If you’re offering rental accommodation to the public, then it’s likely that you’ll have to write about it. It might be that you list your property on Airbnb or a similar site, in which case you’ll have to write about your place for your website listing.
Possibly you have your own website and you are the only person who can accurately write about the property.
Writing for the web is always a tricky proposition. No matter how often you’re told that you simply write and extoll your property’s virtues, you know deep down that there are other factors that you need to consider. No matter how literate you are, writing for the web isn’t like writing a letter, a memo or even a novel.
In this article we’re not going to get into such factors as writing for search engines or checking for keyword density or any of the other intricacies of web authorship – no, we’re going to talk about something that we all need to consider – and it’s not difficult even for the layman. That is:
Writing for a Global Audience
We all know that it’s called the world wide web so one of the first things to remember when writing for the internet is that you can expect that many people who read your work were not brought up to speak English. They might speak really good English now but it’s something they’ve had to learn.
Here, thanks to Google, is a list of countries that have English as their official language:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- The Bahamas
- New Zealand
- St Kitts and Nevis
- St Lucia
- St Vincent and the Grenadines
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United Kingdom
- United States of America
Remember too that within those individual countries, there are many accents and dialects. The United States and all its accents are an example. In the UK I can assure you that a Cockney has a hard time understanding a Glaswegian, a Geordie or a Scouser (who in turn all have a hard time understanding each other).
There are many words and phrases that some English speakers will understand but will leave others shaking their heads. In the UK, and probably in other places too, accents and even the words used can change within five miles. Humour can often miss the mark too.
So when you’re writing copy for your website or your listing make sure that you’re not inadvertently using words and phrases that just won’t be understood, even by other English-speaking people.
You will also need to bear in mind that your copy may be translated. In the majority of cases, this will be performed by a computer. Only rarely will your words be translated by a real person. Will a computer understand the colloquialisms that you’ve written in your copy?
English, and this applies whether you speak American, Australian or the real thing (sorry, I’m from England) is full of strange sayings that seem quite normal to us. And speaking of me being from England, I’ve lived in the USA for 25 years and I still don’t understand many Americanisms. Still not totally clear to me are:
- Step up to the plate
- Put your John Hancock here
- Tuesday thru Friday (does this include Friday or not?)
- Plead the fifth
- Take a raincheck
- It’s a breeze
Well, I understand what people are implying when they say these things but I have no idea why they use these phrases. But even phrases such as ‘twenty-four seven’ or ‘give a ring’ or ‘hang out’ which most English speakers understand perfectly well will more than likely not be translated well by people who speak other languages.
So don’t write in your listing ‘useful’ information about where your guests can go locally if they want to ‘pig out’ or enjoy some ‘booze’, that ‘Mickey D’s’ is nearby or there’s a local café if they’re looking for a ‘cup o’ joe’. I understand that you want to let them know where they can ‘grab a bite’ and enjoy something ‘yummy’ but remember how that could translate.
When you’re describing your home or rental you can even get into more mysterious linguistic puzzles. People in the US may understand what the ‘yard’ is but English people would believe that to be a paved area and not a ‘garden’.
Even the floor on which your apartment (flat) is situated can be misleading. For example, an American wheelchair user might book a place in England that’s on the ‘first floor’ only to discover that he or she should have looked for ‘ground floor’, the first floor in the UK being what someone from the USA would call the second floor.
An English couple travelling to the US with a baby might choose a place with a cot only to discover that this isn’t, to an American, a bed for the baby but a fold-up camp bed suitable for an adult.
Confused??? You can see just how puzzling it can be.
Just one more example – although I hope you’re convinced to write globally – if you are in the USA you might describe your kitchen as ‘equipped with plentiful outlets (power points to many English speakers), tableware (crockery) and silverware (cutlery), conveniences such as dual faucet (mixer taps), dishpan (washing up bowl), dishtowels (tea towels), blender (liquidiser) and a large refrigerator (fridge) in which to store your zucchini (courgettes), eggplant (aubergines)… and even a smaller freezer to keep frozen foods such as your hamburgers (beefburgers), fries (chips).
Simply too confusing, right?