5 Things to Watch Out for When Translating German to English

Translating a language properly, with all of its nuances, idioms and colloquialisms is a serious challenge. If it weren’t, Kolibri wouldn’t be here to help figure it out for you.

One of the trickiest things about translating German into English – or any languages – is that while words can be transcribed – meaning cannot always. Whereas some words are common in one language, their translation is not, which makes it less appealing to the reader. German and English, while genetically very similar, are separated by the way that German and English speakers communicate with one another, and the evidence of this nuance gap is as plain as day.

I’ve singled out five of the most unnecessary, repetitive, words and quirks that I see on an almost daily basis.

 

Hingucker – eye catching

This word – or rather, its translation, appears time and time and time again.

Hingucker translates to “eye-catching” or “head-turning,” and tends to be used fairly casually and commonly when one needs to say that something looks nice. We have this term in English as well – but it’s not nearly as common or universally applicable; usually reserved instead for particularly shiny objects or wildly attractive people.

It’s a German word and I don’t make the rules of this language, but when it comes to English translations, this word should not be overused. It seems tacky and feels like overkill.

Do you see the problem with calling a camouflage hoodie eye-catching?

Instead, try running through a selection of other words such as:

  • Appealing
  • Attractive
  • Attention grabbing
  • Striking
  • Conspicuous
  • Gorgeous
  • Stunning
  • Glamorous
  • Showy

Or, if you really want to emphasize something, you can try out jaw dropping!

 

However

Transition words are necessary in any language, obviously, but this word…

Let’s just say that when it comes to unnecessary words, this one is at the top of my list. Except when it is intentionally used as a literary device, repetition is rarely desirable in the English language. We just don’t have time.

There is a time and a place for all words – otherwise we wouldn’t have them – and however certainly has its place.

However, Germans, seem to think its place is, however, at the beginning, middle, and end of every sentence, however.

You don’t need to replace this word with an alternative, my preference is to just leave it out and start your sentence. English readers go on context and I can guarantee that they won’t be met with confusion.

 

Therefore

This one is even worse, and once again appears to serve as little more than a filler word. If your sentence can carry on without this word without losing its meaning (which it almost never will), don’t use it.

A good rule of thumb for the use of many transition words – and generally almost everything – in the occasionally-not-so-humble opinion of this editor, is as follows:

Every time you want to use “therefore“, stop and read the sentence you’re using it in a couple of times. If the sentence maintains all of its meaning, don’t use the word. I’ll bet 4 times out of 5 times that in a German to English translation it’s unnecessary.

As with however, you can really just leave it out. Don’t replace it, erase it!

The same goes for “thus”.

 

For example

“Beispielsweise” must be the most popular term in the German language. Giving examples is fine but when your writing turns into nothing but thes words “for example” the use transmits essentially nothing of value. Instead, just start your next sentence. 75% of the time stating that you’re giving an example is unnecessary.

As before – if your sentence remains the same without having to say “for example” or “for instance”, don’t say it. Words for their own sake are only cool if you’re writing poetry. If it’s cool in German, use it, otherwise, keep it the hell away from me.

And once again, instead of replacing this with an alternative, just scrap it and move on with your sentence.

 

 

Tone down the formalities, like, a lot…

Everyone knows that in business it pays to be polite and professional, but the German language and its speakers take this to an entirely new level.

I’ll just leave this here:

 

 

In short, just relax. Unless it’s a legal, medical, you’re addressing the president, or the Pope, English speakers – particularly American English speakers – don’t care as much about formalities. When starting an email, often “Hello,” is all you need. A concluding “Thanks,” is often sufficient as well.

Conclusion

Germans can do whatever they like with their language, but when it comes to translating into English, it also becomes necessary to interpret the nuances properly and in as un-annoying a manner as possible. English is so often a conversational language, increasingly even in its written form and in professional settings. German, tends to have a more formal tone across the board, especially in professional settings. In the case of Germany – most settings are professional settings.

That’s okay, but when it comes to translating, remember that English needs to flow differently, and using this style, these particular terms, etc; is a great way to communicate like a robot.

There are plenty of occasions in which these words are perfectly acceptable, and determining when and where can be a challenge.

In general, though: when in doubt, leave it out!

Apex Editor of Languages Around the Globe, English language mercenary, teller of tall tales, accidental expat, serial dork, social media monkey and solutions fabricator at strg.dk. All typos are my own.

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Brian Powers

Apex Editor of Languages Around the Globe, English language mercenary, teller of tall tales, accidental expat, serial dork, social media monkey and solutions fabricator at strg.dk. All typos are my own.