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Mailchimp serves millions of users in hundreds of countries and territories, not just the United States. As our user base grows, it becomes more and more important that our content is accessible to people around the world.

We call the process of writing copy for translation “internationalization.” This section will address things you can do to help international audiences, including translators, better comprehend your text.

Basics

Our Technical Content is available to all users in English, Spanish, French, German, and Portuguese. Sometimes other pieces of content will be translated as well.

We try to write all of our content in standard, straightforward English that can be understood by users with limited English proficiency. It’s much easier for a translator to clearly communicate ideas written in straightforward, uncomplicated sentences.

Here are some guiding principles for writing for international audiences:

Guidelines

When writing for international audiences, we generally follow what’s outlined in the Voice and tone and Grammar and mechanics sections. But in this section more than others, some style points contradict what’s stated elsewhere in the guide. If you’re writing something to be translated, the guidelines in this section should take precedence.

Consider cultural differences

Mailchimp’s voice is conversational and informal. However, in some cultures, informal text may be considered offensive. Check with your translator to see if this is the case for the particular language you’re writing for.

The translation company should give the option to translate in a formal or informal tone, if the language allows for it. (For example, in Spanish, it is possible to write informally where tú = you or formally where usted = you.)

When writing text that will be translated, be careful about making references to things of local or regional importance. These may not be recognizable to readers outside the US.

Prioritize clarity

Keep your copy brief, but don’t sacrifice clarity for brevity. You may need to repeat or add words to make the meaning of your sentences clear to a translator.

Repeat verbs that have multiple subjects.

Repeat helping verbs belonging to multiple verbs

Repeat subjects and verbs

Repeat markers in a list or series

Leave in words like “then,” “a,” “the,” “to,” and “that,” even if you think they could be cut

Avoid ambiguity and confusion

Many words, parts of speech, and grammar mechanics we don’t think twice about have the potential to cause confusion for translators and non-native English speakers. Here are some of the big trouble spots to avoid.

Avoid unclear pronoun references

Avoid -ing words

In English, many different types of words end in -ing: nouns, adjectives, progressive verbs, etc. But a translator who is a non-native English speaker may not be able to recognize the distinctions and may try to translate them all in the same way.

Because of this, we want to avoid -ing words when possible. One exception to this rule is words like “graphing calculator” and “riding lawnmower,” where the -ing word is part of a noun’s name and can’t be worked around.

Here are some other cases where you might see -ing words, and suggestions for how to edit around them.

Gerunds

Adjectives

Parts of verbs

Parts of phrases modifying nouns

Other words and mechanics to avoid

Beware words with multiple meanings

“Once” (could mean “one time,” “after,” “in the past,” or “when”)

“Right” (could mean “correct,” “the opposite of left,” “politically conservative,” etc.)

“Since” (could refer to a point in time, or a synonym of “because”)

“Require” plus an infinitive (could confuse the relationship between subject and object)

“Has” or “have” plus past participle (could confuse the relationship between subject and object)

Numbers

Measurements

When writing for an international audience, use the metric system. Spell out all units and avoid abbreviation.

Currency

Many countries call their currency “the dollar,” but the value is going to differ between countries. The US dollar is not the same as the Canadian dollar, for example. So it’s important to specify.

Indicate currency by using its 3-letter abbreviation, such as USD or CAD. Don’t use currency symbols, like $ or €. We would say 25 USD, not $25.

Avoid colloquial phrases that relate to money, like “five-and-dime,” “greenbacks,” or “c-notes.” These won’t translate well.