I decided to write this post after yet another long proofreading job, clearing up the utter mess created by some anonymous colleague before me. It was full of some of the most basic and recurrent errors that one tends to find in bad German to English translations.

It is hoped that this post will make a tiny contribution to improving standards in the industry, or even provide clients with a handy list of telling signs of a poor translator when they themselves are not in a position to judge. Even if it should fail in these two objectives, it should certainly prove to be cathartic writing for me and cathartic reading for all the other high-quality German to English translators out there. These errors are in no particular order, by the way. I think they all cause an equal number of grey hairs, but if desired I can keep a count next time…

Please let me know if you decide to do your own version for your language combination and I’ll edit this post to include a link at the bottom! Also keep your eyes peeled for a late December special: The Horrors of Proofreading: Top 10 into English translation errors. This planned post will go beyond mere German to English translation errors and include some of my ‘favourite’ errors found in all manner of into English translations, not just German to English.

Let’s get started…

1. Some translators need §ectioning

One of the most common errors, even found in otherwise decent translations. The § is a symbol meaning ‘Paragraf’ in German (which is not the same as ‘paragraph’ in English – that’s ‘Absatz’). We Brits* don’t use the § symbol ever. We tend to say ‘Section’ or ‘Article’ (with or without capitalisation, depending on preference and context). I’m told by Marta Stelmaszak that this also comes up in Polish.

* Thanks, Steffen Walter (see comments).

Hint: It’s not even on a standard QWERTY keyboard…

2. GmbH is not the same as Ltd. (or anything else!)

Unbelievably, this is one I had to explain to a seasoned in-house translator of ten years, who frequently translated banking and other legal documents with this glaring error. GmbH means “company with limited liability” under German, Austrian, Swiss or Liechtensteinian law. There are quite significant differences even in the way GmbH is understood in the four countries where GmbH companies exist. When you translate “Firma GmbH” or “Gesellschaft AG” into English, you simply cannot ever translate these letters in any way. To translate them into anything else in the name of the company can be viewed as misrepresentation and therefore could have serious legal consequences!

Hint: GmbH has its own Wikipedia page in English. It doesn’t redirect to Ltd.

3. Know how to use know-how

The source text may use clichéed Anglicisms that nobody seems to truly understand yet everyone seems to throw into their CV and marketing materials. But that doesn’t mean you should or even can use them in your translation. Don’t be lazy. Write English you’d actually want to read.

Hint: How often do you see “know-how” on a British CV?

4. Just because the Source is capitalised…

…Doesn’t mean it should be the same in your translation. Remember: Germans capitalise all nouns. We don’t. Just proper nouns. If you don’t know what one of those is, I suggest finding another profession. Okay, I can hear some people shouting at the back “What if it’s a title?” There, you should exercise your common sense. Assuming you have some. Just remember that in British English we are not crazy about capitals in headlines and titles. Check the BBC, the Guardian, The Times, and you’ll see what I mean. Any good copywriter will tell you – If You Need To Capitalise Every Word You Are Writing To Grab Attention – then perhaps your copy just isn’t interesting enough. The same goes for translation. From my perspective, the rules appear to be a bit more relaxed in US English, although Kevin Lossner tells me no, not in good US English. As a general rule: don’t capitalise unless you have to or if it’d look weird if you didn’t.

Hint: Take a look at the Guardian style guide for advice on usage or an article featured in the same newspaper on the subject for more reasons why use of the upper case should be avoided where possible.

5. This one make me pull my hairs out…

Most words remain in the plural or singular in the English translation just as they were in the German. But some don’t, and some translators don’t seem to realise that. I hope this informations are of use to you.

Hint: Re-read the text, consider whether that’s really how you would say that in English.

6. No, you can’t just leave it in Deutsch…

Yes, German sometimes has some very long words and researching them can be a bind. However, if you don’t know or cannot be bothered to look up the precise term in English, no, it doesn’t suffice to just leave it in German, or make some vague attempt and put the German in brackets after. Yes, it’s in fact good practice to put the German after when it is a legal term with a specific meaning and no official English equivalent, but it’s not meant to be used to make up for bad research. Just leaving a poor attempt for the proofreader to correct isn’t good enough, either.

Hint: Use dictionaries. Use Google. Ask colleagues. Ask native-speakers to explain. All else fails – ask the client. But don’t leave the word or phrase in German. That’s just lazy.

7. Genitive. Seriously.

It’s shocking how often this happens. I recently corrected a text full of “the investor” when it should have said “of the investors”. Translators that can’t recognise the genitive really shouldn’t be translators at all. I learnt that in secondary school.

Hint: New career? English native-speakers may sometimes muddle up the accusative and dative when speaking, or sometimes even in writing. But not noticing the genitive in a text you are meant to be translating is quite another story.

