German Translation and Localisation

Localisation has become almost another word for translation. Wikipedia defines it as "the second phase of a larger process of product translation and cultural adaptation (for specific countries, regions or groups) to account for differences in distinct markets, a process known as internationalisation and localisation." My English to German translation service always takes localisation issues into account.

It means not only translating your text from one language to the other but also adapting it to your local target audience. This process ensures that the translated text makes sense to them and that it gives them all the information they need in the format they are used to.

It means, for example, not simply translating American baseball metaphors or a British expression such as "it's just not cricket". Instead I seach for a way of conveying the same meaning using images that a German readership can easily relate to. Localisation is a major part of translating software and websites for example. Most of this will be done by most translators as a matter of course. However, localisation is part of our standard service for our B2B clients.

But there are things you should consider long before sending your text to be translated.

Differences in the German Target Market

German readers are, for example, used to being given far more detailed technical product information than English readers and very often the product information given on English language websites is less detailed than the equivalent German website would be.

We recommend strongly that you research your target market before writing your text for Germany. Look up the websites of your main German competitors and analyse what kind of information they provide to their readers. Very often, those websites will be bilingual. Alternatively, we can easily help you discover the kind of information that is standard for your product on German websites or product information sheets to enable you to adapt your text before having it translated.

At the very least, provide your translator with a list of German competitors. This will give her the chance to cross reference the appropriate vocabulary, quickly and efficiently.

We also recommend that you research European or German consumer legislation. The British "caveat emptor" principle, for example, is not known in German law. It is therefore advisable that your texts do not refer to legislation and legal principles that do not apply to your target market. A translator who is familiar with legislative differences may make you aware of problems in this respect but, strictly speaking, it is not in his or her job description.

In Britain, traditionally, the caveat emptor principle requires the customer to minimise or exclude any risks associated with the purchase of goods in a due diligence process. The seller must not try to conceal any faults but is not liable if the buyer later discovers faults he had previously not noticed. While consumer laws have been passed in recent years which give buyers better protection against faulty goods, if you are selling to foreign markets it is important to be aware that buyers there may be in a stronger legal position to defend their rights than is the case in the UK.

The German law is based on the principle that the buyer is not required to assess the goods in advance. According to § 437 BGB (German Civil Code) the buyer can request subsequent fulfillment (repair or replacement). He can also withdraw from the contract, reduce the purchase price or claim compensation (Wikipedia - Caveat Emptor).

It is highly advisable to research the legal situation pertaining to the products and services you are intending to sell and its implications for you, and not only to enable you to adapt your website accordingly but also for your own peace of mind.

Will your Website be Found?

When translating online English content into German it is of the utmost importance to get the keywords right. You may be selling a very specialized product which is known in England as X but in Germany as Z. A translator who does not research your specific market may use the term. In effect you may find that you receive no enquiries from the German market as the search engines are simply not coming up with the term your potential clients are looking for.

A detail often overlooked by clients seeking to have their websites translated is having the correct German keywords in the metatext. A lot of clients don't actually instruct the translator to produce a list of keywords. They just leave it to the web page designer who may or may not pick the correct/most relevant words. If you want to maximise the benefit of your website, make the best use of your translator by instructing him or her to translate all the relevant text.

Search Engine Optimisation is quite an art form. For obvious reasons search engines don't publish how exactly they rank sites but it is very likely that major factors include the volume of incoming links from related websites, quantity and quality of content, technical precision of source code, spelling, functional v. broken hyperlinks, volume and consistency of searches and/or viewer traffic, time within website, page views, revisits, click-throughs, technical user-features, uniqueness, redundancy, relevance, advertising revenue yield, freshness, geography, language and other intrinsic characteristics" (Wikipedia - Meta Element). Your translator will ensure that spelling and language are correct and may be able to advise you whether certain content is relevant or appropriate for the target market but the major responsibility for ensuring a successful website is your knowledge of your product, your intended market and the content and presentation of your site.

A few years ago website designers used to intentionally put misspelled words into their metatext to insure that search engine users would find their site even if they mistyped a search term (e.g. tranlsator instead of translator). Nowadays the search engines allow for spelling mistakes and give results for anything similar to the input search word, e.g. if you put in "Greman tranlsator" into Google, it suggests "German translation".

German Translation of Business Correspondence

Just as German websites are more formal than English ones, so is German business correspondence.

Do not use first names unless you have met the person you are writing to and are sure that it is acceptable. Do not mention that your "colleague Peter" will contact them shortly, but that they can expect to hear from "Sue Smith" or "Mrs Smith". And always sign with your full name, not just your first name. What can look friendly and young in an English business letter can easily come across as uneducated and insincere in a German one.


Even individuals should consider the requirement of their target market seriously.

The layout and function of a German CV is, for example, quite different from an English CV. German CVs must include a photo of the applicant and provide information about his or her marital status and whether they have children. They do not contain information about hobbies. Information on career development and education is given in chronological order starting with the first job and the earliest qualifications, not with the most current position and the most recent qualifications. CVs should be short and concise, preferably only 1 page, never more than 2, and should always be signed. They must be accompanied by an introductory letter and references.

Translating References into English or German

References! In Britain it is customary to provide names and contact details of referees who would be happy to be contacted by a company. In Germany every employer provides an employee with a comprehensive written reference when they leave the company.

We therefore usually advise our clients to ask their referees for a written reference if at all possible. 

See also "Can you quickly write that in German"....

Examples of German and English CVs can be found at