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Translating Time from American to British English

I love working in an office that not only deals with people around the world, but includes people from around the world. Mainly because the chats we have over a coffee are always interesting and lively, and can sprout from a simple phrase or word used.

Case in point, the other day a couple staff were querying the use of “12:07 AM” in an American translation that involved translating time.  An American myself, who has lived here for over 13 years, this made perfect sense to me. But a debate over its correctness ensued. Surely, they said, it should be 00:07, and leave it at that. At which point I said, “But Americans do not use a 24 hour clock.” Everyone just looked at me with a weird look on their faces.

I looked back with a look that said, I thought everyone knew that. Clearly they did not. I then explained that in America, it is either 12:07 AM or 12:07 PM; 3:15 AM or 3:15 PM. Everything is AM or PM. The only time a 24 hour clock is used is if you specify that you are using “Military Time”, which isn’t often. A 24 hour clock is just too hard and confusing. (How can seven-teen mean five? You said seven.) It took me years to learn how to tell time past 12:59 in the UK. I still have to calculate in my head to figure out how to say 3:00pm (3 plus 2 is 5 = 15:00), or to know what 17:00 means (7 – 2 = 5 = 5 o’clock pm)

So, the next time you are communicating with an American about time, use a 12 hour clock and be sure to clarify AM or PM. Not saying which leaves room for error, and using a 24 hour clock leaves even more!

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About Sharon Stephens

Sharon Stephens is Operations Director of Lingua Translation. With a First Class Honours Degree in Translation and a University Lecturer in Translation (Masters), she is a self confessed language geek! Bringing the academic principles of translation and business together Sharon offers a quality-driven and needs centric translation and interpreting service - like no other.

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