8. Don’t hyphenate technical-terms just like in German

A lot of the time, it’s not even proper German. It’s certainly not proper English to start hyphenating words all over the place without any regard to proper hyphenation rules. No, you’re not a book-worm or medical-translator, nor did you take a course in Project-Management or buy a train-ticket yesterday-morning. When I see such things, I don’t think “native-speaker” (or rather, I do – of German – and with the hyphen mockingly added). In British English, at least, you have an ever-loving family and a two-year-old son. You may also, for sake of clarity, be a white-van man (as opposed to a white van man, i.e. your van is white, not necessarily you). From what I know, in US English the rules are similar, except with more of a principle of “common sense” – include the hyphen if it would be unclear without, but otherwise, don’t. There are also some words we Brits may still write with a hyphen where the Americans have come a bit further and dropped the hyphen completely. Look it up if you’re not sure.

Hint: Style guides offer great advice. Being a native speaker and not “going native” in any foreign country you are living in also helps.

9. Translation-oriented text

There are some words or forms that are more usual in German. That means we have to swivel things around a bit, rephrase, use a thesaurus, Google, or, heaven forbid think of a better way of saying it in English. One such common example is the over-use of the suffix “-orientated” (UK English) or “-oriented” (US English). I see it EVERYWHERE, and often in the American form. Why? Probably because it is what our friend Google Translate suggests*… Fine, use Google Translate or dictionaries or whatever sources you have to get an idea of a text, but then it’s creativity time. Some starters: -focused, -based, -linked, as well as your better option – rephrasing. Not every business-related text needs to read “We are a goal-oriented, quality-oriented, team-oriented company. We work hard using results-oriented strategies to fulfil sustainability-oriented goals”. Sorry, correction: NO text, ever, in the world, should read like that…

* more on Google Translate and US/UK English confusion in the top 10 into English errors post coming soon

Hint: Did you really use the suffix “-oriented” or “-orientated” so often, if at all, before you became a translator? A lot? Honestly?

10. Some things just leave a bad Imprint

You’ll find this one on a lot of German websites, as a botched translation of the word ‘Impressum’. The Impressum is the page on German websites, required by law, that contains legal notices, contact details, company information, tax IDs, responsible parties and so on. Kevin Lossner already covered this nicely. It is, as he says, a pet peeve of literate translators everywhere. The word doesn’t really exist in English, so you can approximate with a variety of options – ‘Legal information’, ‘Legal notice’, ‘Page details’, whatever, anything along those lines will do. Just NOT imprint!

Hint: Don’t follow the crowd. Just because everyone else is doing something stupid and wrong, doesn’t mean you should go along and do the same or accept it without a fight. That’s something applies across the board in life, not just to translation! Don’t be a robot – think for yourself!

So, did I miss anything out?
What would be in your top 10?
Are you planning to do your own top 10 translation errors for your language combination?
Remember to let me know if you do!
Also remember to check back soon for the top 10 into English translation errors!
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About the Author:

Rose Newell is a British-born, Berlin-based copywriter and translator specialising in high end and high tech. Rose works exclusively with direct clients, mostly located in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. This blog is a labour of love for colleagues, not a sales funnel for paid membership groups, webinars, seminars, courses or coaching services. As one of those who has consistently spoken out against instagurus, readers can trust this blog will never be monetised. Truly successful translators have no need for the pittance generated by such activities.

94 Comments

  1. Tom Reinold 22/03/2017 at 11:40 pm - Reply

    I’m astonished that the excessive use of nouns in German writing and the 1:1 transfer into English by poor translators is not on your list of horrors. “Die Befestigung erfolgt durch Anziehen der Schrauben” is even horrible in German, but seeing “The fastening takes place by tightening the screws” in my proofreading/editing work makes me cringe.

    • Rose Newell 09/05/2017 at 2:37 am - Reply

      Well, it’s a top ten rather than a comprehensive list. Excessive nouns would be good to include if you felt like doing a follow-up post. Literal translations – well, that’s pretty much to be expected. I hope you find better translators who you’ll enjoy reviewing!

  2. Manish Duggal 07/12/2016 at 9:21 am - Reply

    Actually you have covered the most occuring errors during german to english translation. As I m a NRI, often faces such horrors.
    But your blog has been very helpful.

  3. Alexander 12/02/2015 at 2:52 am - Reply

    I enjoyed reading this, thank you. Raised with British in Hamburg, I have now lived in California for some thirty years.One of my favorite British/American confusions can be as simple as a record sleeve. Unless you translate this to album cover the average Yank will be clueless. We use a Driver License over here. My favorite German to English snafu was “equal goes it loose” – “Gleich geht es los” and an error that was eventually addressed: the carton of Melitta coffee filters read: “Melitta coffee filters; we filter the best out of your coffee!”
    …that is all!

