Lingserve language solutions

Never waste a good crisis

Putting in a semantic shift

Home, sweet home

Common pitfalls in freelancer applications

One less thing to worry about ... or should that be fewer

Re-wording your translations

Little word, big meaning

A particular challenge


Guten Appetit!

A parable for translation buyers

Get thee to a punnery!

Making effective use of translation services

Development in defiance of dictionary definition

The Englishman who waded across a stream, but swam back across a river

Putting the emphasis on emphasis

Who needs enemies when you have false friends like these?

Come in and find out?

Aller Jahre wieder: Der Geschäftsbericht

The trouble with tenders

Omission. A virtue not a sin.

The curse of the English translator (updated)

Two nations separated by a common language

New year. New services.

When is a balance sheet not a balance sheet?

As big as a house

Ten myths about translation quality

A collaborative process

Archive entries (information)


Never waste a good crisis (28 January 2022)

The translator working between German and English should be aware that there are certain words used in the two languages that are more or less equivalent in meaning but appear with much greater frequency in one or the other. Erfolgreich and insbesondere spring to mind, and we’ll touch on those in future, but the subject of this particular blog is Krise. Now, you don’t have to be a successful and highly qualified German-to-English translator to realise that Krise in English is ‘crisis’. But is the word really more common in German? If you’re looking for cast-iron proof, we’ll have to disappoint you. Our assertions are generally based more on gut feeling than empirical evidence, which would of course be prohibitively time-consuming to obtain. We have translations to do, after all! Nevertheless, we are avid readers in both languages and a medium between the two, so we are perhaps better placed than most to make such claims.

For as long as we can remember now, the world has been in some kind of crisis. Indeed this writer’s time as a translator began roughly when Angela Merkel – the Krisenkanzlerin – first came to power. The financial crisis of 2008* seems a long time ago now, but its effects were felt for years. Indeed the quantitative easing that it heralded was still ongoing when the pandemic broke out, which triggered an even more massive injection of money into the economy. Note that we said “pandemic broke out” here. Ausbruch der Pandemie is used in German, but you’re equally likely to come across Corona-Krise. And the events have of course had all the makings of a crisis: death, suffering, economic collapse, etc. But, after a while, depressing as that may be, it just begins to feel like normality, not a crisis as such. And, after a while, we as translators begin to tire of reading Krise. It stands to reason then that the people reading our translations might too. So, occasionally, we render Corona-Krise as simply ‘pandemic’. Provided the context is clear, no one will be in any doubt about what virus we are talking about here.

Of course, Corona-Krise rolls off the tongue far more easily than ‘coronavirus crisis’. Despite its obvious advantages in terms of rhythm and syllable count, ‘corona' has not really taken off as an abbreviation for coronavirus in the same way it has in German. We tend to just say ‘COVID’ (often without the ‘-19’) or ‘lockdown’. It’s hard to say exactly why. Could it even be the relative popularity in the English-speaking world of the beer brand Corona, or something more prosaic? Either way, you’ll see Corona-Kind, Corona-Speck and Corona-Frisur in German, whereas we are perhaps more likely to encounter ‘lockdown baby’, ‘lockdown belly’ or ‘lockdown haircut’.

Again this is not a scientific view, just more an observation in our tireless attempts to produce the most fluent and natural sounding translation possible. It’s always worth questioning the obvious choice and putting yourselves into the shoes of your reader.

*From a translation perspective, the language used to describe this crisis is also interesting because of the use of the suspended hyphen in German. The suspended hyphen in Wirtschafts- und Finanzkrise and its variants (Banken- und Finanzkrise etc) and in similar phrases does not give any scope for ambiguity. In other words, it is clear that the word Krise relates to both Wirtschaft and Finanz. But this is not necessarily the case for equivalent formulations in English. ‘Energy and environmental management’, for example, can be understood as the ‘management of energy’ and the ‘management of the environment’ but also just as ‘energy’ and ‘management of the environment’ as two separate concepts. Energie- und Umweltmanagement does not have such ambiguity. The suspended hyphen is only really used in English, and even then not often, when one of the existing words in the phrase is hyphenated. So ‘short- and long-term’ would be a permissible and unambiguous truncation of ‘short-term and long-term’. Returning to Wirtschafts- und Finanzkrise etc, the optimum translation for these particular phrases is usually simply ‘financial crisis’, leaving the banking and economic side of it unsaid. Most people will probably not need any reminder of the role that certain banks played in this crisis!


Putting in a semantic shift (18 October 2021)

Germany is one of the world's great exporters of physical goods. But from a linguistic perspective, it is currently running quite the trade deficit in lexical borrowings from the anglosphere. For every doppelganger and wunderkind, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of borrowings in the other direction. And most are noticeably more contemporary than the schadenfreudes and kindergartens of this world. From 'ein Airbag' to 'zoomen', the spectrum of English loan words in German is as large as it is diverse, and very much represents the culture of our times.

Such anglicisms have been a rich seam to mine when it comes to material for our monthly blogs. And for good reason. From the native speaker perspective, discovering which words from your native tongue find favour in your second language is endlessly fascinating and sometimes comical too. Many of these imports undergo what is called a semantic shift in the journey from one lexicon to another. A case in point is the word 'trainee'. Let's compare the dictionary definitions:

First Duden:

jemand (besonders Hochschulabsolvent[in]), der innerhalb eines Unternehmens eine praktische Ausbildung in allen Abteilungen erhält und dadurch für seine spätere Tätigkeit vorbereitet wird

And then Oxford:

A person undergoing training for a particular job or profession.

So, unlike in English, Germans use the word mainly (and in our experience almost exclusively) to refer to people on graduate training schemes or management training programmes. Well, so what, you might say. Why should we care? Well, as translators, we definitely do need to take heed because calling someone a 'trainee' in English rather than a  'management trainee' or 'graduate trainee' may - depending on the context - paint a subtly different picture to our readers than the one provided to the German reader.

Another HR-related anglicism that presents a potential pitfall for German to English translators is 'Manager', which is used in German to denote people at a higher rung than a mere 'Führungskraft'. German even has an amplified version of the anglicism - 'Top-Manager', reserved for the real top-brass. In English, we use modifiers to distinguish between these rungs, so senior (or executive) managers, middle managers and, for the lowest levels, various terms including junior managers, supervisors, team leaders or simply just 'managers'.

Such semantic shifts also illustrate how the addition of English words into German could be seen to have enriched rather than impoverished the language, an oft-heard complaint. 'Trainee' and 'Manager' are not replacements for their German counterparts 'Auszubildende' and 'Führungskraft' but simply describe a different band along their respective spectrums. Another example of semantic shift from German to English is the German verb 'chatten', which is used solely to denote conversations that take place online. In English, of course, 'to chat' is primarily used for face-to-face conversations. In fact for an English speaker to indicate that a conversation has taken place over the internet, in the absence of explanatory context, they would need to specify this with the addition of 'online':

Compare: "We chatted last week" [face to face is assumed] vs "We chatted online last week"

German: "Wir haben letzte Woche gechattet" [that this was an online chat is implicit here]

Technically speaking, this is an example of narrowed meaning. And when we say enrich as opposed to impoverish, the importing language - in this case German - now has a separate option, 'chatten', that is distinct from 'plaudern', 'quatschen' and the like.

Semantic shifts that occur as words move between one language and another are probably as old as time itself, but it pays to be aware of them, especially as a translator. The pitfalls are many. In the case of anglicisms in German, for every 'Airbag' or 'zoomen' that can be lifted straight back into the English whence they came, there will be dozens of other cases where a translation into English will need to undergo a tweak or transformation to convey every nuance of the intended meaning.

Home, sweet home (16 July 2021)

We have touched on the subject of pseudo-anglicisms (aka 'Denglisch') in our blogs before and the pandemic has created – or at least brought into common parlance – a new variation on this phenomenon. The phrase "Wir arbeiten im Homeoffice" / "Wir sind im Homeoffice" has become a ubiquitous refrain on websites and other customer-facing platforms across the German-speaking countries.

This translates literally as "We are working in the home office" / "We are in the home office". The German language has once again taken a specific English term and given it a deft semantic tweak in order to use it for its own purposes.

For an English speaker, a home office is a specific room in their house that has been set up as a working space. In many cases, such rooms have been created on an ad hoc basis out of necessity during the pandemic ("I have turned our dining room into a home office so we now have to eat on the sofa.")

To convey the same meaning as the German sentence, an English speaker would most likely say "We are working from home."

There are some related terms that have also come to greater prominence during the pandemic and whose meaning is sometimes a little blurred at the edges:

Home working: This is fairly self-explanatory and clear.

Mobile working: This implies working from a mobile device (e.g. a laptop or tablet) while travelling or on the move in some way. This existed before the pandemic and, if anything, would have been less widely practised during the last year or so, given the severe travel restrictions that have been in place. However, the term and, in particular, its German equivalent "mobiles Arbeiten" have found much greater currency during the pandemic. The following is taken from a customer text:

"Praktisch von heute auf morgen sind wir ins mobile Arbeiten übergegangen."

The context here was the imposition of the initial lockdown and the almost overnight switch from office-based to home-based working. What the author really meant, however, was 'remote working' or, more specifically, 'home working' rather than 'mobile working'.

Remote working: This describes an arrangement where employees do not travel to a central place of work but instead are connected, usually electronically, to that place of work from another location. Both mobile working and home working are in fact sub-categories of remote working.

There is certainly a tendency in German to use "mobiles Arbeiten" as the generic term to describe any 'remote working' scenario, which can of course make life difficult for the translator (Does the author really mean specifically 'mobile working' or 'remote working'?). This may have something to do with the fact that 'remote working' is much less easily transferable into German than 'mobile working'. We have seen the phrase "remote arbeiten" used in German, but it is awkward and does not lend itself very well to the usual declensions required by German grammar. The more established wholly Germanic (and semi-Greek) variants 'Fernarbeit' and 'Telearbeit' seem altogether less popular.

Flexible working: This can be used to describe various working arrangements, but most commonly - and in particular when it comes to discussions about post-pandemic working arrangements - a scenario in which employees work part of the week in the office and part of it at home. It can also refer to flexibility of working hours.

Returning to the original subject of this article, namely the translation of the new-German "Ich arbeite im Homeoffice", there is the added complication for any British reader that the phrase "I am working in the Home Office" could be interpreted as meaning that I have got a job as a civil servant in the Home Office, the UK government department with responsibility for immigration, security and law and order. An unlikely misunderstanding, admittedly, but it certainly highlights the dangers of literal translation.

Common pitfalls in freelancer applications (22 January 2021)

Every once in a while, we receive an email from a freelance translator looking for work. We have no issue with this. There's no shame in the hustle, and we engage in marketing activities ourselves. However, we hope we do so with a little more panache and a lot more attention to detail than most of the freelancer enquiries we receive.

The first flaw in most of these emails is obvious. They tout services in languages that we ourselves do not offer. Our #1 tip for marketing to a translation agency: Check the company you're approaching actually handles your language! Not all of us are all-singing, all-dancing LSPs, and in our case we believe that actually constitutes our USP. Enquiries of this kind, should they get through our spam filters, go straight into the electronic trash bin.

