This article is the fourth in a series to expose some common myths about rendering languages.

  • Part 1 discussed faulty assumptions about Localizing your Website as well as the Misuse of Volunteer Translators.
  • Part 2 discussed the Misuse of Translation Software and Reliance on Overseas Distributors or Sales Agents.
  • Part 3 discussed problems using Native Speakers to translate as well as wrong assumptions about localizing Videos and CDs.

By exposing these common myths, we trust that your firm will gain more revenue by targeting ethnic and global markets correctly.

8. If my Layout works in English, it will work in other languages too.

Layout is the total design of a page or a brochure, including the pictures, graphics and images and the words that wrap around them.

This assumption can be true. Assuming the colors and graphics are not offensive and the English (or source-language) layout provides sufficient blank space.

As was discussed with CDs and Videos, many common languages require more words than English to express the same concept. French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian generally require 20% more while German, Russian and sometimes Japanese require about 10% more.

If your English text is extremely tight on a brochure, where are these extra words to go? Sometimes a professional language service can adjust space between lines and letters or shrink a picture, the margins or the font size to make a translation fit. However, these solutions:

  1. assume sufficient blank space to implement them; and
  2. can cause eye strain on the prospects or clients you are trying to impress.

But if the original is so tight that there is simply no extra space and if you can add no more pages (due to printing costs, for example), the source text itself may have to be cut or abridged.

Cutting involves simply eliminating less important lines or paragraphs. Abridging involves editing a text to delete the extraneous words and still retain the meaning. When these cut or abridged versions remove 10 to 20% of the text from the originals, the translated language expansion should then fit the original layout template.

9. Translate it as I wrote it because that’s how I want it.

While your demand will work in most cases, sometimes the way you wrote your file would be offensive or simply wrong if it were translated directly. This language myth comes in various forms, all summarized as wrong word usage:

a)  Cultural Issues

A common mistake that Americans make in global marketing is to assume that the rest of the world is informal as we are. Most isn’t. To start with, it is always safer to address your prospects by their appellations and last names (such as Mr. Jones, Ms Johnson or Dr. Smith). One can always go from formal to informal (“Just call me Samantha”) but it is very awkward to go from informal to formal.

Our own firm too is guilty of addressing you by your first name in the intro to many of our newsletters, but most of our readers are American and so expect it.

We have seen letters, for example, that start,

“Dear Heinz,

I would like to introduce you and your friends in Germany to our latest product.”

This example has some glaring mistakes:

  • Europeans in business and in general are more formal, hierarchical and title-conscious than Americans. While this definitely depends on the industry (sports, IT, modern art, etc. are casual), the higher the other person’s degree, the more formally one should speak and write. Until you know someone well and perhaps until the person has given you permission, you should address the person by his or her last name (surname / family name) and not his first.Therefore in most business situations and industries, “Dear Heinz” should become “Dear Mr. Schmidt”.
  • Americans use “friend” to mean “acquaintance” and use “acquaintance” very rarely. Other cultures know that friends are the rare two or three people who truly look out for your well-being and support you through good times and bad. Even in our Facebook culture, these words should be used correctly to avoid offending people you are cultivating.
  • While Americans are direct and to the point, many languages – including British English — are more flowery, formal and indirect, especially in this context. In addition, some cultures consider it impolite to start an introductory paragraph with “I”.

Before translating, one way this sentence could be rewritten is:

It is a great pleasure to write to you upon the suggestion of Ms Monica Jones whom you met at ABC trade show. She indicated that our product might be of interest to you and your colleagues at your home office.

Note: Your language translation service may not do this full rewrite for you but could suggest that your original sentence will not work in the target culture.

b)  Expressions with Incorrect Meaning

Nick Clegg, the UK’s deputy prime minister said in a speech:

“It makes people so incredibly angry when you are …working really hard to try and do the right thing for your family and …  then you see people literally in a different galaxy who are paying extraordinarily low rates of tax.”

(Perhaps Americans who think their taxes are too high would welcome going to this different galaxy.)

When “literal” and “literally” mean really or very, they should not be translated literally.

c)  Shades of Meaning

Just as “lay” and “lie” have specific uses which speakers commonly confuse, so too do “wrong” and “erroneous.”

No, they are not always interchangeable. Erroneous is used for fact-based issues to mean incorrect, as in “Saying that the world is flat is erroneous.” or “She was wrong about how much water the tub would hold.”

“Wrong” can be right in those contexts also. But “wrong” also has a moral and ethical meaning as in “Stealing is simply wrong.”

“Wrong” also refers to physical objects or actions, such as to put the letter in the wrong box.

“Erroneous” should be used for abstractions, mathematics, science or statistics, as in “Her political campaign’s attempt to suppress minority voter turnout was erroneous.” One can use “wrong” in this context but then the meaning is ambiguous: Was the attempt simply incorrect or was it morally unethical? Or both?

d)  Simple Mix-ups

“I am not under the affluence of alcohol.”

[Although the police would probably disagree.]

These four types of wrong word usage illustrate where amateurs, students or translation software will usually translate as stated… instead of correcting the mistakes and then translating properly as the best professional language translation services with their expert professional linguists would do.


Website localization and professional document translation services use a three-step process:

  1. initial translation by a target-language trained translator who speaks your industry vocabulary;
  2.  second-translator, quality-assurance review to ensure correct nuances, expressions, terminology and dialect; and
  3. proofreading for spelling, punctuation, grammar and formatting.

Professional linguists are trained in technical terminology, can translate your files correctly the first time, and generate revenue for you more quickly. Yes, it’s an upfront investment.

But damage to your reputation – such as from examples above — or brand and time-to-market delays are even more costly to repair. And always ask your professional language service for pricing options to meet your budget. Some are more flexible than others.