  4. […] From §ection to Imprint, a list of my "favourite" 10 common mistakes in German to English translation with some less-than-understanding commentary. Enjoy!  […]

  5. Thomas 16/01/2014 at 6:45 pm - Reply

    I think the practice of using imprint for “Impressum” probably comes from the English Printer’s Imprint Act 1961 repealing an 1869 Act requiring a Printer’s Imprint ( http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Eliz2/9-10/31/section/1).

    That said, I use “Legal Notice”, because, well, people can understand that!

    • Rose Newell 21/01/2014 at 11:51 pm - Reply

      Yes… Key word being “Printer’s”. It’s not meant for websites.

  6. Rob Prior 15/01/2014 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    Re: no. 8

    My pet hate at the minute is “Trainings”….

  7. John Kinory 16/11/2013 at 8:09 am - Reply

    Very nice and useful!

    Here, however, are a couple of my own peeves:

    1. No, you were not doing a “proofreading” job: you were revising/editing/check-editing. Whenever an agency asks me to do ‘proofreading’, I say that I am not a proofreader or sub-(sub)-editor at a newspaper (not that many newspapers are proofread properly these days).

    2. In my experience, § is just as often ‘Clause’ in British English as it is ‘Section’. Probably more often.

    3. Hyphenation: sometimes the solution is to drop the hyphen and close the space. English tends to weld words over time: ‘website’ is one example of quite rapid welding.

    4. Writing ‘Herr Schmidt’ is an excellent example of 6., ‘Leaving things in Deutsch’. ‘Herr’ is not a title (except in religious texts, where it means ‘Lord’). It means ‘Mr.’, nothing else, and should be translated like everything else that can be translated.
    For some unfathomable reason, when discussing politicians some newspapers leave ‘Mr.’ in the source language when they come from a particular group of West European countries. But not when they come from Finland, Greece, or – heaven forbid – some heathen land such as Egypt, Israel or Japan. That would be too difficult for important Oxford-educated journalists to research, right? Or maybe it would look, how shall we put it, rather odd … as does leaving ‘Herr’ and ‘Frau’ in an English text.

  8. Karl 17/10/2013 at 1:35 pm - Reply

    Very useful list, especially for inexperienced translators. By the way, where can I find source material to practice German-English translation?

    • Rose Newell 22/10/2013 at 7:01 am - Reply

      Not sure what you mean? This is the internet, so you can practice anything in German that you can find – it’s only when you distribute it that you have a problem with copyright afaik. Wikipedia can of course be translated into English there are some articles that only exist in German at present, particularly relating to aspects of German law and culture.

  9. […] From §ection to Imprint, a list of my "favourite" 10 common mistakes in German to English translation with some less-than-understanding commentary. Enjoy!  […]

  10. Alison 07/08/2013 at 3:30 pm - Reply

    A very valid point at No. (not # – I’m British 🙂 ) 1, but (since you mentioned it in your Top 10 general proofreading errors) what do you do when making reference to e.g. the German XYZ-Gesetz? There, I do leave the § in, because I think if I start changing it to section or whatever it will only confuse the issue for the reader, whereas they will at least be able to locate “XYZ-Gesetz § 23”, even if they then need to get the text of it translated.

    • Rose Newell 07/08/2013 at 5:15 pm - Reply

      Nope, I change it to Section, or whatever is used in the standard translation of that act provided it isn’t §. I usually put the German act in brackets at least at the first occurrence, often throughout if the gaps between occurrences are more than a few paragraphs. It’s not too confusing I don’t think, because the context makes it clear what everything is referring to.

  11. Sharon 01/07/2013 at 1:59 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing your list! It’s good to be reminded of all the little details that actually make up a good translation. Some of the mistakes can make a huge difference – for example what’s the point of leaving a word in the source language?

    Just like you, I think that quality is essential in translation, that why people can never be warned enough against the risks of cheap or machine translations. The only way to go to get the best target text as possible is professional translation services. Also because I agree that proofreading is essential and allows to fix any mistakes the translator could have left. Details matter!

  12. Lance 19/05/2013 at 6:35 am - Reply

    Thank you all for this interesting blog. I did some proof reading in Japan for the head of the Plastic Surgery Department during my music studies in Matsumoto. One doctoral student had several mistakes in her dissertation, confusing the word “and” with “or, nor, but”. Working with the Japanese is particularly frustrating, due to their abhorrence of the words “yes and No” which implies far too direct a response in politeness.

    I suppose we have all run across amusing translations in German like “My father is a photograph.” “I became a letter.” “I have studied English since four years.”

