Our guide for translating German

Nowadays, there are over 130 million people who speak German, but not just in Germany. Partnering with a professional German translation agency will give you a strong head start for expanding the market not only to German but also to over 42 other countries.

I. The importance of German Translations

German is ranked the 11th most spoken language in the world, with approximately 1.4% of the global population being German-speaking. In addition, German is the official language in other European countries such as Austria, Belgium, Liechtenstein, and Luxembourg and is used widely as a major language in Switzerland. German is also a working language of the European Union.

German shares the same root with the English language which can be seen in their similar syntax and grammar. They are classified as the Germanic family along with Swedish and Danish, unlike Spanish or French which are under the Latin-based romance.

This country ensures businesses with a stable political and economic climate for market expansion. That’s why it ranks fourth in the world’s top countries to headquarter a company. It is the largest European trading partner with the US. Not just big corporations, Berlin is known as a hotspot for startups with a new startup being created every 20 minutes. Some of them are famous with huge success as SoundCloud, Delivery Hero and Clue, to name a few.

II. 5 problems when translating German

1. German alphabet has additional letters

Due to the same root, German uses the same alphabet as English, but adding a few more letters: Ä, Ö, Ü, and ẞ. Although they are not counted as part of the official alphabet, these letters have a real impact on the way people speak German. Therefore, a website or any marketing touch-points and materials in general for German-speaking audiences does need to make sure to accommodate these letters when translating and localizing content.

2. German is one of the longest languages 

Romance languages are known for their length when translating but in fact, German is notorious as one of the longest. The average German word has about six letters or more, as compared to 5 letters in the average English word.

When translating from German, you will probably encounter about 35% expansion. Ask any designer and you know this number can create a serious problem when adapting marketing materials, especially websites.

3. The grammar is exceptionally complicated

English does not add gender to nouns but German has three: masculine, feminine, and neuter for foreigners to learn agreements and tenses. German also has multiple levels of formality, like many foreign languages such as Korean or Thai. To say ‘you’ in German, there are three different ways depending on formality. 

That’s not all, what can trip up German learners the most is “the.” There are 16 ways to say it in German based on a combination of gender, plurality, and case.

4. German is known for precision

As a language known for precision, context is crucial for German translation. If something inaccurate or over enthusiastic with German appears in your content, this can cause a huge loss in credibility points with your audience.

A good example is the word ‘love’. Americans can use it for food, sports, or anything. When a German says they love something or someone, it means that this person has spent a great amount of time and thought behind. It’s because German culture highly values sincerity upon superficiality. The word-for-word translation may miss nuances like this into account and make the message less resonate with the German audience.

5. German are very polite and reserved

English users are known for their enthusiasm and expressive way of speaking. Germans, however, are more polite and reserved. Repeating words and phrases can be seen as too pushy, or self-serving, especially when it comes to marketing materials. They should be toned down for a German-speaking audience when translating and localizing from English.

Wrong choice of language service can affect the cost and the effectiveness of translated content. Therefore, you need professional linguists who understand both languages and the cultural nuances within each of them to advise you. 

If you need to translate into German, give us a call today!

Facts about German language

  • All nouns in German are written with capital letters 
  • Mark Twain famously said of the German language: ‘In German, a young lady has no sex, but a turnip does’.
  • English and German share 60% of their vocabulary
  • If you lose yourself imagining something that never happened, there is a German word for that, which means a castle in the air, a “Luftschloss”