The second common failing in freelancer emails is the poor writing. Of course, we understand that English may not be the native language of many of the translators targeting us. But if you're selling the written word, then your correspondence needs to be word-perfect. Almost all these emails are riddled with spelling and grammatical errors and unidiomatic English. #2 tip for any budding linguist looking to get their foot in the door with an agency: Have your emails checked, corrected and polished by a native speaker of the language you are writing in.

Of course, we are under no illusions that the bulk of these freelancer enquiries originate from anything other than a scattergun mass mailout approach. Which brings us on to our third bugbear: non-personalised emails. We don't mind this from Rapid Racking, who seem to really want our business - maybe they think we have a lot of dictionaries? But it seems wrong for someone who wants to forge a close working relationship with us. #3 tip: Tailor the email. Use our names, they're not hard to find, or at least the name of our company.

Recently, however, one email did pop into our inbox that was head and shoulders over anything we've ever received before. Nothing earth shattering, but it addressed us by name, was clear, well-written and idiomatic and did not overstay its welcome. It also had a professional graphic-based signature and a PDF CV attachment instead of a Word file. Needless to say we responded to this translator and agreed to keep their details on file.

Ultimately, whether a translation company wants to work with a translator will depend on the quality of their translation, not the quality of their application. But the initial approach needs to be compelling enough to take the translator through to the next stage, and must not contain the type of errors that will result in immediate elimination from the process.

One less thing to worry about ... or should that be fewer? (3 April 2020)

Supermarkets are prominent in the news at the moment for reasons that none of us could have predicted even a few months ago, and have recently imposed an 80-item limit for online orders. One part of their in-store infrastructure that is perhaps not quite as busy as usual at present is the 'ten items or less' checkout. "Or less" as opposed to "or fewer" being the subject of endless grammatical debate. Yes, for this month's blog, we'll briefly hover on the pandemic but quickly segue into the bread-and-butter of the English language and its pitfalls. Bright and breezy rather than despondent and downhearted. We'll give a quick update on how the situation is affecting us at the end, but, just as with Brexit, it's essentially business - if not life - as usual at LingServe.

So, on with the blog: I (Richard) recently corrected myself when talking to my young son. The exact wording escapes me now, but - given his age - it was probably something like: "Please throw less pieces of food on the floor ... oh, I mean, fewer pieces!" My natural inclination was to say "less", and of course, "less" would be universally understood. And, bonus, it uses one less (or one fewer?) syllable than "fewer". But as we all know, "fewer" is technically correct. And talking of being corrected, "less" to "fewer" was one aspect of my work that I remember being changed relatively often in my early days at the company. Fifteen years or so later, I'm so highly attuned to it that I can spot a fewer/less mistake a mile off!

Here's a reminder of the basic rule, which boils down to whether you're talking about countable or non-countable nouns:

Prescriptive grammar dictates that "fewer" should be used instead of "less" with nouns for countable objects and concepts. "Less" should be used only with a grammatically singular or non-countable noun.

So, "I have fewer slices of cake than my sister" but "I have less money than my sister".

The phrase "grammatically singular" is key here. Money, for example, is by definition countable but is regarded (or counts!) as an uncountable noun. "Fewer money" is impermissible even colloquially. And it doesn't even work if you specify further: Try "Everything in this store costs £10 or fewer" for size. It's a similar case for distances: See: "The pub was fewer than 5 miles from here". Because 1, 2, 3 and 4 miles away are not the only options, it could be any fraction of either of them, you have to use "less". One of the quirks of the rule is that if you can break down a countable item into its constituent parts, you need to use "less" rather than "fewer". And interestingly, there is no "fewer" equivalent if you're going in the opposite direction. My sister has more slices of cake than me and, irritatingly, she has more money than me too!

Maintaining this balancing act between prescriptive and descriptive grammar is something that all writers have to grapple with. But resisting our natural urge to streamline and make our language more efficient is sometimes something that we just have to do. Perhaps the supermarkets could have just said "Maximum 10 items" to quash the debate at the outset ...

pedants revolt2.png

We have no insight or helpful commentary to add, and are just following government guidelines and doing our best to ensure that everyone stays safe. As it says in our German email signature right now:

Das Coronavirus hat uns zwar aus dem Büro verbannt, doch dank Home Office sind wir weiter in gewohnter Weise und ohne Einschränkungen für Sie da.

Oh and the answer to the question in the title? Well, it probably depends on how many things you had to worry about in the first place. Two or more than two? It's a pedant's world out there, people! And, no, using the correct grammar did not deter the food throwing ...

Re-wording your translations (29.05.2019)

This month, we return with a short addition to our series of posts about words that require a degree of mental gymnastics on the part of the translator working from German to English. Usually, we offer up a variety of different translation solutions – free, close, omission: you name it, we do it – but in this instance we’re focusing on just one approach. Essentially, it involves rendering the German adverb wieder using an appropriate English word beginning with 're' – usually a verb but sometimes a noun. The method works because it is more common in English than in German for the thrust of the sentence to be conveyed via the verb. German tends to prefer noun-verb combinations, with the noun doing the heavy lifting for a more functional verb. The technique of transforming wieder into a 're' -word is so useful, elegant and easily remembered that we felt it just had to be shared. So without further ado, here are some examples:

Im vierten Quartal sind wir für Unternehmensanleihen wieder optimistischer geworden, sodass diese aufgestockt wurden.
In the fourth quarter, our faith in corporate bonds was restored and we therefore increased our exposure.

Intensive Gespräche wurden geführt, um zukünftig wieder eine stabile Belieferung von Ersatzteilen sicherzustellen
Intensive talks were held to ensure the resumption of a stable supply of spare parts

Ohne weitere Vereinbarungen würde Großbritannien nach Austritt im Herbst 2019 auf den Status eines Drittlandes zurückfallen, was zu einer Wiedereinführung von Zöllen auf den Warenaustausch führen könnte.
Should no further agreement be reached before the exit in autumn 2019, the UK would revert to the status of a ‘third country’, potentially leading to the reimposition of customs duties on goods traded between the UK and the EU.

[In this instance, the wieder adverb is assimilated into a noun in the German, and is rendered using a noun in English]

Der Aufsichtsrat diskutierte über Anpassungen der Vorstandsvergütung und beschloss, dieses Thema im Jahr 2018 wieder aufzunehmen
The Supervisory Board discussed changes to the remuneration for the Managing Board and agreed to revisit the subject in 2018.

Die Trockenrasen können nur durch regelmäßige Beweidung erhalten bleiben, da sich die Hänge sonst wieder bewalden würden.
The dry grassland can be preserved only through regular grazing, otherwise the forest would reclaim the slopes.

Im weiteren Verlauf des Monats konnten die Verluste wieder nahezu vollständig aufgeholt werden.
As the month went on, the losses were almost completely recovered.

Parallel nahmen die Delegationen die Gespräche wieder auf.
Meanwhile, the delegations resumed talks.

There are, of course, many different ways to skin a cat in translation and many different ways of rendering the meaning of the German word wieder in English. However, we believe that this technique is an invaluable aid in the toolkit of any German to English translator and will perhaps give you pause for thought before immediately reaching for the obvious ‘again’ translation.

Little word, big meaning (22.03.2019)

This month, in lieu of our Brexit update blog*, we return with the latest in our series of posts about words that present headaches (or should we say challenges!) to the translator working from German to English. As usual, we include some anonymised examples of how we have dealt with the word creatively in our past translations.

The subject of this post is the seemingly innocuous word auch. But how can four little letters cause so many problems? The uninitiated among you might say, that's easy - 'also'! (or maybe you'd suggest 'as well' or even 'too'). And you wouldn't be wrong, of course. In some contexts, those are perfectly valid translations for auch. But if you are really tuned into how Germans write, you'll be aware that auch is often used to imply a meaning that goes far beyond what can be conveyed by the standard equivalent English terms.

So far, so vague. So let's now introduce some examples that demonstrate the kind of problems that auch can pose and how we have solved them. We kick off with something topical and fairly straightforward. Here, the auch simply serves the role of an emphasising word, which in English we render using 'actually'.

An die geopolitischen Unsicherheiten - Handelskonflikte, Italien, Brexit - haben sich die Märkte inzwischen gewöhnt, zudem lässt dort der Druck jüngst auch etwas nach.
The markets have now got used to the geopolitical uncertainties - trade disputes, Italy, Brexit - and these pressures have actually eased a little recently.

In the sentence below, the use of auch conveys the notion that the information is being provided to multiple parties, not just the one mentioned. Try substituting our 'among those' for 'also' or 'too' while retaining the same meaning – it simply doesn't work.

Im Rahmen einer quartalsweisen Berichterstattung wird auch der Verwaltungsrat umfassend über die Risikolage der Bank informiert.
At the quarterly reporting sessions, members of the Board of Directors are among those who are given comprehensive information on the risk position of the bank.

In the following sentence, a verb is used to express the idea of auch:

Aktien der deutschen Autobauer gerieten unter Druck, nachdem die US-Administration drohte, auch Zölle auf Produkte aus der Europäischen Union zu erheben.
Shares in German carmakers came under pressure after the US threatened to extend its import tariffs to products from the European Union.

Below, auch conveys a similar meaning to wieder, which allows us to use a verb beginning with 're-' to neatly express the aspect of something being repeated:

Außerdem wird unser Unternehmen auch dieses Jahr die internationale Leitmesse in München sponsern.
This year, our company will be reprising its role as sponsor of the international flagship trade fair in Munich.

In this example, where a quote from Company A that follows an equally positive quote from Company B (not featured here), we've had to pull down the name of Company A's representative and express the auch meaning in a verb in order to find a natural sounding translation:

„Die enge Zusammenarbeit zwischen unseren Unternehmen bietet beste Möglichkeiten für nachhaltiges Wachstum", ist auch Müller überzeugt.
Müller echoed Schmidt's sentiments, adding: "The close collaboration between our two companies will lay the foundations for sustainable growth."

In the example below, the obvious translation 'Restaurants are also embracing the sustainability trend' only works if it has previously been stated that other businesses are focusing on sustainability, which wasn't the case in this instance. So the translation of auch has to do double duty by introducing the notion itself, so as not to confuse the reader.

Der Trend zur Nachhaltigkeit ist auch in der Gastronomie-Szene spürbar.
Like many other businesses, restaurants are embracing the sustainability trend.

In the following German sentence, auch suggests that other factors were at play as well as the one that is explicitly mentioned. 'Partly' elegantly conveys this meaning. Substituting it for 'also' would render the English awkward and misleading.

Im zweiten Quartal erfuhren Unternehmensanleihen, auch aufgrund der starken Neuemissionstätigkeit, eine deutliche Verbilligung.
The price of corporate bonds dropped sharply in the second quarter, partly due to the high volume of new issues.

Below, using the close translation 'they also weakened in the fourth quarter' illustrates one of the dangers of unthinkingly rendering auch as 'also' - i.e. it adds a meaning that simply isn't present in the German. To do so here would suggest that the commodities weakened in quarters prior to the fourth quarter, which the German does not do. Instead, as the actual translation implies, the function of auch is to describe how the performance of commodities in the fourth quarter only matched that of the global markets.

Die Preise für Rohstoffe sind im vergangenen Jahr zwar insgesamt weiter gestiegen, jedoch kam es im vierten Quartal auch hier zu einer Abschwächung - ebenso wie bei der weltwirtschaftlichen Dynamik.
Although the prices of commodities rose again last year, they weakened in the fourth quarter in line with the global economic trend.