    Regards,

    Lance

  13. german english translator (What funny spam!) 06/03/2013 at 7:25 am - Reply

    I didn’t have knowledge about the § that it is a symbol meaning ‘Paragraf’ in German.I don’t know German at all, but as an interpreter, I understand the translation process, and as an English speaker.

  14. Manfred Mondt 12/02/2013 at 6:17 am - Reply

    A few of my pet-peeves: Most translators have learned that “wet paint” becomes “Frisch gestrichen” and “slippery when wet” becomes “by Nässe Rutschgefahr, the term professional, conveys a different meaning in German, more often fachmännisch, oder fachgerecht. Anyone can be an engineer in the US, not so in Germany. Before calling someone a Diplomingeneur, make sure they actually have a BS/MS degree in a specific field. Konstruktion is not construction, but as the case may be, product or manufacturing engineering. The translation to “now enjoy the soft clean water in your pool” (pool installation), I found in Heidelberger Gelben Seiten: Mehr Freude am besseren, weicheren Wasser.I would like to hear how others dealt with impossible source text. Manfred

  15. Eileen Laurie 11/02/2013 at 8:33 am - Reply

    Love it. All of it. And will refer to this list (and the previous one) when I need more back-up in certain discussions. Thank you for putting it all in one place!

  16. LocEngineer 30/01/2013 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    Really good post. As a German I can fully relate. 😛
    Only a few things to add / note:
    #7, genitive: it’s a good point but instead of “of the investors” you should have written “of the investor’s”. N’est-ce pas ? 🙂

    #4 capitalisation: well, yes, but you used title case in the first line of your own headline too. 😉

    One word I would add that is often mistranslated: “concept”. That’s my personal favourite.

    • Rose Newell 30/01/2013 at 2:53 pm - Reply

      #7 😉 indeed! Doesn’t happen too often, but I corrected it on an English original this morning…

      #4 Yes, but not on the second half. That’s a little more liberal because it’s a short title, also referring to my earlier post “The Ethics of Proofreading”. It’s okay if the document is unique or the title is short. There’s a little playroom. 😉 It just looks awful when it’s a long title.

    • Anna 05/09/2013 at 9:08 pm - Reply

      Thanks for posting this. It was very helpful to see some of these pointers so clearly explained. (Yes, guilty.)

      What do you think of replacing ß with ss in place names and proper nouns? I could not find any sort of guideline on this. I just remember looking at an ß before I knew any German and thinking it was a b.

      • Rose Newell 06/09/2013 at 2:22 pm - Reply

        When mentioning them in English? Depends on the context. If I want them to be able to recognise the place, I tend to leave it as an ß. If they need to know what it sounds like, and I have a reason to think this is quite important and may not be understood, I *might* write it as a double s. (I may also even consider ae and oe in that context, too). HOWEVER, I’m British, not American, and I think most educated Brits who’d be in a position to read something about Germany will know an ß is an s, or it wouldn’t disturb them anyway. So USUALLY ß, but open to using ss if there’s a good reason.

        • Martin P 16/11/2013 at 8:05 am - Reply

          I always change ß to ss, simply because it’s not a letter (strictly, letter combination) that exists in English any more, and unfamiliar readers will take it as a B, or even a Greek beta. Putting a long s up against a short s went out of fashion in English in around 1800 so it’s meaningless to most people now. I don’t change ä, ö or ü, though, since the host letter is still recognisable.

          • John Kinory 16/11/2013 at 10:46 am

            Agree entirely, Martin: it doesn’t exist in English. You might as well use a Hebrew character; well, aleph is used in maths, but other than that … 🙂
            It’s analogous to using the German clause symbol, which is not part of the English character set.

          • Rose Newell 16/11/2013 at 10:49 am

            Quite. It really does depend on context though. If it is in the name of the building or a street sign I may leave it as ß because you have to consider the context – if they look out for a sign saying one thing and it is actually another, it may cause confusion. Generally I would put ss, but not always.

          • Rose Newell 16/11/2013 at 10:50 am

            And just realised I said the opposite to before. Haha. It is quite difficult to say what I would do since it depends on the circumstances. It happens pretty rarely in the texts I translate.

  17. David Friedman 23/01/2013 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    How about “the US-American government” or “1.000.000,00”?

    • Rose Newell 05/05/2013 at 1:10 pm - Reply

      Just spotted this one when checking my old posts…

      I hate those numbers, but I’ve seen US-American as a new thing developed by “right-on” folk keen to point out that there is more to the Americas than just the United States thereof.

      • John Kinory 16/11/2013 at 10:48 am - Reply

        Then I am afraid they are ignorant as well as pretentious. The official name is United States of America, so it’s fine to abbreviate it to America just as we abbreviate United States of Mexico to Mexico, etc.

