As a freelance copywriter I have worked for many clients around the world, including in The UK, Canada, the USA and even Australia.
You might think that all of these countries speak the same language, but when it comes down to it they really don’t. There are so many differences between American, Canadian, British and Australian English and when I am writing for these different audiences I have to be very careful to use the right “dialect” so that my message is understood.
The Origins of English Spelling
Back in the early 18th century, the spelling of English language was not standardized and people just tended to spell them any which way they pleased. If didn’t really matter as long as they got their point across. Soon after dictionaries were published and people started learning a specific way to spell each word. However, British English followed one dictionary, the “Dictionary of the English Language” by Samuel Johnson and American English used “An American Dictionary of the English Language” by Noah Webster. It was at this point that American English started to deviate from the mainstream British English language and adopt its own spellings of particular words.
Most commonwealth countries follow British English, except for Canada which is a funny mix of both. Australian spelling is also different on its down, with a few British and American spellings used.
Examples of Differences
One of the first differences to notice is that most words which end in “our” such as flavour, harbour, colour, honour, humour, labour, rumour and neighbour in British English, will be spelled without the “U” in American English, such as humor, rumor, color, honor, etc.
Another primary difference between the dialects is the spelling of words such as centre, calibre, metre, mitre, theatre, lustre, and fibre. In the USA, these words are spelled with an “er” on the end instead of “re”.
Also, in British English words such as defence and offence are spelled with a “c” while in American English they would be spelled with “s” such as defense and offense.
These are just a few of the examples of the differences, as there are many more. Check out this page for a detailed explanation of the differences: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_and_British_English_spelling_differences
How to Keep Them Straight
With so many slight differences in spelling, how can a copywriter hope to remember the correct spelling for each word when they are writing for an American or British client?
Thank goodness for Microsoft Word. If I were writing on old fashioned pen and paper it would be a headache to keep all of the difference spellings straight. However, all I have to do is to click on the “Language” setting on the bottom of each document and change it to English (Canada), English (United States) or English (United Kingdom) and then spell check the document. Word catches all of the “colour/color” mistakes that I have made and highlights them for me.
Another important thing to watch out for is whether you are using the right vocabulary words for that particular country. For example, if you were writing an article about car care and talking about “petrol” or the “boot” or the “bonnet” of the car, most Americans would have no idea what you were referring to. When writing to an American audience you need to say “gas” instead of “petrol”, “trunk” instead of “boot” and “hood” instead of “bonnet”.
I grew up in Canada, but my boyfriend is English. Sometimes when I am writing an article for a client from the UK I will shout over to him, “What do you call ___ where you come from?” If you don’t have an international partner to use as an on hand translator, try using Google to find the corresponding term instead.
It takes some time to get used to adjusting your words for each different country, but after a while you will be able to write excellent copy for anyone no matter where they live.
When you provide copywriting services to clients in the USA and the UK it is imperative to know the difference between the spellings and vocabulary of these countries.