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English to German Translation: Challenges and Solutions

Posted by Anne Q. on March 08, 2022.

German is the native language of around 130 million people globally, making it the most frequently spoken mother tongue in the European Union. German is also an official language in 4 countries: Germany, Belgium, Austria, and Luxembourg. What’s more, it is a co-official language of Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

When it comes to English to German translation, while the two languages have many similarities in vocabulary and sentence structure, there are certain grammatical, stylistic, and cultural differences to be mindful of. In our post today, let’s discuss some of the challenges you will face when handling an English-to-German translation project (or vice versa). We will also share some tips that help you overcome these difficulties and get the best German translations.

#1. German Alphabet Has Some Additional Letters

The German alphabet is made up of the twenty-six letters of the ISO basic Latin alphabet, which is the same as the English alphabet, plus a few more letters: Ä, Ö, Ü, and ẞ.

German Alphabet_German Translation

Umlauts are indicated by the diacritics ä, ö, and ü. An umlaut tells the speaker to make a sharper sound, usually in the plural form. Meanwhile, the eszett ẞ signals the speaker to make a sharp s-sound, similar to a double s.

German Words English Meanings
Mäuschen Little Mouse
Mörtel Mortar
Müller Miller
Füße Feet

Because these symbols are quite frequent and are exclusively used for specific nouns, they have little influence on English to German translation. However, by going through the internationalization process, you can ensure that your website and application can accept them.


#2. Text Expansion in German Translation

When compared to the original language, the length of translated words might shrink or expand dramatically, resulting in either a shortage or an abundance of white space. In the case of English to German translation, the typical German word has 10.6 letters, while the average English word contains only 5. German is well-known for being one of the longest languages. This is not always due to German being more expressive, as is the case with French.

English Sentence German Sentence
English to German Translation: Challenges and Solutions Englisch-Deutsch-Übersetzung: Herausforderungen und Lösungen

In general, you should expect a 35% expansion in the text length when handling an English to German translation project. To ensure the layout of the translated documents, you should take an extra step – use desktop publishing services. Desktop publishers will modify the size of words or change the fonts to guarantee the design of the translated document is as similar to its original as possible. We recommend you use this step if your documents contain many visual elements.


#3. Complex Grammar

In German, you use different agreements and tenses for three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Since English does not add gender to nouns, this adds another degree of confusion for English speakers.

There are 16 distinct ways to pronounce “the” (der, die, das) depending on gender, case, and plurality:

  Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative der den dem des
Accusative die die der der
Dative das das dem des
Genitive die die den der

The level of formality is another thing you need to pay attention to when working on English to German translation.

English Formality German
You Singular, Informal Du
You Singular, Formal Sie
You Plural, Informal Ihr
You Plural, Formal Sie

Due to the complexity of German grammar, you should only let professional and native German translators translate your content. The German translators you work with must have a great command of both English and German languages as well as a deep understanding of the German culture.


#4. Many Words And Phrases Cant’ Be Translated

German, like other languages, has its own vocabulary and grammar that are distinctive to its history and culture. If you have ever tried to study it, you have probably discovered that some expressions just don’t transfer well into English or vice versa, not all English expressions have their equivalences in German.

German Expressions Literal Meanings Meanings
Das Blaue vom Himmel versprechen Promise the blue of the sky To over-promis
Knapp daneben ist auch vorbei Just next to it is also over You missed it whether you missed it by an inch or a mile.
Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof I only understand train station I didn’t understand any of that.

In such cases, transcreation might be needed. You will need translators who are fluent in both English and German to help you find the best way to translate these seemingly-untranslatable phrases and expressions. Word-for-word translation will not be of help. Translators can use different words and phrases as long as the core meanings of the expressions remain unchanged.


To Wrap Up

Although you may face a number of linguistic and cultural challenges when translating your content from English to German, achieving a high-quality German translation is not too challenging when you have a well-planned localization strategy and the assistance of a professional German translation agency like GTE Localize.

GTE Localize offers high-quality German translation services at a value for money for all major language pairings (English to German included). When you work with GTE Localize, your English to German translation projects will be handled entirely by 100% human native German translators. They must have at least 5 years of professional German translation experience, as well as exceptional language and writing abilities. Your projects will also be handled solely by subject-matter specialists. As a result, every translator must be an expert in a given field.

English to German Translation Services

Contact our team for a free quotation and consultancy for your English to German translation today!