  18. Janet Rubin 10/01/2013 at 3:14 pm - Reply

    So glad someone else is complaining about IMPRINT for a change! I’m sure there are a lot of similar items I could add to your list, but I avoid proofreading as much as possible for this very reason (to keep my blood pressure down), so I don’t have anything fresh on the tip of my tongue to share. 😉

    • John Kinory 16/11/2013 at 10:50 am - Reply

      As I have said in my disappeared post (Rose – ???), this is not ‘proofreading’ but editing/revising, as I always point out to agencies who ask me to do ‘proofreading’.

      • Rose Newell 16/11/2013 at 10:55 am - Reply

        Not disappeared! It just automatically approved you but not your post when I hit reply. I get a lot of spam, especially from translation agencies trying to up their ranking, as do other bloggers, so please show a little understanding!

        • John Kinory 16/11/2013 at 11:34 am - Reply

          No problem 🙂

  19. Lisa Davey 10/01/2013 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    A post that is music to my ears! I’m (sort of) glad that I’m not the only one to weep over common mistakes. I occasionally vent my spleen on this subject on my blog.

    I get irritated by native English speakers/translators who do not know the difference between less/fewer and number/amount. There is also a growing trend in British English to say/write “I was stood” and “I was sat” when the speaker means “I was standing” and “I was sitting”. There is a difference. I could go on – but I’ve got a job to finish proofreading 😉

    • Rose Newell 10/01/2013 at 2:01 pm - Reply

      Great comments.
      Hmmm… Blog topic: Do proofreaders make better translators? I think so. I’ve learnt a lot through proofreading.

    • John Kinory 16/11/2013 at 10:51 am - Reply

      No, “I was stood” is perfectly valid regional dialect. Of course, some people use it as an affectation.
      With you on less/fewer.

      • Rose Newell 16/11/2013 at 10:53 am - Reply

        I don’t use dialect in my translations. It is not my dialect, either… So sounds off to me.

  20. Agius Language & Translation 09/01/2013 at 11:39 am - Reply

    Excellent post, Rose. This could have been a list of my own personal bugbears. Just last week, I was discussing the annoying and meaningless translation of ‘Impressum’ as ‘Imprint’ with a translator colleague.
    Have tweeted this, too.
    Claire

  21. euroword 09/01/2013 at 9:54 am - Reply

    Okay, alright, I’ll admit I have been guilty of a few, but that doesn’t make me bad as a person or necessarily at what I do. I’ve changed my Impressum. Though for lack of another term I didn’t in fact find Imprint such a bad thing as just somewhat outdated as it does exist and comes from the old world of actual printed material. However, I think there is some room for discussion on some of your rules, though in principle I accept them all as valid. I had a discussion with someone about Solaranlagen, which could be a number of things in English but probably should be solar systems (as in the ones you put on your roof) but has pretty consistently been translated as solar plants because otherwise people assume you are talking about the heavens. What to do? Many a native speaker editor would tag either as “wrong”.

    • Rose Newell 10/01/2013 at 2:37 am - Reply

      I would be one of those native-speaking editors to tag both options as wrong. 😉
      Solaranlagen would be solar panels if you are talking about the ones you get on buildings. The ones in fields – I’ve seen a few names. This is really why it’s a good idea to ask colleagues or go on KudoZ or other terminology forums to ask about such terms.
      Of course, really, it’s better to specialise so such terms roll off the tongue without thinking. If you were to ask me about some obscure engineering term I’d be equally lost. So when someone asks me to translate engineering I refer them to a better-qualified colleague.
      Now I am really intrigued – which rules do you feel have some room for discussion?

