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The main German-speaking countries – Germany, Austria and Switzerland – all have very strong and innovative economies. Germany is particularly export-orientated, recording a trade surplus of US$310 billion in 2016 – the largest in the world. Particular strengths include the automotive and pharmaceutical industries. Pharmaceutics, along with financial services, provides a key part of Switzerland’s economic power, while both Switzerland and Austria have major summer and winter tourist industries. As a result, German is one of Europe’s most-translated languages and for all kinds of texts: from patents, contracts and instruction manuals to guidebooks and advertising material.

Translating from German into English requires a skilled translator to select the correct tense in English, for example: whereas standard German only has a simple present tense (“I have”), English has both simple and continuous forms (“I have” vs. “I am having”). Getting aspects like this wrong, as automatic translation apps often do, can lead to a very unconvincing result. Look at this simple example from Google Translate – how unnatural does the English sound as an answer to “what are you doing at the moment?”


Other subtleties which really need professional attention include the form and tone of various text types. German, for example, still often uses indirect forms for rules, e.g.

Der Boden ist jeden Montag zu waschen! = The floor is to be washed every Monday!

There is nothing grammatically wrong with this sentence in English, but it’s no longer the accepted way of giving an instruction. Present-day English usually favours direct forms:

Wash the floor every Monday!

Or, to match up to one of the greatest stereotypes about Brits (which can actually have a major impact in translation work!):

Please wash the floor every Monday.


Translating from English to German, meanwhile, also requires the translator to make choices which do not apply in the source. Take formality, for example: whereas English only has one way of saying “you”, German has two which express different levels of formality – Sie (formal) and du (informal).

But it’s not as simple as asking how close the relationship between two speakers is; conventions on what is considered “formal” are different, too. It is remarkably common for German co-workers – even if they have worked together for years, and would be on first-name terms in English – to use Sie and surnames with one another. Inferring these relationships from the source text requires considerable skill, but getting it right is essential to win the audience over.

Thorough knowledge of the specific target country and culture is also vital. Like English, both standard and dialect German varies depending on where you are. Swiss German is particularly well-known for using French loan words: a bicycle in Switzerland is a Velo, rather than a Fahrrad as in Germany and Austria. Austria’s German also has certain differences in terminology. For example: a school providing primary education, ages 6-11, is called a Grundschule in Germany, but a Volksschule in Austria.

This might look like a small and unimportant difference, but it’s vital to observe it for the text to resonate with its audience. This is no different to many cases in English – a text referring to an “elementary school” would not resonate with a British reader, just as an American would take issue with “primary school”. If your text is aimed specifically at one culture or the other, getting details like this wrong can seriously affect audience reaction – and can even put people off altogether. This is why it’s vital to have your texts translated by qualified, professional translators.

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German is one of Europe’s most important languages, spoken as a first language by 100 million people in Europe – over 50% more than French or English. It’s an official language in 6 countries – Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Belgium and Luxembourg – and a minority language in 10 others.

Whatever text type you need translating, and whether it needs to go to or from German, it’s vital to have qualified, professional translators working for you. We here at Berlin Translate are perfectly-placed to meet this demand – to find out why, click here.