop:

* Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary 11e (a CD-ROM bundled with the book edition). It can be had for a song at variety of second-hand bookstores online.

* Visual Thesaurus from Think Map. It's not the best desktop thesaurus but it has its moments.

* The dictionary and thesaurus that comes with Word is excellent too.

* Merriam-Webster is integrated into the Britannica I think.

For carry-along dictionaries, I would pick something designed for american college students. And don't count on it to pronunce words properly--learn the pronunciation symbols (the truly difficult part).

In most of the foreign countries I've been to, I have noticed 1) an abundance of english-native dictionaries; 2) and a general lack of quality.  Few are good enough for editorial work. You are best served by a english-english dictionary of some quality if you can handle the english definitions. And english definitions are made easier with electronic dictionaries because you can hyperlink until you get the gist of it.
Li-fan Chen Send private email
Monday, October 17, 2005
 
 
Iago said:

"
Microsoft are saying "we'll translate our software into Urdu and Swahili, but we're damned if we're going to give British customers a version of Internet Explorer with 'favourites' spelt the British way".
"

Well said. Microsoft even localise to BOTH modern versions of Norwegian - but not British English, no siree. Bye bye IE. Hello Firefox - which has an EN-GB version and a plug-in UK spell checker.

Subtle point for localisers to the Queen's English: when I said "Microsoft localise" above, that's UK English for American "Microsoft localizes". We often treat large organisations as plural. Doesn't matter *that* much - singular is okay too.

And, yes, nobody in the UK is ever offended by the use of US English by small companies.

Personally I don't like the '#' sign as an abbreviation for 'Number' or 'No.' - it looks very foreign - but I suppose that's because I grew up before it was well known.
Graham Asher Send private email
Monday, October 17, 2005
 
 
Karel Thönissen

As it happens I speak some conversational Dutch and French ... not at a very high level, I'll admit, though it's getting better. I'm quite sure your English is better than my grasp of either, for which you are to be congratulated. However, this is all quite irrelevant to the original argument.

Your quote on Shakespeare : "Never us proverbs, not even when they where invented by Shakespeare. Other countries have authors that dwarf Mr Shakespeare"

If you are going to consider yourself qualified to make such judgements, I'm afraid you might have to consider graduating to an English-English dictionary, just as I would need to go French-French before attempting Proust in the original. That was my point.

(In general, if we write in a language, we are not expected or required to lower our usage to non-native speajers. Why should we? Do you? Of course, it does depend on context.)

Your liking for stooping to making stupid unqualified insults at people you know nothing about says quite a lot about you too. Not that that matters either, as I long since stopped caring much about internet bitchery.

BTW the Chambers dictionary is quite inexpensive and very good. You may find it helpful.
revert my buffer
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
 
 
Revert and Li-fan Chen, you seem to have lost track of the discussion and completely misunderstood Karel's point.

This is about marketing to foreign *users*. You think *they* will buy an English-English dictionary to figure out the slang or literary references you might be using in your application?
Chris Nahr Send private email
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
 
 
where in the above is it stated that we are talking about writing English for foreign users?
revert my buffer
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
 
 
the OP's question was actually about users from the UK, Canada, etc - this implies native-English speakers, as far as I can see.
revert my buffer
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
 
 
Revert,

I apologize for calling you a cultural imperialist etc. That reaction was triggered by your remark that my understanding of Shakespeare could be improved by using a good English-English dictionary. I think I missed the irony. Maybe a smiley would have helped.

Perhaps this also illustrates the cultural differences and cultural sensitivities. Of course a good English-English dictionary would help my understanding of Shakespeare, no doubt about that. But would I, or the general visitor/ customer of the website, want to? Use of elements of English literature not only makes the text incomprehensible for many foreign customers, it also sends a message of cultural supremacy, that offends people deeply. Well, it offended me in this case.

I guess I should have used a smiley when I wrote 'dwarf Mr Shakespeare' (-8.

You are right having stopped caring about Internet bitchery. I have done so too a long time ago, but it never was my intention to *start* bitching.

Anyway thanks for the tip about Chambers dictionary; I may start using it for our daily work.

Met vriendelijke groet,
Karel Thönissen Send private email
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
 
 
Karel

God bless thee; and put meekness in thy mind, love, charity, obedience, and true duty!
revert my buffer
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
 
 
On the use of # as an abbreviation for "number": as one living and working in America my experience is that most Americans are not familiar with this usage either. When our bug system contains, say, bug #3843, people invariably pronounce it as "bug pound 3843".