      • euroword 16/01/2013 at 4:19 pm - Reply

        Well, for one thing, while sometimes something (like grammar) is black and white “wrong”, other things may be “wrong” in various shades of gray (or grey as the case may be). “GmbH is not the same as Ltd.” is a legitimate gripe, but if you then say there is no English equivalent, I personally see no problem leaving it “in Deutsch”, which you are also against, but which I would argue is preferable in this case if 1) there is no good English equivalent and 2) this is the formal name of a business. I’m sorry, I just don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with this, and frankly, I think any number of people would agree with me.
        I find myself in the translation business becoming increasingly, contradictorily, both less and more tolerant but ultimately not interested in arguing with people about it. I have strong emotions about the English language in that I love its flexibility and creativity and appreciate the culture in which it is used in that it is so accepting and tolerant. On the other hand, I get really annoyed at the number of native speakers who make, well, stupid mistakes, very often with simple subject verb agreements, for example. And this can’t be attributed to style or dialect, or whatever. It is just wrong. Or the incorrect use of the subjunctive in English. Drives me nuts. So if someone wants to do grammar battle with me or criticise/criticize my translation I (very black and white) either agree with them and admit that I have made a mistake or I think they are an idiot, and either way just don’t want to argue with them. So if they want to change something, I don’t really care, even if I think it is wrong or sounds awful or wouldn’t be my choice. This is business and they are the client. On the other hand, I don’t necessarily want my name on it.
        Also, how many times have you encountered an author who can’t write well in German and you have to translate that crummy text? Or have clients who insist that your translation doesn’t sound “German” enough, doesn’t reflect the style and language of the author, who is German and sounds it? I just don’t want to argue with them. I think “energy turnaround” sounds awful for “Energiewende” but “energy change” doesn’t sound much better. “Transition”, perhaps? But a search of the term reveals that it has been almost equally as often been translated into English as one or the other. So do you fight the crowd and have your client claim this doesn’t jibe with the precedent?
        Also, how many times have you encountered an author who can’t write well in German and you have to translate that crummy text? Or have clients who insist that your translation doesn’t sound “German” enough, doesn’t reflect the style and language of the author, who is German and sounds it?
        And perhaps it is different in Britain, but in the US we so easily formally accept so many foreign terms every year that translating “Angst”, for example, or “Schadenfreude” may no longer be necessary, except….unless…the meaning has been so wrongly translated for so long that the meaning has changed.
        For me, language is a living, vibrant entity that should properly be treated with reference and respect, and perhaps some measure of discipline.
        And there are huge differences for me between editing, proofreading, writing, and translation. And for whom it is intended.
        And no doubt in this post you will find some mistakes as my style is informal and thus my use of the language is also less formalized as it might be if I were writing, for example, a quarterly business report, or translating it.

        • Rose Newell 16/01/2013 at 4:24 pm - Reply

          Oh no, I completely agree with you on leaving things in German where there is no proper equivalent. I’m talking about terms where there is an equivalent, you just have to search for it a little bit…
          …And yes, I think we’ve all had clients that write bad German or insist we translate in a certain way. Ghastly, and it happens a little too often.

    • John Kinory 16/11/2013 at 10:53 am - Reply

      Imprint is wrong, end of. The word exists, certainly, but it means something entirely different. That’s what is called a false friend.

  22. Jack Doughty 09/01/2013 at 8:21 am - Reply

    Schon = already. Yes it does, but we don’t use it anything like as often. It’s usually best just to omit it. Even worse if it’s used with the present tense rather than the perfect. I am here two years already? No I’m not, I have been here two years.

    • Rose Newell 09/01/2013 at 12:25 pm - Reply

      I teach English on a voluntary basis (for donation to The Black Fish) and taught them schon/already yesterday. Very true! In spoken English we would often replace a lot of those filler words with emphasis on one word or the other… but some Germans might not understand the concept of intonation. Bless.

  23. Heinrich Pesch 09/01/2013 at 7:55 am - Reply

    Nice blog. I never translate into English, but those last few years one thing has spread like the flu: the use of spaces around the slash and in front of question and exclamation marks.
    And how about those double or triple exclamation marks in technical documents of German or English origin? Plain silly. Most of the time the sentence needs to be bold instead of those exclamation marks.

    You are right about hyphenation rules of course, but if English authors would use them more it would be so much easier to understand what they really mean. One reason why German is an easier source language than English.

    • Rose Newell 09/01/2013 at 12:27 pm - Reply

      Hyphenation is probably the biggest thorn in my side. British people are meant to use hyphens for (nearly) all compound adjectives. Americans and Brits are meant to use them wherever something is not clear. If a source text is unclear due to missing hyphens, it’s not the language’s fault, but the writer. There are so many professional writers and translators out there who don’t observe this rule… and it drives me insane.

      • John Kinory 16/11/2013 at 10:55 am - Reply

        I have noticed increasing ignorance of hyphenation, and omission of required hyphens, in English and in Hebrew over the past few years. Very odd!

        • Rose Newell 16/11/2013 at 10:57 am - Reply

          Agreed… It has crept into British English from the States I think. Few realise the importance.

  24. Daina Jauntirans 08/01/2013 at 11:54 pm - Reply

    Not a legal eagle (yet!), but I am a U.S. English speaker, and it’s my impression that the section symbol is used here to refer to statute more often than in contracts. Maybe someone else can confirm or deny.

  25. Dan Bird 08/01/2013 at 8:18 pm - Reply

    You have me bang to rights.

    But an excellent ‘overview’ (that’s my personal bugbear).

  26. Jeff Whittaker 08/01/2013 at 6:39 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this post.
    Regarding #4: Sometimes things get put in parentheses in languages like French because they are using an English word, but when translated into English, there is no need for them, but editors will sometimes put them back in anyway.
    Regarding #5: Other languages have this same issue. For example, in Spanish, they describe something as being in “bad conditions”.

