Website translation

Top Tips for German to English Translation: A Guide for Businesses Looking to Expand Globally

Top Tips for German to English Translation: A Guide for Businesses Looking to Expand Globally
Elizabeth Pokorny
Written by
Elizabeth Pokorny
Elizabeth Pokorny
Written by
Elizabeth Pokorny
Elizabeth Pokorny
Reviewed by
Updated on
April 12, 2024

There is more to translation than just translation…Anyone who has played around with machine translator providers has probably seen that in action.

So, when it comes to translating your business website where you’ll be reproducing established brand, product names, and technical jargon uniformly across a site, things can get complicated. Couple that with how in some languages there are several words for a term for which there is a single word in your language, and you can quickly see there’s more to translation than you might have initially thought.

In this article, we’ll be taking a specific look at German-to-English translation, and understanding how to create accurate and high-quality translations for this language pair is one of the key challenges for companies that want to expand globally. While your company has its hands full balancing the financial, technical, and logistical regulations of multiple market entries, marketing, and more specifically website translation can quickly take a back seat.

But a website is of no use if it is not translated correctly, especially if it’s not localized. When specific language nuances of people from your target country aren’t taken into account, they likely won't buy from your site.

A reliable translation solution is therefore essential - especially for the German-English language pair, where details matter to make it appear authentic.

In this article we’ll take a look at the following aspects of German-English translation:

  1. The nuances of German-English translations
  2. The value of localization for effective German-English translations
  3. How to implement best international SEO practices for German-English translations
  4. Tools and technologies for efficient and accurate German-English translations
  5. Common challenges and pitfalls in German-English translations
  6. Conclusion

#1 Understanding the Nuances of German-English Translations

Even though they don't appear that far apart in a global comparison, German and English are fundamentally different languages. For example, both languages have a larger vocabulary of loanwords from Latin and French, and in addition, both use the Latin script. But that’s all there is in common.

In German, a distinction is made between the informal “du" and the formal “Sie". This distinction depends on age, relationship, and even industry, and it’s expected that one can intuitively use the correct form of address. On the other hand in English, there’s only the general "you". However, those who believe that there’s no need for politeness in English are far from correct.

For example, the British are very aware of the difference between "can you please" and "could you please" - just as the difference between "you all" and "y'all" allows conclusions to be drawn about the geographical location of a person in the US.

Language thrives on such differences. And these subtleties are crucial for a correct translation. In the US context in particular, addressing people by their first names and a relaxed tone of voice, often perceived as informal in this country, is common, even in business situations.

But even in informal conversations, certain idiomatic expressions and phrases are still taboo and reserved for private conversations. Germans, whose informal exchanges have fewer gradations, may find it particularly confusing.

In English-speaking countries, Germans may encounter some difficulties, so it’s important to understand the following linguistic and cultural differences:

  • Political correctness - in English, there are greater sensitivities to take into consideration when it comes to political correctness. In the US in particular, for example, addressing those with disabilities in the wrong manner could cause great offense and end a business relationship.
  • Praise and criticism - what’s very quickly considered "awesome" or "amazing" by an American can be "not bad at all" or "lovely" to a Brit. This doesn’t mean the Brit isn’t as excited, far from it, they could be more enthusiastic than the American, for whom "awesome" can be almost reflexive.
  • Rules, rules, rules - In the Anglo-American-speaking world (more so in the USA than in Great Britain), what is not forbidden is allowed. In the German-speaking world, on the other hand, what is not explicitly allowed often seems to be forbidden. Americans are much less likely to ask the question, "Am I allowed to do that? This attitude is also reflected in the use of language.

#2 Don’t Overlook the Value of Localization for Effective German-English Translations

We’ve said it above in the intro: not all translations are created equal. That’s because localization is always better than translation. The difference is:

  • Translation: the transfer of a linguistic content as close as possible to its meaning into another language.
  • Localization: The transfer of linguistic content according to its meaning, but as close as possible to a native language formulation.

Localization allows texts, for example in a multilingual web shop, to be adapted to the target language, in line with any nuances already described above.

However, very few companies and organizations have the in-house capacity required for proper localization into multiple languages. And even when referencing a proper dictionary of terms, it’s simply not enough to sound like a native speaker. That's where professional translation services can help.

