Tips for Translating English to German or Vice Versa

Translating English to German or Vice Versa

A good German translator, whether they are translating German into English or from English into German, should be able to come up with a translation that doesn’t sound as if it has been translated. This is a knack that takes a lot of practice and it is unlikely to happen unless the translator is prepared to work at perfecting their knowledge of the target language. Here are five tips that might be useful for any budding professional German translator.

1. Paraphrase rather than translate word for word text

This general rule applies to all types of translation no matter which language is being translated. Good translations always avoid literal translations i.e. translating word for word. That is exactly how many of the free or cheap translation software works and it usually ends up with clumsy phrasing and sometimes downright nonsense, even for languages like German and English that are relatively closely related in many ways.

Getting across the meaning of a phrase in the target language without straying too far away from that meaning or ending up with nonsense is one of those skills that comes with experience and can be a tight balancing act.

2. Adopt the same style as the original

Where the document or text to be translated is written in any kind of personal style, it is best to match this style in the translation. For example, if the original text is seriously written and concise, then the translation should also be seriously written and concise. If the original text has a humorous side to it or is particularly idiomatic, then the translation should match this bearing in mind that the target language and culture may have to be taken into account. What may appear funny in English isn’t necessarily considered funny in German and vice versa!

3. Use formal and informal German to match the context

German uses a different way of addressing people compared to English and any translation which doesn’t take this into account can risk upsetting somebody. This is just one example of a general rule about translation that it has to take into account the target culture as well as an understanding of the language itself. It is generally true that translating from a non- native language into your own native language is likely to produce a more perfect translation than the opposite.

4. Read the entire document through first

Getting a feel for the document is important before you wade in and start translating. You may need to acquaint yourself with specific terminology and learn something about the subject matter to effect a better German translation.

5. Proofread once, twice and then once again!

If you have ever tried to cut corners and miss out on a proofread, you might be surprised just how many small mistakes you probably made. It just isn’t worth it and is likely to mean you lose the chance of getting repeat work.