    • Rose Newell 08/01/2013 at 11:17 pm - Reply

      Regarding 4: Actually, that also happens in German. I just love it when they include the definition of an English word, despite the fact the German word for it (i.e., the same English word, in the translation) has already been used…
      Regarding 5: I expected as much. 😉

  27. Mirella Nalder 08/01/2013 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for pointing out these horrors. I often have to discuss the GmbH/Ltd issue with some clients and when we are requested to follow their requirements, i.e. use the wrong expression (IMHO), we always add a note distancing ourselves from it.
    All the best, M

    • Rose Newell 08/01/2013 at 11:22 pm - Reply

      Urgh, you have clients that insist on it? I just said a very rude word…

  28. […] Bias: Why Collaboration is the Path to Translators’ Best Work The Horrors of Proofreading: Top 10 German to English translation errors Translation is Not About Words. It’s About What the Words are About Webinar – […]

  29. EP 07/01/2013 at 7:49 pm - Reply

    Genitiv. Ouch. The Germans themselves get that stuff wrong a lot. Although the Dativ isn’t necessarily any better. How does that saying go? Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod (German: The Dative is to the Genitive its death). Nice post.

    • Rose Newell 07/01/2013 at 8:22 pm - Reply

      Yeah, Germans get accusative and dative wrong a lot and sometimes forget to use the genitive. Some translators seem to forget it exists at all. I’ve seen it far too often.

  30. […] From §ection to Imprint, a list of my "favourite" 10 common mistakes in German to English translation with some less-than-understanding commentary. Enjoy!  […]

  31. […] From §ection to Imprint, a list of my "favourite" 10 common mistakes in German to English translation with some less-than-understanding commentary. Enjoy!  […]

  32. Anna Lycett 30/12/2012 at 10:04 am - Reply

    What a great post, Rose!

    Regarding capitalising titles (and other things, for that matter), I used to work for an international digital marketing company (based in the UK, though), who insisted on capitalising all metatag titles – when I say all, I mean not only in English, but also in Polish, which is plain *wrong* and drove me up the wall! I explained it to them several times but they told me to shut up and do it or the person who checked my text would do it 🙁 and they claim to be “linguists” and know what language is about…

    • Rose Newell 30/12/2012 at 11:51 am - Reply

      Oh, we’ve all been there. My blog is not the place for it (slander/libel, etc.), but suffice that GmbH and another that’ll come up in the into English errors – translating gender neutral “er” when referring to “der Abschlussprüfer” (the auditor), are particular annoyances of mine and the reason I am a freelancer, not in-house.

      • Anna Lycett 30/12/2012 at 12:49 pm - Reply

        Of course. Well, I don’t work for that agency now and I much prefer freelancing too!
        I’m looking forward to your next post 🙂

  33. Judy Jenner (@language_news) 26/12/2012 at 8:38 pm - Reply

    Brilliant! This should be required reading for all translators in this language combo. Love the tough love, too. Very funny and a great read.

    • Rose Newell 28/12/2012 at 10:57 pm - Reply

      Thank you! And thanks to both of you for tweeting this post. 🙂

  34. Daniel Greene 22/12/2012 at 2:45 am - Reply

    Nice post! I don’t know German at all, but as an interpreter, I understand the translation process, and as an English speaker, I see the awkwardness in the translations that pester you. You have given me the idea of creating my own “Top 10 ASL-English interpreting gaffes” post!

  35. Ted Wozniak 21/12/2012 at 4:33 pm - Reply

    Very nicely done! You covered most of my pet peeves. One that is missing is the ubiquitous “im Rahmen der/des” being consistently rendered as “within the framework/context of”.

    I doubt I’ve encountered it more than a half a dozen times in all my years translating when that was actually the best possible translation.

    • Rose Newell 21/12/2012 at 5:23 pm - Reply

      Ahh, yeah, that’s definitely one I missed.

      • Steffen Walter 21/12/2012 at 7:12 pm - Reply

        … not to mention the many different ways in which “-technisch” is used as part of German adjectives, or even on its own (“Füllhöhe technisch bedingt” etc.). Usually best omitted/paraphrased in English.

        “Übersetzungstechnisch war das aber jetzt nicht gerade eine Meisterleistung” 🙂

        • Rose Newell 22/12/2012 at 10:07 am - Reply

          True. There are a fair few. If I get enough suggestions (say, 10 more) of other common translation errors, I’m thinking of doing a second – with credit to contributors, of course. 😉

      • Ted is right – mistranslations of “im Rahmen…” are among my *favorite* bits of Denglisch.

