During a visit to Budapest last summer, I acquired a useful leaflet produced by the Metropolitan Police Headquarters. Inside can be found all manner of useful information designed to help me stay safe while I visit the city. There are tips for avoiding thieves, what to do in an emergency, and how to use the municipal public transport system for instance.
Generally, this is a mighty fine piece of work, but there are a few linguistic oddities that spoil the overall effect.
Before we go any further, let me be clear – this is not an article laughing at non-English speakers mangling “our” language. It took me three weeks to learn how to say ‘thank you’ in Hungarian before I arrived, so I appreciate the difficulty of translation.
Minor mistakes make major impressions
In general, the spelling on the booklet is immaculate. I’ve only spotted one basic typo – “excanhge”. But this alone starts to bring the credibility of the content into question.
Further on, we are told that “At catering facilities guests are welcomed by qualified staff that usually speaks more than one foreign language”. Again, the mistake is almost trivial – until you remember the intended purpose of the leaflet.
By reading this information I am supposed to feel informed and equipped to deal with rare incidents of low-level crime against tourists. But these tiny mistakes add up, making me question the accuracy of the information – and whether the document really is produced by Budapest’s police department.
Or could it be a fraudster using Google Translate to try and part me, the naïve tourist, from my money?
Is it just me? Am I being overly cautious?
It would be easy to dismiss my concerns as being the paranoia of a grammar nazi, but research suggests I’m not alone. A report from Global Lingo claims that over half (59%) of Brits “would not use a company that had obvious grammatical or spelling mistakes on its website or marketing material.”
When it comes to foreign services, readers are even more choosy…
82% of people would avoid an organisation that had not correctly translated its materials into English.
So it’s no surprise that I chose to disregard some of the leaflet’s advice. Such as asking a suspicious, potentially fake, police officer “to accompany you to the nearest police station” to confirm their identity.
In the age of “authority”, spelling matters
Content marketing is supposed to help increase sales by establishing a brand (or an individual) as a “thought leader”, a trusted source of information. Despite the rise of txt spk, spelling and grammar are still crucial to establishing authority – even for businesses based outside the UK.
I work with a number of businesses across the world who have realised the value of having copy written by a native English speaker. Every single client speaks incredibly good English, but they know that the tiniest mistake greatly affects the power of their marketing message.
So they rely on me to extend their reach into the English-speaking marketplace.
An opportunity to increase your reach
There are still plenty of opportunities for copywriters in the UK market, but some of my most interesting projects have been for businesses based abroad. For any writer keen to broaden their horizons – and to take on a new type of challenge – it pays to look beyond the UK border.
I just wish the Budapest Police had contacted me before printing their leaflet.