I've been tasked with coding my company's email signature. We work in a bilingual environment with clients in at least two languages (English and French).

As the English word is "extension" but the French word is « poste » (and rarely abbreviated, like "ext." is) how would you -- probably symbolically -- convey the idea of extension?

We're based in North America so our telephone numbers follow a regular 3-3-4 digit pattern and our extensions are all 3 digits.

I've thought of:

  1. +1 555 555 1212 [000]
  2. +1 555 555 1212 - 000
  3. +1 555 555 1212 n° 000 (a common French abbreviation for « numéro » easily understood by anyone English-speaking).
  4. +1 555 555 1212 // 000

...but am not terribly satisfied. Right now we're using "ext.:" which is a mix of English and the standard French typography of using a period before a colon.

I also want to avoid using some fancy unicode character, like a telephne, because not everyone possesses the necessary fonts.

  • Perhaps a quick usability test is in order - do you co-locate with French and English speakers (who aren't terribly familiar with your phone systems)? Jan 13 '12 at 16:42
  • I would think it depends just as much on the country as on the language. Are your French speakers in North America or in Europe?
    – Gala
    Jan 13 '12 at 17:41
  • @peterorpeter The office is uniformly French-speaking (myself included, all internal business is done in French) and 99% of our clients will, at a minimum, understand both languages without difficulty. The signature block is mainly for outsiders. What I was especially trying to avoid was a case in which someone interpreted the last numbers as an alternate phone number, like +1 555 555 1212 - 13, which many people use as a shorthand for 555 1212 or 555 1213.
    – msanford
    Jan 13 '12 at 18:39
  • @GaëlLaurans Our clients are predominantly North American, though we do have some European connections, I wouldn't worry as much about them: they would naturally scrutinize numbers more (having to dial internationally) and would be far less prone to a quick slip.
    – msanford
    Jan 13 '12 at 18:48

Given the info you provided, namely that your office is uniformly French-speaking, internal business is done in French, and 99% of your clients understand both without difficulty, I actually lean toward going with what you would normally do in French.

I put myself in the role of an outsider, and if I saw this:

+1 555 555 1212 poste 1245

or something like that, which is what I think you're saying, my thought process would be: "What is poste? Looks like an extension."

To me, the other options you shown just look like more numbers to dial when dialing originally, which is not what you want people to do, or it looks like what you described in your comment, as optional numbers.

Might be worth polling 7 or so more outsiders in an A/B sort of way, but I don't see anything unusable with « poste ».

  • Thanks! +1 for polling users (which is kind of what I'm doing here ;) though they're from a different population.)
    – msanford
    Jan 13 '12 at 19:15
  • 2
    Here's another data point: showed +1 555 555 1212 poste 1245 to someone with no context, asked "what is 1245" and the process went: "Postal code? But that's a phone number. Extension, then." :)
    – jcmeloni
    Jan 13 '12 at 19:26

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