  36. Victor Dewsbery 21/12/2012 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    Another pet peeve for me is using “as well as” as the standard translation for “sowie” in a list. Lists in verbose German texts often have a succession of commas, culminating in “sowie … und …” or “sowie … oder …”. In such cases, “sowie” is best translated by a comma. Of course the phrase “as well as” exists in real English, but not generally as a joining phrase in lists like the word “sowie”.

    And while I’m at it, I also notice plenty of German lists using “oder” when they really mean “und”.
    (Five points to anyone who guessed that I usually deal in legal and architectural texts.)

    • Rose Newell 21/12/2012 at 12:27 pm - Reply

      You reminded me. Some people also get bzw. mixed up and write the wrong word for the context. Infuriating!

    • Craig Meulen 21/12/2012 at 5:00 pm - Reply

      Yep, that’s a pet peeve of mine, too!

      And the way some translators insist on sticking to the commas (and other puncuation) of the ‘verbose’ German, even if the English needs something else (like semi-colons for complex lists, or just plain re-writing as English instead of transl-ese).

    • Victor, what about the old German rule of “when in doubt, use ‘bzw.’ and create more doubt”?

      • Victor Dewsbery 22/12/2012 at 4:33 pm - Reply

        Or even worse: when in doubt say it in English, because ***Every can English***.

  37. Bettina Behrendt 21/12/2012 at 10:41 am - Reply

    Nice job, Rose. “Imprint” is indeed my very favourite. And here’s another one, even though it rather refers to communicating in German: Introducing oneself as “Managing Director”, “General Manager”, “CEO”, whatever …, when speaking German (!) and that person is, in fact, the Geschäftsführer of a German GmbH.

    • Rose Newell 21/12/2012 at 11:25 am - Reply

      Oh I know… Not a translation error, but equally damned infuriating! Next they’ll be the ones writing Ltd. on their own company headers!

      • Steffen Walter 21/12/2012 at 11:31 am - Reply

        … which would be tantamount to serious misrepresentation according to my understanding (but IANAL :-)).

  38. Andrew Swift 21/12/2012 at 9:32 am - Reply

    Hi Rose
    Very entertaining. Here are a couple more:
    – Turning Herr and Frau into Mr and Mrs, e.g. Federal Chancellor Mrs Merkel
    – Using 99 (on the line) and 66 (above the line) as quote marks, e.g. „Title of Film“
    Best wishes
    Andrew

    • Rose Newell 21/12/2012 at 10:06 am - Reply

      Good ones! Yes, titles… that I’ll cover a bit more generally in the into English post I think. As for those quotes… I think they may be „a sign of a German-native translator.“ 😉

      • The quote problems are often enough an indication that someone simply does not know how to set the default language for proofreading a text in MS Word. I have seen excellent native English translators unable to fix the quote marks simply because they do not understand the settings in the word processor. I suppose you could add to this incorrect characters for single quotes and apostrophes.

  39. Steffen Walter 21/12/2012 at 8:39 am - Reply

    Great overview, Rose. Note, though, that *US* English does use the section sign (§) in legal citation. See, for example, http://www.rbs0.com/lawcite.htm#anchor333333

    • Rose Newell 21/12/2012 at 8:48 am - Reply

      Thanks, Steffen! I expect you read more US English than I do. It didn’t occur to Marta or me! I have vague memories of seeing it in US documents now you come to mention it, though. I think it’s relatively rare even there, though, and is more used in the context of articles than sections of a contract? I’m a Brit, though, so best to see what an American reader has to say for the final word.

      • Steffen Walter 21/12/2012 at 8:56 am - Reply

        You surmised that it is “more used in the context of articles than sections of a contract” – that’s my impression, too, but let’s wait for comments by “US legal eagles”.

        • Charles Ek 11/06/2014 at 2:56 pm - Reply

          Wait long enough and eventually the Internet will provide all required information. 🙂

          It is standard in U.S. legal writing of all kinds to use the section symbol, be it statutes, regulations or contracts. An example of authority for this proposition is at http://typographyforlawyers.com/paragraph-and-section-marks.html

          On occasion this fact has caused consternation among my clients who are accustomed to seeing only UK English.

          Yours in legalese,
          Charlie Ek
          Formerly a legal eagle, now a legal translator (who also takes other assignments occasionally)

          • Rose Newell 11/06/2014 at 7:28 pm

            Interesting! And nothing like UK English!

  40. Aleksandra Milcic 21/12/2012 at 7:57 am - Reply

    Excellent overview, Rose. I regularly find similar errors you mentioned when I’m proofreading text translated in Serbian. You inspired me to write a blog post and list English to Serbian translation errors that can change the meaning of the original text or simply make text sound illiterate. I will let you know when I finish it.

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