The meaning of auch often depends on whether it is being emphasised, which is obviously not always easy to ascertain in written texts. These auchs directly modify the components of the rest of the sentence and usually convey the meaning of 'even':

Unschuldsvermutung gilt auch für einen Milliardär
Even a billionaire is presumed innocent until proven guilty

Observe in the above sentence that the unemphasised auch draws attention to the emphasised word Milliardär. This type of auch is particularly common in German headings. Auch can also be used by writers or speakers as a means of hedging their bets, suggesting that there may be other unstated reasons that are perhaps more important than the ones they explicitly offer. As you can see, auch is another of those fiendish little German words that require the translator to really think, not only about the precise meaning being conveyed but also about how best to render that meaning in English!

*Yes, folks, we still don't know what's going to happen and we thought, until yesterday, that we had only one week to go!

A particular challenge (31.01.2019)

A recurring theme in our series of translation tips is that the obvious dictionary translation, or indeed any translation at all, is not always the best choice. When it comes to the German term insbesondere, the literal translation (particularly / in particular) is often the best solution - but by no means always. Like Entwicklung, which we discussed in a previous blog, the word insbesondere is used a lot more frequently by German authors than its direct counterparts are used in English. This in itself is an indication that a translator may need to be creative and think laterally when encountering the word in a German text.

The following examples, all taken from actual LingServe translations for our customers (anonymised in some cases), are intended to provide food for thought as well as ideas on how to tackle the translation of insbesondere in different contexts. If you have any other suggestions, do please share them with us.

Starting with a fairly straightforward example (no prizes for guessing the topical context from which this sentence was taken):

Sie betonte insbesondere, was sie nicht will: Eine Verschiebung des Austrittstermins sowie ein zweites Referendum.
She mainly emphasised what she did not want: postponement of the departure date and a second referendum.

In this instance, a fairly literal translation using the word mainly dioes the trick quite nicely.

A good approach for creating a more natural-sounding English construction is to translate insbesondere, where it is acting as an adverbial phrase in the German, into a simple adverb modifying the relevant adjective in the English sentence:

Insbesondere für den japanischen und weitere asiatische Wandelanleihemärkte sind die derzeitigen Bewertungen günstig.
The current pricing is particularly favourable for Japanese and other Asian convertible bond markets.

In the following example, we have used this approach and added an adjective to make it work:

Neben australischen RMBS konnten insbesondere noch Papier aus den Bereichen CMBS und niederländische RMBS emittiert werden.
Alongside Australian RMBSs, the CMBS and Dutch RMBS segments saw particularly strong issuing activity.

One of our favourite, but less obvious, translations is 'including, but not limited to', which is more usually applicable in legal and other very formal contexts.

Dem Dienstleister obliegt die Organisation der zu erbringenden Leistungen, insbesondere die Auswahl, Anzahl und Einteilung seines Personals.
The Service Provider is responsible for the organisation of the services to be provided, including, but not limited to, the selection, the number, and the allocation of its staff.

And of course, we mustn't forget our old favourite: omission. We are such a big fan of this approach, it's a wonder our translations contain any text at all :)

Insbesondere die Unsicherheit vor dem, was noch kommen könnte, sorgt für eine große Unsicherheit bei Unternehmern und Kapitalmarktteilnehmern und lässt sie sehr zurückhaltend agieren.
Uncertainty about what might lie ahead is unsettling companies and the markets, and they are acting very cautiously.

The following is another example of omission. As with other words whose function within the sentence is reinforcement, sometimes the word order, or just the mere mention of the thing being referenced, is sufficient to fulfil the same function:

Insbesondere die Verhandlungen über den Brexit im britischen Unterhaus könnten zu einem Anstieg der Volatilität führen.
The upcoming debates about the Brexit deal in the House of Commons could lead to a rise in volatility.

Here are a few more examples featuring a variety of approaches:

Auch ist derzeit, insbesondere bedingt durch den gesunkenen Ölpreis, noch kein großer Inflationsdruck zu erkennen.
There are also still no signs of any significant inflationary pressure, primarily because of the weakening of the oil price.

Im November wurden neben einigen australischen Transaktionen insbesondere Prime-RMBS aus Irland und den Niederlanden platziert.
Alongside several Australian transactions, prime RMBSs from Ireland and the Netherlands took centre stage.

Dabei sind insbesondere die Nettoverschuldung zur Steuerung der Kapitalstruktur sowie die EBIT-Marge zu nennen, die neben dem ROCE als Vergütungskomponente und als Ziel im Rahmen der Strategie relevant ist.
The main indicators are net debt, which is used to manage the capital structure, and the EBIT margin, which together with ROCE is relevant as a component of remuneration and as a target in the strategy.

In the example above, the word 'indicators' has been added on the basis of context provided in the preceding text.

Das Geschäft blüht heute mehr denn je - was insbesondere am Boom der Discounter liegt, die ihre Waren nicht erst auspacken, sondern gleich mit Verpackung ins Regal stellen.
Today, business is flourishing more than ever before. This is due in no small part to the popularity of discount supermarkets, which do not unpack their products in their stores but instead simply place them on the shelves still in their packaging.

Zu den Aufgaben des Prüfungsausschusses gehört insbesondere die Befassung mit wirtschaftlichen Risiken der Geschäftstätigkeit.
The remit of the Audit Committee specifically includes looking into the financial risks arising from business activities.

Vis-à-wie? (02.11.2018)

This month, we are back with the second in our series of LingServe blogs about specific words or phrases that present challenges in German to English translation - our particular field of expertise - and strategies for dealing with these challenges. As before, we have included some illustrative translations that might give you ideas for your own work, plus explanations of our choices.

The subject of this post is the verb gegenüberstehen, and specifically its use in annual reports and other financial texts. Unlike Entwicklung, the focus of our previous blog, there isn't an obvious one-to-one English translation, save for the obviously too literal 'stand opposite'. We generally advise turning to Duden rather than a bilingual dictionary as a starting point for gaining a better understanding of a word's nuanced meanings. The key definition for our purposes here is (1. d.):


Essentially, gegenüberstehen, in its metaphorical sense, conveys the idea of some kind of contrast between two opposing forces. But what's the best way of expressing that in English? As always, it's all about context. Here are some examples of strategies we have employed in the past. The extracts are taken from anonymised but real-life translations that we have produced for customers.

Strategy 1: Offset
'Offset' is a good choice if positive is being mitigated by negative (or vice-versa). Note the use in the following example of 'partly', which is informed by the wider context.

Diesen positiven Effekten standen im Berichtsquartal negative Sondereffekte in Höhe von 6,9 Mio. € gegenüber.

These positive items were partly offset by negative exceptional items of €6.9 million in the quarter under review.

Essentially we are saying that the negative effects did not entirely cancel out the positive effects. Of course, in some situations, the negative effects will fully cancel out the positive effects, in which case just 'offset' would be fine. One of the difficulties with the use of gegenüberstehen is that often neither the author nor the available context tells you which of the variables is greater, thus eliminating the word 'offset' as a possible translation. In English, the word 'offset' without any further qualification implies 'fully offset'.

Oxford Dictionaries, for example, defines offset in the verb sense as "Counteract (something) by having an equal and opposite force or effect."

Strategy 2: Contrast
Going back to our dictionary definition (1. d.) in Duden, the following translations get to the semantic heart of the German expression.

Einem Rückgang der Risikoaufschläge (-11 Basispunkte) stand ein Anstieg der Euro-Peripherie-Renditen gegenüber.

The narrowing of spreads by 11 basis points contrasted with a widening of spreads on bonds from the eurozone periphery.

Deutlichen Kursgewinnen in Europa standen negative Trends in Asien gegenüber.

Significant gains in Europe contrasted with negative trends in Asia.

Unlike some of the other examples, there is no suggestion in either of these of any sort of causal link between the two things being contrasted.

Strategy 3: While / whereas
There is of course always more than one way to skin a cat. Both 'while' and 'whereas' express the idea of contrast without the need to use the word itself.

Den positiven Effekten aus der Umstellung auf IFRS 15 stand ein deutlich gestiegenes Net Working Capital gegenüber.

Whereas the switch to IFRS 15 made a positive contribution, the significant increase in net working capital had a negative impact.


Den Investitionen standen planmäßige Abschreibungen in Höhe von 44,4 Mio. € sowie Wertminderungen von 3,3 Mio. € gegenüber.

Depreciation and amortisation amounted to €44.4 million while write-downs totalled €3.3 million.

Strategy 4: Omission
Ever the unsung hero of natural-sounding translation, omission can often be the best approach when simply shoehorning every word from the source text into the target language adds nothing to the meaning or message that is being conveyed.

Dem höheren Umsatzvolumen stand ein Anstieg der Umsatzkosten um lediglich 0,2 Prozent auf 1.232,3 Mio. € (Vorjahr: 1.208,1 Mio. €) gegenüber. Die Umsatzkosten entwickelten sich insgesamt unterproportional zum Umsatzwachstum, so dass die Bruttomarge mit 26,6 Prozent über dem Vergleichswert des Vorjahres (26,1 Prozent) lag.

Revenue grew at a faster rate than the cost of sales, which saw only a modest rise of 0.2 per cent to €1,232.3 million (Q1 2017: €1,208.1 million). This resulted in the gross margin rising from 26.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2017 to 26.6 per cent.

This is a more complicated example, calling for a more creative approach. In our translation, we merge the information contained in the first two (truth be told slightly repetitive) German sentences to produce a natural-sounding translation that effectively conveys the message of the source text.

Aufnahmen an Schulden von 789,6 Mio. € standen Tilgungen in Höhe von - 621,1 Mio. € gegenüber.

Debt taken on during the period came to €789.6 million; repayments amounted to €621.1 million.

Repayment of debt is the obvious contrast to the taking on of debt itself, so here the relevant statements can simply be made without further linguistic adornment.

Strategy 5: Mitigate
When one side of the gegenüberstehen equation presents a factor that is lessened, but not completely negated, by a factor on the other side, 'mitigated' is a useful option. Unlike with 'offset' there is no need to qualify the verb here. 'Mitigated' already suggests 'partly'.

Seit April wieder verstärkte Primärmarkttätigkeiten, mittelfristig steigt daher die Gefahr eines Überangebotes. Langfristig stehen dem aber hohe Mittelzuflüsse gegenüber.

Primary market activity has been picking up again since April so there is an increasing risk of oversupply in the medium term. However, it will be mitigated by high inflows in the long term.

As you can see, gegenüberstehen requires translators to have a significant range of tools in their linguistic armoury. Our list is by no means exhaustive but it does illustrate the many different and effective ways of expressing the underlying meaning in English. If you have any other suggestions from your own work or documents, we'd love to hear about them.

Guten Appetit! (28.09.2018)

Every European language with which we here at LingServe are familiar has a direct equivalent to the German "Guten Appetit" (bon appétit, приятного аппетита, buon appetito, etc.). True to stereotype, the English are of course the only exceptions.

