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Are You Ready To Go International?

Dec 8, 2007
Although North Americans were the dominant population on the Internet, that has now changed, and the rest of the world has caught up rapidly. And while English is still the most widely used Internet language, it's not the language of choice for many, many Internet users.

So are YOU ready to communicate in this international medium? Whether you're building your own Web site, taking part in discussion groups, visiting a chat room, or just sending and receiving e-mail, you'll meet more and more foreigners on the Internet - and vice versa, of course.

Let's look at some tips for communicating effectively in this new global village.

1. Write in plain English

Write clearly, with small words and short sentences. If you're writing long messages or creating long Web pages, include a simple summary at the top.

Be very careful to write exactly what you mean. If you're writing for a general audience, avoid sarcasm, colloquialisms and other things that rely on a certain tone of voice or cultural background.

2. Watch out for phrases with two meanings

Although English is the de facto international language of the Internet, differences abound between, say, English and American English. It's easy enough to allow for differences in the way that we spell colour, apologise and organisation, but other - more subtle - differences can easily lead to misunderstandings.

For example, does bi-weekly mean twice a week or once every two weeks? It's different for Australians and Americans. Similarly, when Australians table an issue, they are raising it for discussion, but for Americans, tabling an issue means putting it aside.

3. Include area codes in phone numbers

Any time you quote a telephone, fax or mobile (cell) phone number on the Internet, ask yourself whether your readers reside outside your local area. If you're potentially addressing distant readers, include your international code and area code in these numbers.

4. Allow for variations in postcodes

American zip codes and Australian postcodes use numbers only;
U.K. postcodes contain letters and numbers; Singaporean postcodes use numbers only, but appear in a different place in the address; all have different lengths from each other.

If your Web site includes an order form or a demographic survey, allow for postcodes that fall outside your own local format.

5. Include your full postal address

If you're addressing an international audience, include your country in your postal address. Don't expect people to just figure it out. This seems obvious, but a surprising number of businesses on the Internet forget it.

6. Include international postage costs

If you're selling anything through e-mail or your Web site, cater for international orders, whether you expect them or not. Find out the cost of international postage and shipping, and publish the costs for your customers.

This is a complex area because of the variety of options, depending on the source and destination countries, methods and speed of delivery, customs and duties, and more.

Simplify this as much as possible for your customers. It's better to start with something very simple (for example, one postage price for all international orders, regardless of destination) and adapt it with experience.

7. Explain your currency

If you use a currency that's common to other countries - such as dollars - make it clear which version you mean. Some Web sites quote their prices in American dollars as a kind of universal currency, but most use local currency.

Include a link to a currency converter on your Web site to make it easy for your international visitors.

8. Be aware of time zones

If you're writing a time (for example, the time when you're available in a chat room) for people in specific time zones, include their local times as well. When writing for an international audience, include the time in GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).

Include a link to a time zone converter on your Web site.

9. Use icons carefully

Choose icons on your Web site carefully. For example, not everybody understands what a STOP sign means; and a thumbs up sign can offend people from some cultures.

In fact, its so easy to misunderstand icons - even within a culture - that you should always supplement them with clear descriptions.

10. Tolerate mistakes

The more you use the Internet, the more you'll communicate with people who don't speak or write English as well as you do. Be tolerant of poor spelling, bad grammar and typing mistakes when you receive e-mail or take part in Internet discussion groups.

Of course, this is just common courtesy, but again it's surprising to see how many people attack others when they think they can hide behind the safety of their keyboard.
About the Author
Ranju associate editor of http://GihanPerera.com This website has e-books such as "The Seven Fatal Mistakes That Most Web Site Owners Make - And How To Avoid Them" and "Spin: Turn One Idea Into Hundreds of Information Products". Visit
GihanPerera.comand get your complimentary copies now.
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