I despair.
Ian Boys Send private email
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
 
 
+1 to Karel

I frequently have to deal with US-english systems from a UK-english country.

My main complaint is the date. It is very hard to undo 20 years of learning that a date should be dd/mm/yyyy. I find yyyy-mm-dd is ok and also dd Month yyyy is fine.

Imperial measurements for weight and length are fine. It would be best to show LB or "/'/ft/in.

As for using US words and grammer most people couldn't care less. It always amuses me when I receive something saying "Please write me if you have any questions," but I get the point. (In UK it would be "Please write to me if you have any questions")

-Andrew

-Andrew
Teambob Send private email
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
 
 
Disclaimer: I'm a native US English speaker.

I can understand what prople go through when dealing with I18N issues. I've worked on a lot of software that was used in international markets and dealt with a lot of the issues involved with translating text, etc.

Personally I wish we would standardize our date format to the rest of the world, along with using metric measurements. There was a push in the mid-70's to go metric, but it got nowhere. Having a 24-hour clock would also be nice, as it eliminates the AM/PM confusion, and I think it's easier to read anyway.

Then again, that's me.

As for Karel's items earlier:
> 1) use of abbreviations that I as a non-native speaker do not know and that are not in a normal dictionary, including the popular 'ZIP'

I'm sure that there are similar abbreviations in other languages that foreigners won't know either. Every language has those to some extent.

> 2) use of slang, ethnic words such as nada, zilch, wanna, gonna, walhalla, ain't. These words are not in a dictionary

Last I checked, my dictionary had those words. Any good dictionary should have them. I've also seen a lot of slang words in various dictionaries.

> 3) use of words from popular (American) culture such as references to television series, movies, nursery rhimes, etc.

Could you please enlighten me on this point? I'm curious what your view on this is.

> 4) use of non-ISO compliant units, i.e. non-metric units, without also providing the measurement in metric units in parentheses

> 6) use dates like 05/06/04

Agreed on both items. This is a huge headache.

> 5) use of domestic telephone numbers only

Huh? Could you expand on this?
QADude Send private email
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
 
 
> You think *they* will buy an English-English dictionary to figure out the slang or literary references you might be using in your application?

Just speaking to Karel personally. What people will and will not learn in general I am not an authority on. However I am sharing my learning experience with Karel. It might be off topic, and I apologize for any confusion.
Li-fan Chen Send private email
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
 
 
>>>> 5) use of domestic telephone numbers only

Huh? Could you expand on this?<<<

Toll-free numbers that cannot be called from abroad. Personally, I understand that companies do not offer toll-free numbers for the rest of the world. However, at least in the Netherlands, toll-free numbers cannot be called *at all* from abroad.

Letter schemes like 1-234-CALL-NOW. Large parts of the world do not have telephone hand sets with letters on them, or have different letters in different places. See: http://www.artlebedev.com/mandership/91/

If there is no indication of the international access code, then your customers have to search for that themselves.

Our host provides a good example of how it should be done:

General Number:
    1-866-FOG-CREEK (1-866-364-2733) toll free in North America
    Outside North America: +1 (212) 279-2335
Karel Thönissen Send private email
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
 
 
Regarding toll-free numbers: these can be problematic if there is no alternative.
Karel Thönissen Send private email
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
 
 
See, you can see all the non military people from the U.S.

I grew up quite comfortably with metric AND 24 hour time as a kid. My dad was a navigator and then an EE in the US Airforce, and spoke in kilometers when he wasn't speaking in "knots" (airspeed) Whether that was a function of the service, or a function of his EE background I don't know.

Imperial measurement was considered less precise... more general.

Of course, you have the trade-off of incomprehensible acronyms.
Mike Johnson Send private email
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
 
 
"Imperial measurement was considered less precise... more general."

And it *is* less precise, at least in casual use. It's difficult (in a user's mind) to convert from a fractional system to a decimal, so imperial system often uses x/y something instead of 0.000000x something. Metric system, with its milli/nano/pico/etc divisions has much more precision.
Berislav Lopac Send private email
Thursday, October 20, 2005
 
 
Iago ...

About the little red flag on the side of the US mailbox:  our mailboxes come with little red flags on the side.  If it's pointed up (vertically) it tells the mail carrier that there is mail to be picked up.  If the flag is down, the box is empty.
Dana
Friday, October 28, 2005
 
 

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