We were recently presented with a partially translated text that featured the phrase “Enjoy your meal” as the English equivalent for the German “Guten Appetit”. Most dictionaries would confirm this rendering, and indeed it is not far off the mark. However, one of our most common translations for “Guten Appetit”, particularly in the kinds of tourism marketing and food-related texts where this phrase usually crops up, is actually just “Guten Appetit”, i.e. leaving the German words untranslated in the English. “Guten Appetit” is a fairly well-known German phrase and one of the few that the average native English speaker might use with confidence when visiting a German-speaking country – perhaps even with the correct pronunciation! The advantage of using “Guten Appetit” in a text about Germany is that it provides a touch of local colour, which as you might imagine, is desirable in a text championing the culinary virtues of a particular region, restaurant or dish.

And, as always in translation, and as we never tire of telling people, context is everything. After giving the matter some thought, we realised that, in English, it all depends on who is saying it. When the waiter brings you your meal, he may well say “Enjoy your meal”, but this is not something that those sitting around the table would say to one another. If it’s a special occasion or a dinner party, the focus will probably be more on the drinks served with the meal, with everyone clinking glasses and exclaiming “cheers” before starting to eat.

Culturally, there is no real expectation in the English-speaking world that others will wish us a good meal in a non-restaurant scenario. However, for a catch-all utterance that can be used by waiters, servers, dinner party hosts and home chefs alike, you can’t go wrong with “bon appétit” (for most of us: bon-app-a-teat, sorry French pronunciation pedants!). This most refined of French phrases can even be used before the family sits down for their weekly spaghetti bolognese, for example. Though an abbreviated ‘bon app’ for our ‘spag bol’ would perhaps lend a more appropriately ironic flavour for this most prosaic of British favourites!

There are other informal alternatives for the translator (e.g. “dig in”, “tuck in”, “let’s eat”) but these are very unlikely to be appropriate for anything other than spoken, colloquial dialogue. However, there is also one other much under-utilised translation strategy, one which you will not find in any dictionary: omission. If shoehorning a translation into a text only serves to make it awkward and unnatural-sounding, the best course of action is often simply to leave it out. It all depends on the context.

A parable for translation buyers (02.08.2018)

You’ve just bought a shiny new BMW and are looking for a workshop to service and maintain your new pride and joy. You want to make sure you make the right choice, so you look at the websites of two local workshops to check them out:

Workshop 1: The website says that this workshop is able to draw on a pool of 2,000 freelance mechanics, which means the company is able to carry out work on any make or model of car, at any time of the day or night, and have your car back on the road in no time. And what’s more, all the tools and parts are bought in from China so you’ll benefit from exceptionally low prices.

Workshop 2: The website says that this workshop has a small team of highly trained mechanics who only work on BMWs, so they know the vehicles inside out and always use genuine spare parts. If you are a regular customer, they will also be familiar with the history of your vehicle and have a genuine interest in providing an all-round, high-quality service. They’ll not only carry out the work you have requested but also give the vehicle a general check-over free of charge, and let you know if there are any other problems. Because they are a small team, there is a danger that they are already busy on the day you bring your car in, but they will always try their very best to fit you in if it’s an emergency.

We don’t want to stretch our little automotive analogy too far, but our point is that if you drive an old banger that is of little value and you don’t necessarily depend on it, Workshop 1 is probably fine for you. But if your car is critical to your business and you want it to be taken care of by a workshop that is prepared to go the extra mile for its customers, focusing on quality workmanship and long-term relationships rather than a quick buck, you really should have it serviced by LingServe, sorry ... by Workshop 2.

Get thee to a punnery! (04.05.2018)

We love a good pun at LingServe and derive tremendous job satisfaction from playing with words and language in our translations. Sometimes we just can't help ourselves:

Steve: Do you think giddy-up is appropriate as a heading for an equestrian event (i.e. showjumping and the like)?

Richard: Neigh. I think it would mainly be used for horseracing. It wouldn't quite be right, especially for the mane event.

Steve: OK, rein it in now (and thanks!)

Richard: I can't stop. I just keep trotting them out!

Of course, we generally reserve such jesting for internal communications - a light-hearted way, perhaps, to help us get through annual report season with its bias towards the drier legal and financial texts.

But while wordplay has its place, we have to exercise extreme caution when punning in translations, and indeed when translating puns. Wordplay is commonly used in contemporary German copywriting but sometimes it can be more than a little strained. See (or should it be 'sea'?) the example below promoting lakeside holidays. It's like a less good version of Meer erleben (i.e. mehr erleben), which we've encountered many times before in coastal contexts.


I suppose what it boils down to is that if you have to point out the pun, like if you have to explain a joke, that's when it ceases to be effective, or funny. The heading also employs the very German technique of adding brackets around a word or part of a word to indicate that the use of the word or letter(s) in the pun is optional.

Of course, Germans can pun very successfully. The good people at Lidl do so beautifully thanks to the near homophones 'Lidl' and 'little'. 'Lidl surprises' and other 'little'/'Lidl' puns feature heavily in its advertising. However, it took some time before the company actually began utilising this rather obvious wordplay after arriving in the UK. But as you can see from their Facebook feed, they've clearly developed a taste for the kind of witticisms that wouldn't look out of place on a greetings card:

say you'll be wine.jpg

And another that is perhaps not quite a pun but is certainly in the wordplay arena nearly had me clapping at the television when I heard it. 'We cross the T, dot the I and put U in between.' (holiday company TUI). Ignoring the fact that there's no dot on top of a capital I (as pedants as well as punners, that's hard for us to do) it's very much Hut ab for that effort. Carry on punning everyone!

Making effective use of translation services (29.03.2018)

Much has been written about the need to speak and communicate with people in their own language, and it is true that the ability to communicate effectively with your foreign partners is a vital tool in the modern business environment.

It is often important, however, to go beyond the superficial level of simply translating your documentation into the respective foreign languages, and to actually adapt it to the local culture or even to local legislation. Firstly, ask yourself whether you really want to translate a document. Simply translating a British contract of employment for use in a foreign subsidiary, for example, may be counter-productive as some sections may contravene local legislation and it might omit certain compulsory, statutory provisions. In this scenario, you probably require the services of a local specialist in employment law rather than a translator.

Another obvious example is advertising material. Everyone has heard of the brand names that have an entirely different, and sometimes offensive, meaning in a foreign language (the Rolls-Royce Silver Mist being a notable near-miss for German speakers) but problems with translated advertising material are often of a much more subtle nature. In the source language, the copywriter will have taken great care to ensure that the juxtaposition of words and the flow of the text create the right overall effect. This effect will invariably be lost to a greater or lesser extent in word-for-word translation (i.e. not the LingServe way). Plays on words and specific cultural references are often impossible to translate directly without entirely missing the point. A recent example from a text originally written for a German audience and extolling the virtues of Stuttgart asks: "Who can fail to associate Stuttgart with famous makes of cars such as Mercedes-Benz and Porsche?" The answer of course for an international audience would be about 99 per cent of readers! In our translation we turned the question into a statement, but another option would have been to use a "Did you know ...?" formulation.

Obviously, translation is a more cost-effective option than employing a foreign lawyer or advertising copywriter to produce an original document (what's known in the business as transcreation). Most documents will fall into a grey area somewhere between those that should be re-written in the target language by an appropriate specialist and those for which translation is the obvious choice.

If you decide to produce original documentation, make sure you prepare a comprehensive remit, possibly including copies of your UK documentation for reference. In this case, a translation may also be useful as a working tool.

If you decide to have a document translated, give the translation agency as much information as possible. If you have inhouse glossaries of specialist or preferred terminology or relevant reference material, make it available. Glossaries of abbreviations are particularly useful. If style is more important than strict adherence to the source text, impress on the agency that you are looking for a 'free' translation. A good translation agency will employ translators who are native speakers of the target language and familiar with the local culture and subject matter.

If you are preparing a text that you know is going to be translated for use in different countries, be careful to avoid using colloquial or culture-specific phrases that will be difficult to translate or meaningless to a foreign reader. Try to avoid company jargon and non-standard abbreviations. You should also be prepared to work closely with the agency in producing the finished document. A translation agency that comes back to you with queries is not an ineffective agency, it is a conscientious one.

Development in defiance of dictionary definition! (02.03.2018)

After a month’s break due to the initial burst of activity in our busy annual reports season, we are returning with the first in a series of LingServe blogs about specific words or phrases that can be particularly challenging or require creative solutions without resorting to the obvious translation. We’ll be including illustrative translations that might give you ideas for your own translations as well as some explanation of why we translate in the way that we do.

The subject of this post is the ubiquitous Entwicklung, much loved by writers of German business texts everywhere. Well that’s easy, you might say: ‘development’, right? Well, sometimes. But as we’ll see in the following anonymised examples from our work, avoiding any direct translation (including the ostensibly freer ‘trend’) usually results in a more elegant end result in English. So without further ado …

The following example is a heading. Here, simply omitting any translation whatsoever of Entwicklung, and inserting the relevant time frame, provides a neat and perhaps not immediately obvious solution:

The real estate market in 2017

NB: ‘Developments in the real-estate market’ (and it has to be plural ’developments’) would also work if this were a narrative talking about things that have happened in the real-estate market, but not for a chart showing, for example, the number of house sales in a year. As ever, context is all-important in determining the optimum translation.

Another couple of headings adopting the omission approach:

Umsatz- und Ergebnisentwicklung
Revenue and earnings

Entwicklung des Leasinggeschäfts
Leasing business

In the first instance above, adding ‘development’ would be simply inelegant. But in the second – assuming it is tacked on the end – it would be downright misleading as the phrase ‘business development’ is the equivalent of Akquisition in German.

For the following translation, we asked ourselves (after first drawing on the context) what message the German sentence was attempting to convey. Note the introduction of ‘market’ in the translation to tell the reader what is the object of the ‘impression’.

Im Januar stach vor allem die Entwicklung der Staatsanleihen deutlich heraus.
Government bonds made a particularly strong impression on the market in January.

For an example of the above that includes ‘development’, let’s turn to Google Translate, which gives us the dry and rather unidiomatic ‘In January, the development of government bonds was the main factor’.

Next, we place the focus on market again, and we let ‘growth’ cover positive Entwicklung, seeing as they both mean more or less the same thing.

Trotz dieser Effekte zeigte sich eine positive Entwicklung in der Bildschirmtechnik mit einem solidem zweistelligem prozentualen Wachstum.
Despite these effects, the monitor market achieved healthy double-digit percentage growth.

Here, we’ve given full rein to our creativity, using an idiom (‘strong run’) to render Entwicklung in English:

Verkauft wurden einige Wertpapiere, die aus unserer Sicht nach guter Entwicklung zu teuer geworden waren.
We sold certain investments that we believe had become too expensive after a strong run.

Another free solution, this time employing the verb ‘affected’. The word ‘plans’ comes from the wider context.

Verantwortlich für diese Entwicklung waren Spekulationen um die Nachfolge von CEO Markus Scheffler.
The plans had been affected by speculation about who will succeed CEO Markus Scheffler.

The following examples take their cue from the surrounding words (Rückgang and positiv respectively) to determine the direction of the Entwicklung, in both cases essentially conflating the two ideas.

Hinsichtlich der Kursentwicklung erwarten wir kurz- bis mittelfristig einen weiteren Rückgang.
We expect prices to decline further in the short to medium term.

Wir erwarten für die nächsten Wochen eine positive Marktentwicklung.
We expect the market to rise over the coming weeks.

