Swedish Startup Space

What did the English editor say to the Swedish app start-up?

Written by on March 12

Swedish app developers! I love you all, I really do. But as an English editor and language militant, I’m about to deliver some tough love here, so you may want to sit down for this. It’s time we have ourselves a fireside chat.

You’re at a cocktail party or a tech event or some minglefest and someone hands you a business card. Sweet! You networking networker, you. Look at you go.

The card is impressive. It says ‘Founder and CEO’ in raised lettering. And look at that subtle off-white coloring. The tasteful thickness of it. Brimming with social media handles and contact info. Oh my gosh…it has an email address ending in….@hotmail.com.

The lounge music screeches to a halt. Guests gasp in unison. Someone faints. The business card slips from your trembling fingers and withers away like the wilting optimism of your expectations. Your champagne flute falls to the ground and shatters like the broken dreams of your entrepreneurial spirit.

This. This is the reaction I get when I see swenglish in your apps.

Am I being melodramatic? Absolutely. However, as a prolific app user, I can’t emphasize enough how essential it is to use proper English, especially if you’re looking to curate a professional and respectable image for your app and company, internationally.

Priorities, you say? I sympathize. I get it. You’re bootstrapped and cash-strapped. Maybe your budget is already spread too thin. Maybe your investors think flawless English is an unnecessary luxury. Maybe your office is your parents’ basement and the word ‘budget’ isn’t in your dictionary at all. Maybe you haven’t started coding yet and this issue had not even crossed your mind.

Well consider your mind crossed. Now you have no excuse.

To get you started, here are three common issues to watch out for (besides general spelling, grammatical, and syntactical issues):

  1. Compound words (sammansatta ord) We know that särskrivning is frowned upon in Swedish. In English, combining words that shouldn’t be combined is equally frowned upon. This not only looks like you missed a space, but can actually create ambiguity depending on the words you’ve decided to smush together.
  2. Lowercase/uppercase letters – In English, most key words in headers are capitalized. Pro-tip: if you aren’t going to write it entirely in capitalized letters, Then Your Title Should Look Like This.
  3. Matching the subject and the verb / plural and singular forms – “In this menus, these feature will allows you to sends us suggestion and ideas.” (…where to begin.) Pro-tip: if you can’t refine this on your own, a native English-speaking colleague or friend can help. Offer beer. Preferably afterwards.
  4. Bonus pro- tip #1: Conviviality [kuhn-viv-ee-al-uh-tee] – ‘the quality of being friendly and lively’— a lack of which does not signify a typo or mistake per se, but if you’re going to let engineers write text for your front-end, have them adopt a more cordial voice (even if slightly), and avoid being too clinical (read: robotic) in their tone. I’m aware that cold hard plain English is the best way to reach those who are not fluent, but a little warmth can go a long way. Apps shouldn’t read like a list of medicine contraindications (unless your app is about medicine contraindications).
  5. Bonus pro-tip #2: Enlist the services of an översättningsbyrå or a professional språkgranskare. It’s their job to debug your text. (For those interested, I can recommend an excellent översättningsbyrå in Stockholm, which specializes in apps and websites).

In your defense, I have the programming acumen of a hamster, so perhaps I shouldn’t be giving orders to you and your tech start-up. However, I can’t imagine that challenges like development, testing, funding, or marketing belong to the same order of magnitude as general language services issues. If your language issues aren’t minor, find a way to make them so, then find a way to omit them entirely.

Perfect English is an unsung hero of the user interface. When it’s perfect, nobody notices. When it’s flawed, it stick out like a sorethumb. (See what I did there? If you didn’t, then you need to take two språkkonsulter and call me in the morning.) Language errors are bugs. Treat them accordingly.

Perfect English is an unsung hero of the user interface. When it’s perfect, nobody notices. When it’s flawed, it stick out like a sorethumb.

  • http://blog.gauffin.org/ jgauffin

    “I can recommend an excellent översättningsbyrå in Stockholm”. I’m interested.

    • Marwan Ayache

      Ask and ye shall receive!

      http://www.avison.se/en/

      They’re worth it, because you’re app is too. :D

      • http://blog.gauffin.org/ jgauffin

        thank you

  • Richard Prime

    Fixing quotations and overuse of the exclamation mark have been my bread and butter for the past five years. Long may Swenglish reign.

    • Marwan Ayache

      It sounds like you’ve turned your schadenfreude into a profitable enterprise!

  • Pablo Fernández

    Nice. It does pay off to be a grammar nazi in the appropriate places.

    • Marwan Ayache

      Indeed it does, although I prefer alphabet activist, syntax soldier, spelling sergeant, language lieutenant, punctuation paramilitary, orthography officer, or grammar general ;)

  • Barasurr

    Were it only true that the disregard for perfect language was
    limited to just the eager start-up where resources are too often scarce but no…
    the Svanberg legacy is alive and well throughout trade and industry. Perfectly
    nuanced language requires significant native-level language experience and the
    humility to engage expert advice as needed. There simply is no alternative
    unless, of course, you actually intend to present your brand as a cliché. Our
    public figures are expected to sound a bit like the chef on the Muppets and Frusen
    Glädje did thrive some few years but then again, it was not Swedish.

    • Marwan Ayache

      In this article I focus primarily on writing, not speech. Here, everyone is eligible for language services, even native English speakers who are not necessarily native English writers :)

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