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Optimal: not always optimal

German loves to describe things as “optimal” but there’s almost always something more idiomatic in English, where “optimal”/”optimum” can often be a bit stilted/sound “like a translation”. Instead of something unidiomatic like “the boiler optimally ensures warmth in the building”, try something like this, depending on what the German is saying:

● “the boiler keeps the building at the ideal temperature”
● “the boiler regulates the building temperature with maximum efficiency”
● “the highly efficient boiler maintains the right temperature in the building”

And whatever you choose, it’s always best to keep the message clear and simple!



Pick and mix


Here’s a grab bag of little substitutes you can make in DE>EN translations:

● benutzerfreundlich: “user-friendly” is the obvious choice, but try “intuitive” too – it’s how tech is often described these days

● bis zu: if your text is emphasising/boasting about a feature, try “as much as” instead of “up to”

● Web: “web” is used in English too, but “online” is usually better



Check the facts

Don’t assume your source text is flawless (in fact, that’s a bit of a rarity!) – you might be surprised at how often names of people and places are misspelled, capitalisation is used inconsistently or dates are misquoted. That’s why it’s important to fact-check your text – it’s what good editors/proofreaders do and it’s a great way to add value for your customer.*

As an example, a text we handled recently referred to a conference the customer had held in spring of last year – but our research could only find a reference to a winter conference. We queried with the customer and got confirmation that winter was actually the correct time of year, so we were ultimately able to improve the accuracy of both our translation and the source text.

*And it’s something machine translation can’t do yet…



Punctuation is part of translation


Remember that punctuation in a German sentence won’t always transfer naturally to English, so always think about what you’d do in English rather than automatically reaching for the source text punctuation. Here are a few examples:

● German loves exclamation marks – in English, they’re used more sparingly, so apply them carefully.

● Don’t replicate colons in structures like this: “If the card reader is not working: Push the button”. English prefers commas.

● German uses speech marks much more liberally than English (to mark out things like product names, for example), so ask yourself if you  really need them in the translation.