‘Change(s)’ is often closer to the actual meaning of Entwicklung in German than our English word ‘development’. For example:

Umsatz deutlich unter Vorjahr wegen Zinsentwicklung
Revenue falls well short of prior-year level due to changes in interest rates

The above is essentially a form of paraphrasing, which can be a very helpful tactic to employ with tricky words such as Entwicklung. Here is a similar example:

Die aktuelle Entwicklung in den Schwellenländern...    
What is currently happening in the emerging markets...

Often asking yourself (or the customer directly) what the source text is trying to say will lead you to the most appropriate solution:

Bei Xcom sind Arbeitsanweisungen für die Entwicklung der Praktika bereits implementiert.
At Xcom, procedures are in place for the structuring of internships.

In the example above, we actually received a revised text from the customer – before they had received our translation – in which Entwicklung had been replaced by Strukturierung. It’s always nice when our freer translations (‘structuring’ really is quite a semantic leap from Entwicklung) are corroborated in this way. It happens more often than you might think.

Finally, we’re always partial to a good football cliché!

Im November verlief die Entwicklung am europäischen Unternehmensanleihemarkt zweigeteilt.
November was a month of two halves in the European corporate-bond market.

So as you can see, as is often the case with translation, there is a multitude of options and no one right or wrong answer. Stay tuned for further developments …

The Englishman who waded across a stream, but swam back across a river (01.12.2017)

In a recent tourism translation, a waterway called the Reichenbach played a fairly important role as an attraction / landmark for visiting walkers. The name Reichenbach is most closely associated with the Reichenbach Falls in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland, a famous and spectacular waterfall. But in our case, the natural feature in question was a Reichenbach in the Stuttgart region. And here it is in all its ... glory?


Could such an insubstantial flow of water really be called a river? In places, the Reichenbach is fairly broad and deep, but in others, such as in the picture, it is barely more than a trickle - albeit an attractive one. The Reichenbach is substantial enough to be featured on Google Maps, to power eleven mills and to have a valley named after it, but somehow hasn't got what it takes to have a Wikipedia entry of its own. The nearest equivalent we are aware of in our local area would be the Tillingbourne in the Surrey Hills, which is known as a river, at least in common parlance.

It was necessary in our translation to explain to the reader what the Reichenbach was, something that would be obvious to the German reader from the bach element of the word. Our standard means of doing so is to precede or follow the proper name with a descriptive noun, so for example:

"Here on the banks of the Weser river, the vision of urban living at its finest has become reality."

"This hip restaurant on the bank of the river Main enjoys views of the palace."
(Note that we prefer not to write 'the Main river' so as not to make it sound like main as in primary/principal; the Main is not as famous as other German rivers that require no explanation, such as the Rhine, Moselle, Danube and possibly the Elbe).

In the end, we decided that the Reichenbach could only be described as a river, despite its sometimes narrow proportions. Essentially, our main argument would be that if a channel of water is deemed important enough to have been given a name, it cannot really be called a stream, at least not when used in conjunction with its proper name. So in our translation, in order to explain to the otherwise uninitiated reader what a Reichenbach is or what it means, we might say, for example:

"In the 1920s, the Reichenbach river was powering eleven watermills, and over the centuries there have been up to thirteen mills in the valley, though not all operating at the same time."

Interestingly, as this extract from an authentic source indicates, even the great rivers of the world can be streams in places, at least in colloquial language:

"The Mississippi River is such a different creature here in Minnesota than down in Louisiana. In the northern forests, the river is still pure. Children laugh as they leap over the Mississippi in Itasca State Park, where the river is barely more than a stream."

But it is important to note here that the Mississippi is only described as a stream. If you change the sentence a little to precede stream with Mississippi, it sounds more than a little odd:

"Children laugh as they leap over the Mississippi stream in Itasca State Park."

The suggestion here would be that the author either isn't aware that the Mississippi is a famous river or that this is a perhaps a different Mississippi to the one that everyone has heard of. And no one in our company can think of a single stream in the UK or indeed anywhere else that is deemed worthy of having its own name.

The bottom line is that 'stream' is a generic word that is used to refer to either a small river or a narrow section of a river, but never, or at least only rarely, in direct conjunction with that waterway's name. There appear to be no universally accepted definitions that clearly differentiate between river and stream. However, it is generally accepted that a river is larger than a stream. In our search for how English categorises waterways our favourite definition by far was as follows:

"You can step over a brook, jump over a creek, wade across a stream, and swim across a river ..."

Putting the emphasis on emphasis (27.10.2017)

One of the first things you learn as a student of German is that all nouns start with a capital letter. In English, of course, we only use initial capital letters for nouns when they appear at the beginning of a sentence or to flag up that a word (or set of words) is a proper noun, i.e. a name used for an individual person, place or organisation. Certain neologisms are also deemed worthy of being written with a proper-noun-style initial capital. It wasn't such a long time ago, for example, that journalists wrote Web and Website (more recent examples include Big Data and the Internet of Things). And discussions as to whether to capitalise the word internet have raged until well into the current decade, with the New York Times among the last to relent and finally switch to lower-case usage. In doing so, they have in essence accepted the word as an integral and permanent part of the English language. The difference in capitalisation conventions between German and English needs to be taken into account in translation, as we discover below.

The convention of capitalising nouns in German explains why German companies are increasingly opting to style their names using lower-case initial capitals - essentially, they want their brand to stand out within the sentence. One of the most famous examples of this is the car brand smart. But choosing such a common word for your brand name (and not capitalising its initial letter) can make it difficult in English to determine, for example, whether you are talking about a car that is smart (i.e. equipped with hi-tech gizmos and connectivity features) or simply a car from the Mercedes-Benz city runabout range. Usually it is clear from context but not always. Often the sentence has to be cast in a particular way to avoid any ambiguity, and starting a sentence with the brand name smart opens a can of worms that is probably best left unopened.

Translators also find that double quote marks are used frequently in German source texts to highlight particular words or phrases. They are used more commonly than in English precisely because our standard means of emphasis - an initial capital letter - is rendered redundant by German's ubiquitous capitalisation of nouns. In English, we essentially only use double quote marks for actual quotes. For anything else we can use single quote marks. Often, however, the translator working between German and English is able to simply omit the quote marks entirely and use initial capitals to indicate proper-noun status. A further complicating factor is that English words used in German are frequently highlighted using quote marks. Obviously, an English word used in English requires no such emphasis, but this is all too easily forgotten and the quote marks can be unthinkingly replicated in the translation, invariably adding an unintended nuance.

So how do we emphasise in English? Our friends at Daily Writing Tips list seven different forms of emphasis, though usually only italics are open to us as translators. And even then these can be lost in translation when our text is typeset or put online.

The aforementioned New York Times article goes on to explain that it writes Nascar with an initial capital followed by lower-case letters rather than NASCAR as one might expect:

"We don't use all capital letters for acronyms of more than four letters, like Nascar and Unicef. The goal there, too, is to avoid distraction - we feel that long strings of capital letters are ungainly and stick out too much, especially in headlines."

Some German companies employ all capitals to make their names stand out. But styling a word, phrase or sentence completely in upper-case letters has limited benefit, at least in English. All-caps here are employed either to represent speaking at a high volume (the 'shouting' style found in internet forums) or to identify text on signage or in a notice.

The bottom line: Forms of emphasis such as quote marks and all-caps should not automatically be replicated in translation. It's better to let the context, or simply the English language's handy distinction between nouns and proper nouns, serve as a means of highlighting.

Who needs enemies when you have false friends like these? (28.07.2017)

Given the close historical relationship between German and English, there are naturally numerous words that are etymologically related, but not all of them are the same, or even similar, in meaning. Thus lurks the ever-present danger in translation of 'false friends'. The following sentence, for example, contains a couple of genuine 'friends' (kann = can; Bier = beer), but one false friend waiting to lure the unsuspecting English-speaking reader into a trap:

Kann ich ein Bier bekommen?

The German word bekommen means 'to receive / to get', not 'to become'. So the question is not whether I can transform myself into a grain-based alcoholic beverage, but simply whether I can get a beer.

Konsequent is another German word that appears to have an obvious English equivalent, but in fact almost always requires another, and often very free, translation. Just take a look at the (by no means exhaustive) entry in our inhouse dictionary to see some of the myriad ways in which it can be rendered in English:


A definite case of Qual der Wahl. And these are just some of the ways that we have translated this word in the past. But what does konsequent actually mean and what message is it intended to convey? In such situations, it can be helpful to make reference to our old friend the Duden:

Duden konsequent.jpg

Interestingly, the third meaning given by Duden is a very specific and technical term for which the one-to-one English translation consequent does appear to be correct. A consequent river system is one where the direction of flow is directly related to the original incline or topography of the land. We strongly suspect, however, that either the German or the English term is simply a translation of the other that has become established as the standard term over time and does not necessarily adhere to the more usual meaning of the word.

With the exception of this technical term, the obvious cognate consequent simply doesn't work as a translation of its supposed German equivalent. If you do a site search on the Guardian or New York Times website, for example, a quick scan of the results reveals that the meaning in English is generally equivalent to subsequent or darauffolgend.

consequent site:www.guardian.co.uk
consequent site:www.nytimes.com

This clearly does not match the definitions given by Duden above. Consistent and decisive would appear to be the main contenders for translation, and are indeed included in our dictionary, but to restrict yourself to only these options would in many cases result in bland and ineffective translations.

Here are some real-world examples from some of our past translations:

konsequent rendered as a verbal phrase:

Die Chinesen wollen den Umbau ihrer Wirtschaft hin zu einer konsumgetriebenen Volkswirtschaft konsequent vorantreiben.

The Chinese are looking to forge ahead with the transformation of their economy into a consumer-driven model.

[Forge ahead has the additional advantage of being associated with ironworking with all its connotations of heavy industry.]

konsequent translated simply as an adverb that is suitable for the context at hand:

Das Spielangebot wurde konsequent auf Kinder im Alter von zwei bis sechs Jahren ausgerichtet.

This world of play has been specifically designed for children aged between two and six.

[Here, specifically expresses a more implicit nuance of konsequent in the German.]

Another verbal phrase:

Die LMO positioniert die Region konsequent als winterliches Urlaubsziel.

The regional marketing organisation is making a concerted effort to position the area as a destination for winter holidays.

[In this example, concerted effort elegantly and concisely expresses the fact that all participants are working systematically and decisively across all aspects towards a particular goal.]

An example where any translation would add little to the English and so has been omitted.

Projekte wie OpenStreetMap haben gezeigt wie globale Monopole konsequent aufgebrochen werden, wenn Daten für diverse Akteure verfügbar gemacht sind.

Projects such as OpenStreetMap have shown that global monopolies can be broken up if data is made available to a wide range of players.

Here an adjective modifying a noun conveys the meaning nicely:

Somit war es nur konsequent, die Brotsorten BROTIFY zu nennen.

The logical conclusion, therefore, was to call their breads BROTIFY.

[Logical was quite simply the logical translation of konsequent in this case ...]

Another adjectival rendering:

Dabei setzt die Zentrale konsequent auf eine Aufgabenteilung.

HQ operates a clear division of duties.

[Here, the natural collocation clear division of duties (18,800 Google hits) does the work of konsequent nicely.]

And now for something completely different ...

