Monthly Archives: April 2018

Shiny red car, oil up your English engine

Oil Up Your English Engine

If you’ve ever made a snap judgement about someone in the first few seconds you’ll know this to be true: First impressions count.

My car mechanic fits the stereotype of most mechanics I’ve dealt with since owning a car. He’d much rather have his head under the car bonnet than deal with actual people.

When he does offer a bit of banter, it’s usually a sarcastic comment about the state of my car: Er, unfortunately we don’t provide a car clean as part of our service… What do you do to your wiper blades, eat them?!

This year, nothing. I’d cleaned and hoovered it inside and it was looking pretty nice. Still, when I asked how the car was doing for its age I was stunned to receive praise for looking after my car.

It had to be the advance clean.

When a prospective client comes into your world, what’s their first impression?

Are they guided through your website seamlessly to get the required information? Or does something make them stop and reconsider if you’re the best option for them?

Mistakes in the English can put off British buyers.

I know it’s got nothing to do with your product or service but it has a bigger impact than you’d think.

The first mistake will be forgiven, the second one will jar, and a third will make them question your attention to detail. Your reader will connect problems with your English to issues with your product.

They’ll consider if you can deal with English speakers in the event of technical issues.

They’ll wonder if perhaps they should look for a local company because suddenly, all the obstacles such as currency fluctuation, longer leadtimes, minor cultural differences become a bigger issue.

And this all happens almost subconsciously in a few seconds.

You do the same don’t you? Make snap judgements about a person or company based on something seemingly minor.

The English is an easy one to fix if you have the right person to help.

I’ll take a look and if everything’s in order, I’ll send you away without charging you a penny.

Otherwise I’ll service your English engine and make sure your British buyer’s first impression is as smooth as a well-oiled vehicle.

Eagle flying through the skies

Like an Eagle Swooping Down on its Foreign Prey

For a few days I was a German person living in England.

It wasn’t intentional. I went about doing my thing and people wrongly assumed I was a foreigner – German apparently – and corrected me at every turn.

You must mean Streatham” [pronounced stretthaem] said the lady at the train station, trying to help.

No, I actually want to go to Chatham please!” (okay, nobody wants to go to Chatham but I lived there at the time).

It might have been the few seconds it took for me to realise where I was, which language I needed to use, maybe I’d developed a bit of a mixed accent.

I’d been living in Germany for a year and when I got back home to the UK it took some time to adjust. Something I’d never imagined would happen. It baffled, amused, and frustrated me at the same time.

It was a weird experience, being treated like a foreigner in your own country. People tried to help me even though all I needed was a couple of seconds thinking time, whether because I was searching for the right word or the non-existent public recycling bins.

You don’t get given much thinking time.

And while you might not be buying train tickets or trying to sort your rubbish in the UK, the same applies to export.

British clients will identify the foreignness in your marketing like an eagle spots its rabbit dinner – from miles away.

And unfortunately, you don’t get the same ‘helpful’ guidance that you would face to face. Your prospective clients will expect you to make it easy for them instead.

Which means:

Easy for them to concentrate on your message instead of the odd word choice.

Easy for them to understand the benefits of working with a foreign company versus a British one.

Easy for them to appreciate you have everything covered so they can relax and get on with their business.

And all of this despite being foreign – this is the invisible barrier you have to overcome when dealing with British clients.

Once you’ve broken down this barrier, there’ll be no stopping you. So let’s get that sledge hammer out and start clearing your path.

When I worked in multinational companies, my foreign colleagues often called upon me to explain British behaviour, our hidden messages and how to cope with our cultural oddities. Over the past ten years as a translator, clients and friends have continued to ask for my insider insights.

So I dedicated an entire chapter of my book to Burrowing into the British Brain and another to How to be Special and Position Your Business to Beat the Local Competition. Grab your insider’s guide here:

I’ll help you banish that hint of otherness and make sure those pesky British clients are lining up to work with you.

Black and gold litter bin

The Difference A Letter Makes

Tourists of the world! Do you still send postcards?

If so – and you’re visiting Britain – make sure you’re putting them in an actual post box.

The difference between your friends and family receiving your news and a scenic picture of our country depends on one vowel and some cultural knowledge.


Yes, that’s right, a colleague of mine in Bristol noticed a Japanese tourist dropping a whole bunch of freshly written postcards into a litter (rubbish) bin.

He was too far away to run and stop them and what’s worse, it’s a regular occurrence.

Bristol city council have black litter bins with gold lettering spelling out the word ‘litter’ and then the name and logo of the council. And in a world where everything looks alien to you, it’s a seemingly easy mistake to make.

He’ll never know the reason why his postcards didn’t arrive.

Silly errors have ramifications and these kind of mistakes are happening all the time in business too.

A misspelt word here or there could mean the difference between a potential customer finding you on the internet. Or not.

It could reflect poorly on your reputation for taking care of the finer details.

It could mean the difference between securing a contract or losing the business. And you may never know why.

If you’re doing your own translations, please get a second person to check over your work. Ideally a native speaker who can add a bit of cultural insight if needed. A little extra effort can make a huge difference.

Don’t do the business equivalent of putting your postcards in the rubbish bin.