A brief guide on how to handle English in German marketing materials.
German speakers often bemoan the infiltration of English words and expressions into their language with the use of hybridised words such as babysitten, outgesourct and gecancelt commonly appearing in German texts. Objection is not raised so much to English neologisms which are adopted for concepts in the worlds of science and tech, but to the excessive use of English when there are perfectly suitable German words already in existence. For example, why use ‘Meeting’ when you already have Treffen, or ‘Party’ when you already have Feier?
The use of English is possibly the most apparent in marketing and advertising where it is often used to lend a product, service or company an air of glamour or an international flavour. When it comes to translating marketing texts from German to English, careful thought needs to be taken to ensure English words and phrases are reproduced in an appropriate and effective way.
When two words collide
I have observed that a lot of German companies like to combine two English words that would not normally be joined, such as ‘Singletrails’, ‘Insidertipps’ and ‘Mobilecases’. This is due to a few reasons: the perception that it appears cool and modern, the prevalence of compound nouns in the German language and because there is sometimes confusion about what does and does not constitute a compound noun in English. It is important to check the accuracy of the usage as these words might have a more natural-sounding equivalent, to amend the spelling where appropriate and to separate the words in the English text. German, Swiss and Austrian companies also use this approach for their brand names too with a varying degree of success.
Dial it back
Many of us might remember the fuss in response to Angela Merkel’s utterance of the word ‘shitstorm’ in relation to the political fallout following her handling of the refugee crisis. Her use of English in this way made the headlines because it didn’t sound like the sort of word a world leader would normally use. Her word choice boiled down to the fact that English swear words simply don’t sound quite as offensive to German speakers who tend to drop the f-bomb with abandon for the same reason. In a similar vein, English words might be used in marketing texts in a way that does not account for cultural sensibilities. Here is an example of a translation I was asked to edit.
Are you looking for an unusual way to advertise your products? Hit!
The client specifically wanted a very short response to the question, similar to the word ‘Treffer’. It was necessary to explain that her suggestion of ‘Hit!’ would not be an appropriate solution as it would not make much sense and could appear to be slightly aggressive. The closest alternatives would be ‘Bullseye!’ or ‘Goal!’, but I advised against them as they seemed too abstract unless used in conjunction with a relevant image. The most appropriate response to this question would be something along the lines of, ‘Well look no further!’ or ‘You’ve come to the right place!’
Watch out for repetition
The English word ‘highlight’ is a big favourite among German copywriters. This can normally be handled by simply adopting ‘highlight’ or using other expressions such as ‘stand-out moment’ or ‘premium product’ depending on the context. It is tempting for German writers to double up the meaning when they are using an English word, so it is not unusual to see formulations like herausgestellte Highlights which would translate literally as ‘highlighted highlights’. It is therefore important to weed out any redundant elements. Another example I have seen recently is, ’combining business in a neo-new way’.
English slogans used by German companies
Many large German corporations use English in their slogans, such as ‘Science for a better life’ (Bayer), ‘Mehr (more) Performance’ (Postbank) and ‘There's no better way to fly’ (Lufthansa). These companies have worked with teams of creatives and localisation specialists at top advertising agencies to come up with these slogans. I sometimes encounter English company slogans that smaller German companies have come up with which just don’t quite hit the mark. I follow my 6-step transcreation process outlined in my post ‘Transcreating German slogans’ to come up with some alternative solutions for these clients.
Made-up English (pseudo-Anglicisms)
There are many examples of English words that are adopted into German and are then used differently, formulated weirdly or given new meanings. The most obvious example is the use of Handy for mobile phone. Failing to adjust the meaning appropriately can result in an inelegant or even misleading translation. Here are just a few examples of loan words that crop up in marketing texts that need to be handled with care:
Allover patterned fabric
Basecap baseball cap
Beamer video projector
Clearing used in the context of social advisory services to describe the process
that is followed to determine the type of support that is needed and
how it is going to be delivered
Evergreen golden oldies (usually relating to music)
Imprint legal notices
Layer ads hover ads (in-page pop-up ads)
Oldtimer vintage car
Oldstyler member of the older generation, generation Xer, (baby) boomer
Postings social media posts (‘Postings’ sounds strange to English speakers)
Pullunder sleeveless pullover, tank top
Trainerprogramm training programme
Twitterchannel in many contexts this should be Twitter account
Unis plain/unpatterned fabric
Wellness ‘health spa’ or ‘health and beauty treatments’ depending on context
where it is more of a psychological state in English
Wording ‘corporate wording’ usually relates to corporate style of language or a
In conclusion, English words in German texts don’t always have a like-for-like meaning and very often have to be adapted to ensure they sound authentic and are comprehensible in the final translated version.