Du musst deinen Plan konsequent durchziehen.

You need to do what you say you are going to do.

Last but not least, a contribution from the online dictionary dict.cc. This resource and others like it are often unfairly maligned for providing context-free translations. We agree to an extent but do believe that they have their benefits, provided they are used carefully. This offering of theirs from the world of football perfectly illustrates how context-dependent the translation of konsequent (and indeed any word) can be.

Dictcc konsequent.jpg

Come in and find out? (19.05.2017)

In the past, we have always tried to resist proofreading texts that have been drafted in English by non-native speakers, and our clear and unambiguous advice to customers remains unchanged: in terms of overall cost and quality, the most efficient course of action is to write in your mother tongue and then have your text professionally translated. However, like King Canute faced with the advancing tide, we have come to recognise the futility of our stand and to accept that if our customers wish to write in English, then it is our duty to accommodate that wish to the best of our abilities.

Having said that, there are still some ground rules that need to be made clear at the outset:

Alles oder nichts

Nur die gröbsten Fehler ausräumen gibt's nicht. There is no definition of what constitutes a grober Fehler; there are infinite shades of grey when it comes to language and each individual's judgement will be different. Consequently, if we take on a proofreading job, we do so on the understanding that we will apply exactly the same standards to the English text as we would to an original translation in terms of style, register, terminology, consistency, etc. If we have to completely rewrite the text, we will do so.


One of the first things that gets lost when someone writes in a foreign language is clarity. We can make an educated guess as to what we think the author means, but ultimately the author is the only one who knows for sure. We will always present changes in a format where the client or author has to consciously accept the changes that have been made (e.g. using 'tracked changes' in a Word document). If the author is not to able to make that judgement, that probably means that he or she is not well enough equipped to be writing in that language.

If we feel unable to make even an educated guess as to the meaning of a section of text, we will highlight this and request clarification, in exactly the same way as we would with an unclear text for translation.


We also ask that we are given sufficient time to review and improve the text. Simply calling on us for a last-minute proofread is not a good idea. This puts us in a position where we feel pressured to not present a customer with too many changes, or we feel that we are unable to give them an honest appraisal of the quality of their English (or, potentially, the English that has been presented to them by another party). Sometimes we simply do not have enough time to make the improvements that are required.

Advertising copy

If the proofreading job involves slogans, straplines or campaign names, this is definitely the time to call on us at an early stage. Given an adequate brief, we will happily present a customer or their agency with some suggestions or creative input.

The title of our blog, by the way, is a reference to perfume chain Douglas's famous (or infamous) attempt at coming up with an advertising slogan in English. As this Spiegel article reminds us, not only did it confuse Germans, many of whom thought it was an invitation to enter the shop and leave again, but also provoked derision from native speakers of English.

Aller Jahre wieder: Der Geschäftsbericht (06.02.2017)

(This blog entry in German only)

Aus gegebenem Anlass betrachten wir diesen Monat in unserem Blog erneut ein bekanntes Thema: den Geschäftsbericht. Wir haben kürzlich unsere Hinweise für Kunden, deren Jahresberichte wir übersetzen, ergänzt und überarbeitet. Wie nachfolgend beschrieben, ist die konsequente Realisierung eines kontinuierlichen Verbesserungsprozesses von einem Jahr zum nächsten das A und O der Bearbeitung von Geschäftsberichten und anderen wiederkehrenden Übersetzungsgroßprojekten. Hier sind unsere Gedanken dazu ...

Unsere Tipps und Ratschläge für die Übersetzung von Geschäftsberichten, aus der Perspektive des Übersetzers

Der Geschäftsbericht ist in vieler Hinsicht das Aushängeschild eines Unternehmens. Daher ist es wichtig, dass hier alles seine Richtigkeit hat. Über die Jahre hinweg haben wir hunderte, wenn nicht tausende an Arbeitsstunden mit der Übersetzung von Geschäftsberichten verbracht, und so wissen wir ziemlich genau worauf es - zumindest aus Sicht des Übersetzers - ankommt, um den Ablauf so erfolgreich wie möglich zu gestalten und letztendlich das beste Ergebnis zu liefern. Nachfolgend finden Sie eine Übersicht unserer Erkenntnisse. Vieles davon trifft nicht nur auf die Übersetzung von Geschäftsberichten zu, sondern gilt generell für größere Übersetzungsprojekte, besonders solche, die zeit- bzw. geschäftskritisch sind.

Die Planungsphase

Aus Sicht des Übersetzers ist es von grundlegender Bedeutung, dass die Übersetzung als wesentlicher Bestandteil des Planungsprozesses für den Geschäftsbericht behandelt wird. Der Dreh- und Angelpunkt einer qualitativ guten Übersetzung ist die Maximierung der zur Verfügung stehenden Übersetzungszeit. Das erreicht man am Besten dadurch, dass man den Zeitpunkt im Prozess bestimmt, wenn ein stabiler Entwurf des Geschäftsberichts (bzw. einzelner Abschnitte davon) vorliegt, und man dann diese Version sobald wie möglich dem Übersetzungsbüro zukommen lässt, damit es ohne übermäßigen Zeitdruck mit dem Übersetzen beginnen kann.

So geht beispielsweise in den meisten Unternehmen der „vorläufig finale" Bericht zur Freigabe an den Vorstand oder vielleicht an den Wirtschaftsprüfer. Die Änderungen in dieser Phase halten sich normalerweise in Grenzen und können ohne größeren Aufwand nachträglich in die Übersetzung eingearbeitet werden.

Für unsere Kapazitätsplanung ist es auch sehr hilfreich zu wissen, wann genau wir mit dem Quelltext rechnen können und wann wir die Übersetzung liefern sollen, d. h. nicht nur das Datum sondern auch die Uhrzeit. Bei kurzen Fristen und beschränkter Kapazität besteht ein beträchtlicher Unterschied zwischen 9 Uhr und 17 Uhr. Auch das ungefähre Textvolumen (Wortzahl) hilft unserer internen Planung.

Die Produktionsphase

An der Erstellung von Geschäftsberichten sind normalerweise verschiedene Bereiche innerhalb eines Unternehmens beteiligt, sowie oftmals auch mehrere externe Dienstleister. Es ist daher entscheidend, dass das Unternehmen einen zentralen Koordinator ernennt, der den Überblick über den gesamten Prozess hat. Jemand muss die Verantwortung dafür tragen, dass alle Prozessbeteiligten wissen, was sie wann zu tun haben - und es muss jemand dafür sorgen, dass alles auf dem richtigen Kurs bleibt, wenn es zu den unvermeidlichen „Herausforderungen" kommt.

Während der Produktionsphase unterliegen Geschäftsberichte einer ständig fortlaufenden Überprüfung und Überarbeitung seitens verschiedener Beteiligter, und es ist Aufgabe des zentralen Koordinators sicherzustellen, dass sich keine veralteten Versionen in Umlauf befinden.

Als Übersetzer benötigen wir den ersten stabilen Entwurf und anschliessend nur noch die endgültige Version, sobald sie von allen relevanten Instanzen freigegeben wurde. Die Bearbeitung zwischenzeitlicher Updates und geringfügiger Änderungen ist äußerst zeitintensiv und kann noch dazu Verwirrung stiften. Wichtig ist auch, dass beide Versionen in einem editierbaren digitalen Format sind, um die reibungslose Integration in unsere Übersetzungssoftware zu gewährleisten.

Tabellen ändern sich häufig nur geringfügig von einem Jahr zum anderen, daher werden sie oftmals dem Schriftsetzer zum Einfügen nach der Übersetzung überlassen. Es gibt jedoch stets bestimmte feine Unterschiede zwischen den einzelnen Jahren, die möglicherweise nur die Zielsprache betreffen. Wir raten daher immer, auch Tabellen in den Übersetzungsprozess einzuschließen. Sollte das nicht möglich sein, muss sichergestellt werden, dass die Tabellen von jemand mit den entsprechenden Fachkenntnissen geprüft werden, um die terminologische Konsistenz zwischen Text und Tabellen sicherzustellen.


Für die Abschlussadressaten ist es von großer Bedeutung, dass Informationen im Jahresvergleich konsistent dargestellt werden. Das bedeutet, dass auch die Terminologie übereinstimmen muss. Gutes Terminologiemanagement setzt Folgendes voraus: Zunächst einmal muss das Übersetzungsbüro mit der Terminologie der relevanten Bilanzierungsrichtlinien (IFRS, HGB, etc.) vertraut sein und wissen, welche Quellen bei fachlichen Fragen zu Rate zu ziehen sind. Zweitens muss das Übersetzungsbüro über Systeme und Abläufe verfügen, die die Berücksichtigung von unternehmensspezifischen Präferenzen und die Übereinstimmung der Terminologie mit den relevanten Bilanzierungsrichtlinien gewährleisten (zwei Anforderungen, die mitunter unvereinbar sind). Zum dritten muss der zentrale Koordinator des Unternehmens in der Lage sein, Terminologieanfragen schnell, verständlich und verbindlich zu beantworten - und den Autoren der Ausgangstexte Konsistenz abzufordern.

Die Revisionsphase

Selbstverständlich wollen die meisten Unternehmen die Übersetzung ihres Geschäftsberichts ganz gründlich unter die Lupe nehmen und gegebenenfalls selbst Änderungen vornehmen. Als Übersetzer freuen wir uns über jedes Feedback und begrüßen es, wenn wir von Kunden Resonanz bekommen. Wir möchten allerdings darum bitten, dass wir an dem Prozess beteiligt werden und die Möglichkeit erhalten, alle vorgenommenen Änderungen zu prüfen und uns dazu zu äußern (mit ausreichend Zeit im Terminplan, um dies gründlich zu tun). Dafür gibt es zwei gute Gründe: zum einen ermöglicht es uns, spezifische Kundenpräferenzen zu erkennen und festzuhalten, damit wir sie im Rahmen künftiger Übersetzungen verwenden können. Zum anderen kann es vorkommen, dass durch den Revisor versehentlich inkonsistente Terminologie oder Fehler aufgrund mangelnden Sprachgefühls einfließen (siehe: Das Klagelied des Englisch-Übersetzers). Bewährterweise gibt der Revisor immer die Gründe einer Änderung an. Dadurch kann der Übersetzer besser einschätzen, ob die Änderung berechtigt ist. Desweiteren zwingt es den Revisor dazu, die Änderungen jeweils noch einmal zu hinterfragen, statt sie einfach unbedacht durchzuführen.

Die Layoutphase

Eine der größten Fehlerquellen im gesamten Prozessablauf ergibt sich, wenn Schriftsetzer, die ja oftmals in einer fremden Sprache arbeiten, Übersetzungen in das Ausgangsdokument kopieren oder gar neu eintippen. Hier bei LingServe können wir Ausgangsdokumente direkt in InDesign übersetzen, wodurch ein nicht unerheblicher Arbeitsaufwand (und damit Kosten) gespart und, noch wichtiger, eine Hauptursache menschlicher Fehler vermieden wird. Außerdem können wir die abschließende Feinarbeitausführen, wie z. B. Anpassung der Textlänge, Einfügen angemesser Zeilenumbrüche und ähnliches.