Using a website translation software like Weglot that takes care of content detection, translation, and human editing means a global expansion can be streamlined for German-speaking companies. Weglot provides a first layer of machine translation removing a large amount of the manual work associated with a website translation project, that can then be fine-tuned with the help of professional translators. These can either be directly ordered within your project dashboard or by adding your own team of translators.

Weglot is the website translation industry leader on G2

#3 Implement the Best International SEO Practices for German-English Translations

How nice would it be if linguistically and culturally correct localization was all you needed as an expanding business. Unfortunately, this is not the case because localization alone doesn’t ensure that you’ll be found on the Internet.

The heart of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is placing keywords that people are searching for on the internet on your website. Naturally, you are more likely to be found for keywords that are relevant to users, than for keywords that no one ever searches for.

Scaling internationally means optimizing your website so that people in your key markets can find and interact with it. International SEO provides significantly increased online reach, can multiply brand trust, and leads to an increase in traffic, engagement, and conversions on the website.

For an international, SEO-friendly German-English translation, the following aspects are important, among others:

  • The right balance between SEO and correct localization. Both perspectives have their own focus - and sometimes something that’s in the SEO interest can be contrary to the localization interest. Therefore, a balance is needed for long-term sustainable growth.
  • Be careful with abstract terms! Depending on the context and country, it may be the case that certain terms are used differently. For example, a British term may not be used in the US, while a US term is used synonymously in the UK.
  • Localized content. Native English speakers from all over the world consume content differently than people from German-speaking countries. And they also consume different content. In parallel to SEO-friendly German-English localization, you should also think about content that’s relevant to the target group.

#4 Use Tools and Technologies for Efficient and Accurate German-English Translations

Now that the goal (SEO-friendly, professional, and correct German-English localization) is clear, the question naturally arises as to what’s the best way to get there. We know what doesn't work:

  • Translating idioms that are well known in the German language such as "Nicht das Gelbe vom Ei", but just won’t work as a direct translation.  If you’re not able to accurately translate your site, just don't try at all.
  • Leaving machine translation as it is. With its speed and near accuracy, you can use it to your advantage, but without proper localization, it can be error-prone.
  • Teammates doing the translation or professional translators. Their work may be highly accurate, but the cost would be beyond most budgets, not to mention the time involved.  

The answer, as is so often the case, lies in state-of-the-art technology that can streamline the translation process appropriately. And in a way that makes localization easy and that can be well integrated into the international expansion process from the start.

You guessed it, that’s where website translation software comes in. And specifically in our case, Weglot. Especially for German-English translations. And for good reason, because with Weglot you get:

  • A fast, simple integration that anyone in your team can implement
  • Compatible with any CMS or custom build site
  • Full editing control with access to machine translation, human editing, and the possibility to add your own translation team or order professional translation directly in your project dashboard.
  • Automated translation of SEO texts such as meta titles, meta descriptions, and image SEO.
  • Integrated functionalities for first-class international SEO including language subdirectories or subdomains and hreflang tag implementation,

#5 Avoid the Common Challenges and Pitfalls in German-English Translations

Translating from German to English is not without its pitfalls and challenges. Although getting the first layer of translation is easy through machine translation, it’s worth spending a little more time perfecting those translations.

One of the common problems is that there are usually fixed terms or phrases that should always be translated the same way, for example, slogans or product names. For instance, take the German slogan for Haribo - “Haribo macht Kinder froh – und Erwachsene ebenso". There are dozens of ways to localize this sentence in English, but it must always be the same for brand recognition. A solution to this is to create a glossary, which always interprets such terms and phrases a certain way.

There is also a problem with the amount of text that varies between languages. When translating from German to English, the text almost always becomes shorter, whereas from English to German it tends to become longer. This can break the layout of a website. In this case, it would be good to take different text lengths into account in the website design or to shorten the translations where possible.

Lastly, reflecting changes in one language in other languages remains a major challenge. This is challenging with a manual approach. But using automation, such as Weglot, allows you to run a website translation project on autopilot.

#6 Conclusion

Translating from German to English isn’t without its challenges. In this article, we took a look at how both translation and localization are key to getting things right and ensuring cultural nuances are taken into account in your new English-speaking markets.

Using a website translation solution such as Weglot that allows you to implement multilingualism on your site quickly and accurately will help you achieve the success you’re looking for.

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