Can you put that quickly into German

This is a question clients put to a German translator on a regular basis.
The answer: Usually not!

What looks like a very simple text to you may turn out to be a complex set of issues.

Do not take advantage of the chambermaid

It is not just a case of finding the equivalent of an English word in German. Often words and phrases can mean several things and context is crucial, as we all instinctively understand when we giggle at well-known signs in foreign countries such as the one from a Japanese hotel: "You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid".

The problem is that the simple term "to take advantage" can be positive on the one hand: "I took advantage of the special offer." and negative on the other: "I don't like it when she takes advantage of his kindness."

It can even have sexual connotations, as we have seen in our less-than-perfect Japanese translation.

Indeed, it is not enough to know the meaning of the word "advantage", nor is it enough to look it up in a dictionary. You need to know the term in all its possible nuances to be able to translate it appropriately.

Building bridges

If this is the case even with simple words, how much more likely is this in your own specialist field? Your jargon is a language in itself!

A German student preparing for her English A 'levels asked me the other day to correct a translation for her. It was of the kind that might come up in her exam. Here, the question was: is a bridge supported by a pillar, she asked, or a plinth, a pier or a column? What DO English people say?

If you look up the German word "Pfeiler" in a dictionary, you get all these options plus a few others! The same happens when a translator looks up technical English terms to find the correct German equivalent for your particular industry.

Where are you going with this?

You have probably spent a long time working on your text. If it is a manual, you need it to be crystal clear. If it is a marketing text, you need to make sure that your customers get the message. You may have paid a marketing agency to research a product name, develop a campaign. It has been a long slog.

Now it is Monday and you are looking for a translator who can quickly turn it into German for you by . . . shall we say Tuesday?

The problem is that your German market is quite different from the English one. What works here doesn't necessarily work there. Concepts have different associations. Words have different meanings. Some plays on words cannot be translated at all.

Fiat paid a high price for this when they spent months researching the name for their new car and called it Nova. New, sparkling, slightly foreign sounding, pronounceable in almost all languages all over the world, it's short and snappy. Ideal!

Until they realised, far too late, that in Spanish "no va" means "it's not working", "it's not running".

Make sure your texts are going somewhere! Involve me in the process as early as you can. And when you have spent a fortune or at least invested a lot of time and effort on getting it right for the English market, consider bringing in German marketing experts for your overseas campaign.

But most of all - please don't expect a translation within 24 hours, just because it looks simple on paper!

Fun with words

Plays on words, acronyms, having fun with letters - you know the thing:

You're planning a 5 session workshop on photography - SMILE!

The topics for your 5 sessions are:-

  • Sharpness
  • Movement
  • Image stabilisation
  • Lighting
  • Exposure

What makes you smile can bring your German translator close to tears.

Smile isn't "smile" in German, but "Lächeln"!

But you're in luck. In the context of photography, people understand "SMILE", so the basic format can stay.

But will I be able to find German words for your workshop titles that start with the same letters as the English ones?

It's a challenge, to say the least!

And you may have to work closely with me and be prepared to be flexible!

German Translator - Visual basics

Let's assume we've found a way of translating your acronym.

To make your presentation more interesting you have come up with visually appealing ways of presenting your theme.

You might have a pyramid, where your shortest word is at the top, your longest at the bottom, your acronym running top to bottom:

S xx

M xxx

A xxxxx

R xxxxxx

T xxxxxxxx

Looks pretty in English, but it is highly unlikely that the length of the German words will follow the same pattern! It's a truism that German words are generally longer than English words, and your smart top 3 letter word could be turned into a 10 letter monstrosity in the translation. This is a particular issue in PowerPoint presentations where longer words can play havoc with your slide design and your fonts.

Be prepared to change your layout or to work closely with me to find alternative solutions that are linguistically and visually appealing.

Also, you must allow enough time for this. What looks so simple on paper can, in fact, be a lengthy process.

I only need a word.

Let's consider this scenario: you want to save money and you already have parts of your sentence from a previous translation. You used to sell red jackets, now you are adding a green skirt to your product range.

You already have your advertising copy for your red jackets and you ask me to just tell you the translations for "green" and for "skirt", so you can substitute them.

But German grammar is not like English grammar.

Nouns have a grammatical gender, and it so happens that "jacket" is feminine while "skirt" is masculine.

What is more, the grammatical gender of these nouns not only affects the articles "the" and "a", but also the adjectives "red" and "green".

So, unless you know how to change every "a" and every "the" and how the endings of the adjectives change, please give me your whole text!

Can I put that quickly into German?

No!

But together, we can translate it professionally, competently and on time.