The trouble with tenders (01.12.2016)

There has been a growing trend for a number of years, particularly among large companies and organisations, to centralise and consolidate purchasing and to award contracts via a tendering process. We have also witnessed this trend in our own industry. In the case of public-sector organisations, this is often driven by mandatory requirements intended to deliver value for money and transparency. In the case of private-sector companies, it tends to be driven by aggressive procurement practice, seeking to put pressure on suppliers in order to reduce costs. In both cases, we would argue, the unintended consequence may well be the exact opposite of the desired outcome - at least as far as translation is concerned.

In the private sector, the drive toward cost-cutting through aggressively negotiated purchasing agreements started in the manufacturing industry and, in this context, there is clearly a certain logic to the process. If widgets are a key component of the product that you manufacture, if you know the quantity of widgets you are going to need over the next three years, if you can precisely specify the grade of steel required and the dimensions to a tolerance of less than a millimetre, then your procurement readily lends itself to being put out to tender. By bundling purchasing volumes, you can encourage lower bids and thus drive down your input prices. With just a few due diligence checks on your prospective supplier, to ensure they are still likely to be around in three years to manufacture your widgets, you can happily award the contract to the lowest bidder. What works well in the manufacturing sector, however, will not necessarily work in the service sector and, in our experience, specifically does not work well in the translation industry.

The problem is that if you are buying translations rather than widgets, things can be a little more complicated. Test translations in a tendering process are a fairly pointless exercise. A well-translated text tells you that a provider can produce good translations, but it does not tell you whether they will provide consistently good translations over an extended period of time. Even assuming that the translation has been done in good faith by a translator at the company who will be regularly assigned to your work, that translator may be on holiday/sick/busy/have left the company when your next job comes along. You need to know that your translation provider has the right systems and best practices in place to be able to deliver consistently high-quality translations.

Equally importantly, the tendering process tells you nothing about the level of service you will receive from the supplier: Will they communicate with you over any issues in the source text? Will they proactively make suggestions for improvement? Will they be flexible and go the extra mile in an emergency? Do they have systems in place to ensure consistency of style and terminology in your documents? Will the translators think outside the box when required and translate (write) creatively? Are they conscientious and diligent about meeting delivery deadlines?

In reality, the only way to know whether you have found a good translation provider is to work with them over a period of time. The only tangible benefit of the tendering process to the customer is the ability to push down prices, but even this can be a double-edged sword. If higher-quality suppliers are priced out of the business, you may discover that the true cost of working with a cut-price translation provider is higher than you think. A poor-quality translation can sometimes be worse than no translation at all. And an unreliable service provider can also prove costly. For quality-conscious customers, the value that a professional, conscientious and competent translation service provider is able to add will more than offset any price premium.

Omission. A virtue not a sin. (30.09.2016)

We translators have a lot of grammatical tools at our disposal. We can convert nouns into verbs (very useful when translating German into English), and verbs into nouns; we can change prepositions, translate one word as five, or perhaps add a gloss or footnote if we feel something needs explaining to our reader. The list is endless, but one of the most underrated and effective techniques is that of omission. This perhaps runs counter to what you expect to be the principal aim of translation - to accurately reflect every single aspect of a source text in a particular target language. But slavishly reflecting every single semantic building block in your translation can produce a somewhat unwieldy rendering, often containing words that are either superfluous or even unhelpful.

A case in point is the German word Gemeinschaftsstand, which refers to a stand at which multiple organisations exhibit at a Messe (best translated as 'trade fair', 'consumer fair' or 'exhibition' rather than 'fair'*). 'Shared stand', 'joint stand', or, at a stretch, 'communal stand', might be OK in certain situations but none are particularly satisfactory solutions. Often the Gemeinschaft idea that the stand is shared is either implicit, and so doesn't need to be explicitly mentioned. The idea can also be expressed through other means and not by one single word. Here are a couple of examples that we've pulled from the web, with some suggestions for how the Gemeinschaft aspect might be rendered in translation:

Bereits zum dritten Mal bietet die ees Europe einen Gemeinschaftsstand zum Thema Elektromobilität in Kombination mit erneuerbaren Energien an.

For the third time, ees Europe is organising a stand devoted to electric drive systems and renewable energies at which relevant organisations will be invited to exhibit.

Note that in Kombination has also been omitted here with no loss of meaning.

(From an online application form for exhibitors)

Aussteller am Gemeinschaftsstand „Innovation made in Germany" erhalten folgende Leistungen ...

Exhibitors at the Innovation made in Germany stand benefit from the following ...

In both examples, simply using the plural (an addition in the first and a reflection of the German in the second) and relying on the context are enough to suggest that this is a Gemeinschaftsstand.

This is just one of countless examples that come up on a daily basis in our work. If cutting out a word makes for a more readable text in translation and the reader of the translation is given no less information than the reader of the original, then omission is sometimes the right tactic to choose.

*This is the sort of thing we English speakers understand when we hear the noun 'fair'.


Baloise Travel Guide, translated by LingServe, wins content marketing award

On a final note, we are delighted to report that the Baloise Travel Guide, which was translated by LingServe, won a silver medal at this year's Best of Content Marketing Awards in Hamburg. The publication offered an informative and sometimes humorous take on the world of insurance and the services that Baloise offers and was particularly enjoyable to translate. We are delighted to have done our bit to help it win this prestigious accolade.

The curse of the into English translator, or:
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing (updated 19.05.2017)

As translators who work into English, we are affected by a phenomenon that is probably unique in the translation industry, in that our (German) customers almost all speak our working language to varying degrees and, as such, are able to have a say in the translation. In many ways this is a good thing. Our customers can give us useful feedback on specialist or company-specific terminology in their particular field of expertise. Sometimes we can offer a range of alternatives for customers to choose from when it comes to something creative like an advertising slogan or corporate mission statement - an option that wouldn't (generally) be available to a Chinese translator, for example. That's the upside of working with the world's lingua franca. But there's also a downside: well-meaning customers with a good command of English will sometimes take it upon themselves to change our translations to fit their worldview of English. Unfortunately, they tend to do so without consultation with us and often lack the necessary writing skills in English to produce a fluent, well-written text. Instead, they are prone to translating each word individually, putting too much faith in a dictionary, and sticking too closely to the structure of the original German sentence. Verschlimmbessern is perhaps the best word to describe this. We often say that we can read the German behind the English.

For a hotel website, we once translated the sentence Für kulinarische Genüsse sorgt die Gastronomie in unmittelbarer Nähe des Hotels with There are some excellent places to eat within easy reach of the hotel. When we saw the final version online, however, the sentence had been turned into The gastronomy in the proximity of the hotel ensures culinary delights. A rendering of the German that not only sounds extremely odd but also completely fails to convey the intended message. Thankfully, we managed to talk the customer into changing back to our original translation.

The examples are almost endless, but one of our favourites is where a customer changed our translation:

The authentication process ensures that a user is who they say they are.


The authentication process ensures that a user is the one that he pretends to be.
(German: "... dass der Benutzer derjenige ist, der er zu sein vorgibt.")

Thus rendering it surely the most useless authentication process ever invented! The use of the plural pronoun in English to avoid using a gender-specific pronoun (as in the above example) is another formulation that customers often struggle with and feel compelled to 'correct', because it varies from German usage.

Another customer went through a roughly 100,000-word document, meticulously changing every singular noun in English to a plural if the original German had been plural (e.g. changing 'collateral' to 'collaterals' for the German Sicherheiten). There was also an occasion where our translation came back for proofreading from the customer, but all the instances of i.e. and e.g. in our text had been written out as 'id est' and 'exemplia gratia'. The German typesetter, presumably following the example of d.h. and z.B., which can be used interchangeably with their written-out equivalents das heisst and zum Beispiel, had made these changes thinking that it looked better or just was more correct. However, not many English speakers are even aware of the written-out Latin terms. We say 'i.e.' and 'e.g.' all the time but we'd never dream of writing them out. Had we not been given this text to proofread - something that we always recommend - an embarrassing mistake would have resulted and the text would have appeared overly formal and academic, and many readers simply wouldn't have made the link between id est / exemplia gratia and i.e. / e.g.

The bottom line is that all changes to a LingServe translation, no matter how minor they appear, should be made in consultation with LingServe to make sure that no errors or unnatural language creep into the finished product.

"Two nations separated by a common language" (26.02.2016)

This quote, generally attributed to George Bernard Shaw, is widely known, but the differences between US and British English are often exaggerated, particularly in the minds of non-native speakers. The reality is that the differences between the international variants of the English language in formal writing are negligible and certainly no barrier to comprehension.

We have two basic rules:

Every translation has to be designated as either US or GB English1 to ensure consistency of orthography, terminology and grammatical conventions.

Unless we have specifically been told otherwise, every translation is assumed to be for an international audience, most likely including non-native English speakers.

Although our default assumption is that we are translating for an international audience, our contention is that there is no such thing as 'international English', i.e. some notional form of English that is neither American, British, Australian, Canadian nor any other global variant. To ensure consistency for our customers, we assign a default variant of English to each customer (British English unless the customer requests otherwise). This provides a consistent and professional look and feel to the customer's publications with no awkward alternation between spelling and vocabulary.

At the same time, we are always mindful that our translations are generally intended for an international audience and, because of the status of English as the international lingua franca, that many readers will not be native English speakers. In practice, this means that we try to avoid colloquial language and any culturally specific phraseology - especially sporting metaphors. While a reader in Mumbai might understand what is meant by someone being 'bowled a googly', this cricketing idiom will almost certainly leave an American or Japanese reader completely stumped (sorry, bewildered!). Sometimes you just have to make a choice between US and British terminology. For example, if you are translating the German word Girokonto it has to be either 'current account' (GB) or 'checking account' (US). But often it is possible to find a neutral translation. A German Tankstelle, for instance, would be known in the UK as a petrol station (or even just 'garage' colloquially) and as a gas station in the US. The neutral alternative (and hence our preferred translation) would be 'filling station'.

The more amusing examples of the differences between US and British English - and the potential for misunderstanding - tend to occur in colloquial usage, which simply does not feature much in the type of B2B documents that we typically translate at LingServe. For example, an American would find nothing unusual in a lumberjack wearing suspenders (although the bra and high heels might raise an eyebrow ...). Similarly, going out in your pants would not be considered untoward in downtown New York, but would definitely be frowned upon in central London, and possibly get you arrested! A pissed American is one who is very unhappy, whereas a pissed Englishman would most likely be very happy (and inebriated).

1) Or any other recognised standard international variant.

New year. New services. (07.01.2015)

Now that 2015 is fully under way we would like to introduce two new services that some of our customers are already taking advantage of. 

The first is the layout of InDesign files. In order to add value for our customers, we are now able to offer an end-to-end translation and layout service for documents created in InDesign. Line breaks, hyphenation, overset text and other typographical issues that can arise in the course of translation are checked and corrected. If text needs to be shortened or adapted to the document layout, we have the requisite language skills to ensure that the clarity, content and style of the text remain intact and that any necessary changes do not detract from the quality of the translation.

The service also includes a final read-through of the typeset text by the original translator. Seeing the finished product in its proper context helps the translator to add that final polish.

