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  • Writer's pictureIan Mac Eochagáin

Why is Elisa’s English so bad? Part 1

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

Even one of Finland’s ten largest companies is unable to run a basic spell check or get a native speaker to check its English. In this first part of two, I discuss the terrible English on the Elisa webpages for consumers.

Elisa is one of the big three mobile operators in Finland and one of the country’s ten largest companies. Of all the Finnish companies whose English I’ve analysed so far, this one provides services that people use most often — every day, in fact. Elisa provides services to consumers and seeks international investors through English. This makes it all the more surprising that the company is unable or unwilling to make sure the English on its website is decent. I don’t think it has to be perfect; it should just be free of spelling and grammar mistakes and be understandable. As it is, the Elisa website is neither of those things.

In this post, I analyse the English on Elisa’s webpages for consumers. I’ll get to the corporate pages, aimed at investors, next week.

Consumer-facing text: instant embarrassment

The very first thing a consumer who goes to and then clicks on “EN” in the upper right sees is this, in a big text box at the top of the page:

That’s right: “frequantly asked questions” [sic]. Who created this text? Why didn’t they notice the red line under the word “frequantly” in Microsoft Word or some other word processor? In fact, my edition of Word autocorrects it to “frequently”. I have to make an effort to get the incorrectly spelt version remain on the screen.

Off the bat, Elisa has created a terrible impression of itself as a company with a single, prominent misspelling.

Sloppiness continues

After this, any section with correctly spelt words on the Elisa website feels like a bonus. However, we’re not out of the woods yet. Scrolling down, one of the links we see is:

Welcome to use Elisa’s Saunalahti mobile phone subscription

If “frequantly” wasn’t evidence enough that Elisa doesn’t care how its English looks on its website, here is another, albeit less egregious, example. This is a direct translation of the Finnish “tervetuloa käyttämään”, but we don’t say it this way in English. A few alternatives are:

Saunalahti mobile phone subscription from Elisa

Check out the Elisa Saunalahti mobile phone subscription

The Saunalahti mobile phone subscription from Elisa welcomes you

“Mobile phone subscription” is a bit off, too: I’d simply say “Saunalahti mobile” or “Saunalahti prepaid mobile”, as the case may be. This is a case of Finns using abstract nouns in English because they are used in Finnish in the same context. Often, however, we don’t specify things so precisely in English, especially in corporate copy. (This reminds me of Finnair and its “upgrade your flight ticket”, when “upgrade your flight” or just “upgrade” would be more natural.)

When you click on that link, “Welcome to use Elisa’s Saunalahti mobile phone subscription”, the page you land on tells you how to get on the Elisa Saunalahti mobile network. When you click on “How does the order proceed”, one of the sentences is:

Don´t make any changes to your current subscription contract so the transfer go with a swing.

There are a couple of problems here. First, the word “don’t” is spelt with an acute accent (´) rather than an apostrophe (‘). You see this all the time in Finland. The two characters are very different: the accent is wider and pushes the two letters either side of it much further apart than an apostrophe does. It’s intended for going on top of letters, not between them: café, blasé, Mac Eochagáin. The accent is on the top row of the Finnish keyboard, just to the right of the key with the plus and the question mark. Many Finns type this thinking it’s the English apostrophe. You can type an English apostrophe with a Finnish keyboard, however. It’s on the rightmost key on the home row, on the same key as the asterisk.

Again: who wrote this and why didn’t they run a spell check, which would have pointed out this error?

The second problem with this sentence is “go with a swing”. This was utterly mystifying. Usually, when I read Finnish companies’ bad English I can see very clearly what the Finnish behind it is. Here, I was stumped. The original Finnish is “jotta siirto onnistuu vaivattomasti”, “so the transfer goes smoothly”. There is an idiom in English, which is new to me, “to go with a swing”, meaning “to be lively and enjoyable”. First of all, though, I don’t think that’s what Elisa meant, and secondly, I didn’t understand it. I’m a native speaker, but the vast majority of Elisa’s mobile customers in Finland who use English are not. If I didn’t understand this idiom, they certainly won’t.

Use language your readers can understand. If you serve a diverse, non-native readership, take that into account. If you’re not sure, hire a native English speaker to check your copy. Tell them the text is aimed at customers whose native language isn’t English, and get them to edit it accordingly.

Incorrect and unidiomatic

There are several examples on the same page of Elisa’s indifference towards its English. The company must trust or hope that its customers work out how to use its products by trial and error. The website certainly isn’t much help.

We take care of our customers by providing them targeted offers and helping them in their changing everyday lives.

In English, you provide someone with something. You can also provide something to someone. You always need a preposition.

We take care of our customers by providing them with targeted offers

We take care of our customers by providing targeted offers to them

But even with one of these corrections, the whole sentence is just off. If I had been asked to translate the original Finnish or rewrite this English, I’d have come up with something like:

We serve our customers through targeted offers and everyday support.

The expressions “taking care of customers” and “changing everyday lives” are calques from Finnish. When we say “take care of” in English, it usually refers to children or some kind of job (“taking care of business”). If we want to be dark, it can mean murder: “the mafia boss had his goons take care of his enemy”. And as for “changing everyday lives”: we just don’t talk about “everyday life” (Finnish: “arki”) in the same way in English. In fact, I’d say we hardly every speak of it using a noun at all.

Conclusion: sheer indifference creates a bad impression

In the end it doesn’t matter how good or bad the Finglish on the Elisa consumer website is. It all simply shows that the company doesn’t care what impression it creates through English. Someone at Elisa just threw this text up online. No one in the company cared whether it was spelt correctly or if anyone reading it could understand it. The English-language webpages were just done for formality’s sake. The result is clunky and unreadable.

You could argue that these consumer webpages in English don’t matter, as Elisa serves most of its customers in Finnish. If customers want good information, they should learn Finnish and interact with Elisa in that language. I couldn’t agree more! But everything a company puts online is part of its image. If Elisa is going to bother to put content in English on its website, it should at the very least make sure it contains no spelling mistakes. It could also go one better and hire a native speaker to make the English idiomatic and readable. As the English-language content currently reads, Elisa would have been better off not saying anything in English at all.

Next week I’ll discuss the English on the Elisa webpages in English aimed at investors. They’re not as bad as the consumer pages, but they still leave a lot to be desired.

If you care about your company’s English, contact me. I’ll translate from Finnish to English, starting at €490 + VAT, or I can make your boring webpages more interesting. The result is English you won’t be ashamed of. And if you’re not happy, I’ll give you your money back.


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