The second value-added service for our customers is our professional online terminology management tool. Our general terminology database is already available free of charge to customers who generate revenue of at least €15,000 a year. For customers wishing to maintain their own company-specific glossary of German-English terminology, we can also collate, compile and maintain a bespoke dictionary. Our online terminology management tool offers a number of advantages over a conventional word list in Excel or Word:

To find out more about these additional services or about our standard translation offering, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

When is a balance sheet not a balance sheet? (01-10-2014)

With the summer holidays behind us and autumn fast approaching, the thoughts of many will already be turning towards the year-end and the preparation of the next annual report.

The annual report is a powerful marketing tool for your company and it’s important to get it right. We have spent many hundreds, possibly thousands, of man-hours translating annual reports over the years and have a pretty good idea – from the translation perspective – of what makes for a successful process and, ultimately, the best possible annual report. The following represents a summary of this experience, much of which applies not only to the translation of annual reports, but also to translation in general and the translation of time- and mission-critical documents in particular.

The planning stage

From the translator’s perspective, the critical point is for the translation of the annual report to be treated as an integral part of the annual report planning process, and not simply tacked on as an afterthought. Maximising the available amount of time for translation is the key to obtaining a good-quality translation [see also: Good things come to those who wait]. The best way to achieve this is to identify the point in the process where a stable draft version of the report (or individual sections) is available and to send this version to the translation agency as soon as possible so as to allow them to get a head-start with the translation without undue time pressures.

The production stage

The production of annual reports generally requires the input of various departments within the company and often several external agencies. It is therefore essential to have one central coordinator within the company with an overview of the entire process. One person has to take responsibility for ensuring that everyone involved in the process knows what they have to do and when, and for keeping everything on track when the inevitable ‘challenges’ arise.
Annual reports are always subject to constant review and revision by different people during the production process, and it is the role of the central coordinator to ensure that out-of-synch versions don’t end up in circulation. We, as translators, only ever wish to see the first stable draft followed by the final version once it has been signed off by all necessary parties. Processing interim updates and minor changes is hugely time-consuming and a source of potential confusion.

Terminology management

For the users of financial statements, it is very important that the information is comparable from one year to the next. This means that the terminology itself has to be consistent between periods, a task not made any easier by the apparently obsessive compulsion of the IASB to continuously reinvent the terminology used in IFRSs. Good terminology management requires several things: firstly, the translation agency needs to be familiar with the terminology used under the relevant accounting standards (IFRS, German GAAP, etc.) and to know which sources to consult on ‘technical’ issues; secondly, the translation agency needs to have systems in place to ensure that company-specific preferences are used and that the terminology is consistent with that used in the relevant accounting standards (a sometimes conflicting requirement); thirdly, the company’s central coordinator must be able to provide swift, coherent and authoritative feedback on terminology queries – and to impose consistency on the authors of the source documents.

The revision stage

Most companies naturally want to go through the translation of their annual report with a fine-toothed comb and potentially make their own modifications. As translators, we always welcome and positively encourage customer feedback. All we ask is that we are involved in the process and that we are given the opportunity to review and respond to any changes that are made (with sufficient time in the schedule to do so properly). There are two good reasons for this: firstly, it allows us to identify and record specific customer preferences and therefore to incorporate those preferences into future translations; secondly, the revisor may inadvertently introduce inconsistencies or, in the case of a non-native speaker, linguistic errors. It is always good practice for the revisor to state the reason for any change. This allows the translator to better assess the merits of the change and also imposes the discipline on the revisor to thoroughly think through any change, not merely to make it on a whim or a hunch.

The layout stage

One of the greatest sources of potential error in the entire process is when typesetters, generally working in a language that is not their own, copy and paste or – worse still – retype the translation into the source document. At LingServe we are able to translate directly from the source InDesign document, thus eliminating a considerable amount of work (and therefore cost) from the process and, more importantly, a major source of human error. We can also do the final reformatting tweaks to allow for changed text lengths, appropriate line breaks, etc.

One final piece of advice: while we would never want to discourage anyone from switching to LingServe from another translation agency, we would strongly advise against putting the contract out to tender each year, resulting in frequent changes of service provider. Any direct cost savings will be more than outweighed by indirect ‘frictional’ losses in the process and in quality. This applies equally to all of the external service providers involved in the production of the annual report. It is a complex process that will never run entirely smoothly, but which benefits from a cumulative effect of refinement and incremental improvement with every successive year.  Any change of service provider takes this process back to square one.
Find a good service provider that you trust, give that company the stability it needs to ‘invest’ its time and resources in your business and then nurture the relationship.

Oh yes, and the answer to the question in the title is “Whenever your company decides to adopt the new IASB term: statement of financial position.”

As big as a house  (11-12-2013)

While reading the Guardian newspaper recently, I came across an article describing the proportions of an Amazon.com distribution centre. The conveyor belts here were described as "winding through a space as big as 31 football pitches". This reminded me of a common problem faced by translators working from German into English: namely, how to deal with units of area measurement - a particularly thorny issue in less technical texts where style is paramount. A museum, for example, might proudly boast that it has 5,000 square metres of exhibition space; a theme park might offer 600,000 square metres. All very impressive, but it often means little to an English speaker. Most of us are simply unable to paint a visual picture of how big that might be. As the Guardian example shows us, we often need a more tangible basis for conceiving dimensions in our mind's eye. As translators, we have to decide whether to keep the same unit of measurement, replace it with an appropriate adjective (large, vast, gigantic) or simply leave it out altogether if this produces the most natural-sounding and appropriate translation. One thing we don't do is to convert metric units into imperial as there are simply too many pitfalls in doing so.

Property is a good example of how the British and German cultures function differently: in the UK, the precise size of a house, flat or even room is rarely listed prominently. Just compare any UK and German property listing sites: in the German ads, almost every house or flat has the square meterage first. In the equivalent UK ads, such details are noticeable by their absence, generally replaced instead by a reference to the number of bedrooms. This is an excellent example of how context and the purpose for which a translation is to be used can be critical to the way a text is translated. If the advert is to be placed in a London newspaper, it would make sense to ‘localise' the text by replacing information about size with the number of bedrooms. If it is being used in a legal dispute about the dimensions of the property, the exact dimensions comprise a key element of the text.

Ten myths about translation quality (13-08-2013)

The Huffington Post recently published an article entitled ‘Ten Common Myths About Translation Quality’. We liked it so much that we thought we would provide a link and add our own two cents to explain how they apply to us.

Here’s the link to the article:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nataly-kelly/ten-common-myths-about-tr_b_3599644.html

Myth #1: Bigger is always better.

Buying from a big company with a big name does not guarantee quality. And it’s no different for translation. We agree with the Huffington Post that large agencies have a part to play but we believe that specialising in a single language direction gives us a competitive edge.

Myth #2: All I need is a translator.

But would you say the same for a writer? Translation, like any other writing process, requires more than just one person to ensure the best results. At LingServe, all our translations are checked by another member of staff in an iterative process that helps keep our language fresh and our quality high. It’s also something that sets us apart from freelance translators.

Myth #3: More translators will result in better quality.

The more you translate about a certain company or subject area, the more familiar you become with it. Makes sense doesn’t it? Wherever possible we try to use the same translators for the same clients. It keeps consistency and quality high, and it’s also why we strongly recommend not splitting jobs between different translators in order to meet a tight deadline.

Myth #4: Pitting one provider against another keeps quality in check.

Here, the Huffington Post points out the dangers involved in having the translations of one provider checked by another. Even if the translation is pretty much perfect, the reviewer may well be reluctant to say this because there will be no tangible evidence of the work carried out. At LingServe, we work on a collaborative rather than a combative basis, with all translations reviewed inhouse by a second pair of eyes.

Myth #5: Getting a "back translation" will ensure quality.

This can be like a game of ‘Chinese whispers’ and is unlikely to give you any conclusive insight into the quality of the original translation. We would agree that this is generally a pointless exercise that merely serves to increase the cost to the customer.

Myth #6: Bilingual employees will provide me with helpful quality feedback.

Everyone knows that one guy who grew up in Switzerland and speaks about four languages. They’d make a great translator, right? Not necessarily. People who learn languages because of a true passion rather than because of an accident of birth usually make better linguists. And often a little knowledge of a language can be a dangerous thing.

Myth #7: Translation quality control works well.

Translation quality control is important to some extent, but ticks on check boxes mean nothing if the style of the target text is inappropriate or of a poor quality. We’d rather produce a professional, natural-sounding translation with one extra space at the end of the sentence than a clunky document that doesn’t convey the meaning of the original, but is error free according to a checklist. And, as the Huffington Post says, it’s far more important to focus on quality improvement, i.e. by providing us with as much background information and context as possible.

Myth #8: My source content has no impact on quality.

It’s a general rule in translation that the better the source text the better the translation. If a text really shines, the translation practically writes itself. Why? Because a well-written text is one where you immediately understand what the author is communicating. We can, to a certain extent, ask for clarification and produce a translation that in some cases is better than the original. However, if the original message isn’t clear, there’s only so much we can do to rectify this.

Myth #9: Technology should be avoided.

Translation technology doesn’t mean machine translation here. Machine translation does have its uses, of course, but not for producing stylish, professional and polished texts. Translation software here refers to tools that aid consistency and speed, drawing on ‘translation memory’ and incorporating often huge dictionaries containing thousands of specialist terms.

Myth #10: When you ask for a "translation" you'll get the same thing from everyone.

When you commission a translation, be sure that you understand in advance exactly what it is that you are buying and that there will be no hidden additional charges. This is why we send our customers a job confirmation before starting on any job, to be sure that there is no confusion about what is being asked of us or about what we will charge.

A collaborative process (23-11-2012)

At LingServe we welcome constructive input and feedback from customers and indeed this is often an essential ingredient in producing an optimum translation. Ultimately the customer always has the final word and, of course, the benefit of inside knowledge which the translator may lack. But there are certain rules that need to be followed in order to produce the optimum outcome.  An incident this week with one of our customers – who shall of course remain nameless – illustrates what can go wrong if the process is not managed correctly.

The customer concerned broke some cardinal rules of the translation process. Firstly, never attempt to rewrite passages of text in a language that is not your native language (in the same way that a professional translator should never translate into any other than his own native language). Secondly, always review any changes you wish to make with the translator in an iterative process, stating the grounds for any suggested changes and allowing the translator to review the changes and provide further professional input to ensure that terminological inconsistencies, inappropriate style or register, incorrect syntax etc. do not inadvertently creep into the text.  Thirdly, and this is specific to the translation of financial reports (of which the translation concerned was one), do not arbitrarily change the terminology used in financial statements from that used previously.

One of the key requirements of financial statements and financial reports is comparability over time. This is why accountants will restate prior-year figures if there has been a fundamental change in the underlying parameters (e.g. a newly acquired company). Similarly, financial translators have to ensure that the terminology used in financial statements is consistent from one reporting period to the next. The reader needs to be sure he is comparing apples with apples and not apples with pears.

The customer in question broke all three of the above cardinal rules, putting back the publication of the half-year report and creating several man-days of unnecessary work along the production chain, starting with the customer himself, the translation company (us) and the DTP agency. He did this by producing a swathe of (predominantly incorrect or unhelpful) changes and forwarding them directly to the DTP agency, who duly entered all the corrections in the typeset document. After this came to our attention, most of this work had to be reversed in a highly time-consuming and error-prone process of handwritten corrections and counter-corrections.

In summary, do please question, query and give feedback on our translations, but always involve us in the process.