Translating texts for the tourism industry is not as simple as you would think. As well as a need for creative flair, special care must be taken to avoid embarrassing mistakes.
Many of us are familiar with funny translations in hotels which somehow add a bit of charm and colour to the travel experience. Tourism associations and hoteliers advertising their destinations want to instil a sense of confidence in their potential guests and would rather avoid these silly mistakes. I have translated a good number of tourism websites and brochures from German to English and have learned that meticulous attention to detail, cultural sensitivity and good transcreation skills are an essential part of the process.
Here are some basic tips on how to produce five-star German to English tourism translations that are accurate, flow beautifully and capture the reader’s imagination.
Clear up any ambiguity
It would be easy to translate Willkommenpunsch simply as ‘welcome punch’ instead of ‘a complimentary drink of punch’ if you didn’t stop to think that the former could easily be misconstrued as the promise of a random act of violence. I don’t imagine the owners of the hotel imagined they would be offering guests a complimentary punch in the face! For the concept of Gästeschießen, you might also be tempted to state ‘guest shooting’ instead of ‘shooting activities for guests’. The former would certainly not be considered an attractive selling point.
I have come across both of these examples when translating websites for tourism associations and hotels in Germany and Austria. They both demonstrate the care that needs to be taken to spell out things that could be ambiguous.
Create a style guide
Most clients do not provide a style guide, but I always set one up to record any useful points and what has been agreed with the client. I am glad of this when I am working on a long text or repeat assignments. The guide can cover agreed translations of unusual terms and the formatting of dates 15/06/2019 (UK or US?), time (24-hour clock or not) and currency (€34 or EUR 34).
To gloss, or not to gloss, that is the question?
Glossing involves providing extra contextual information to help orientate the reader. The terms Goasslschnalzen, Heckengäu and Kaiserschmarrn might be obvious to the average German or Austrian, but it is unlikely that the average English-speaker will know that they mean the Bavarian tradition of whipcracking, the hilly rural landscape in a certain part of South West Germany and a tasty sweet pancake dish respectively. I believe that it is wise never to assume prior knowledge of local customs or food.
The same applies to local dialect, as is the case in this example.
Zille-Darsteller Albrecht Hoffmann nimmt Sie mit auf eine unterhaltsam musikalische Zeitreise in sein Milljöh.
Zille impersonator Albrecht Hoffmann will take you on an entertaining musical journey back in time where you will get a flavour of his Milljöh, which in Berlin slang means ‘milieu’ or ‘the local scene’.
As a general rule, place names should not be translated as this is how they would appear on a map, e.g. Ernst-Bauer Platz should not become Ernst-Bauer Square. However, there are cases when it is helpful to modify place names. For example, the Kleinwalsertal region may need to be referred to as the Kleinwalser Valley in certain contexts or for the sake of clarity or style.
It is important to remove the scharfes S in place names to avoid confusion as English speakers usually assume it is a ‘B’, for example, Außerhirschegg should become Ausserhirschegg. German writers often omit the word ‘river’, referring instead to the Breitach or the Schwarzwasser. It may be necessary to explicitly state the ‘River Breitach’ to orientate the reader, especially if included in directions.
Tricky German syntax
It is not true that German sentences are always long. I often find that a lot of ideas are squeezed into one sentence that needs to be unpacked and rendered into one or two longer English sentences. Here is a good example:
Das idyllisch am ehemaligen Waldrand gelegen Museum (erreichbar über die S5/ S-Bahnhof Heerstraße) ist ein heute denkmalgeschütztes Zeugnis der architektonischen Moderne Berlins.
The museum can be reached via the S5 train line from the Heerstrasse station and is in an idyllic location in an area of parkland that was formerly the edge of a forest. The building itself is a testament to Berlin’s golden age of modern architecture and is legally protected due to its cultural significance.
All the comforts of home
Interestingly, German speakers tend to use a variety of synonyms to convey a sense of comfort with much more abandon than English speakers, for example gemütlich, behaglich, komfortable, wohlig, Wohnkomfort, bequem, Wohlfühlambiente. Trying to be inventive with words such as ‘snug’ or ‘cosy’ can sometimes sound a little twee or contrived, so it is often wiser to stick with plain old ‘comfortable’.
Am Rande des wunderschönen Parks befindet sich unsere behagliche „Försterwohnung“.
Our comfortable Förster apartment is located at the edge of the beautiful park.
Common compound nouns
You can guarantee you will encounter a few compound nouns containing Erlebnis or Genuss in German tourism texts, for example, Erlebnisbahn, Naturerlebnis, Erlebnisbad, Erlebniswelten, GenussRegion, Genusswirt, Genusswandern and Genussfahrer. I find that you can rarely translate these words directly and creativity is needed to embed them seamlessly within a sentence. Depending on the context, Genuss can be translated in various ways, including ‘gourmet’, ‘luxury’ or ‘indulgent’.
Ein unvergleichbares Naturerlebnis wird den Besuchern im Nationalpark geboten.
Visitors to the National Park can expect to enjoy a very special experience in beautiful
Roman wollte hundert Prozent ehrliches Genuss-Handwerk.
Roman wanted to create a totally luxurious artisan product.
As I have hopefully demonstrated, tourism translation requires a degree of sensitivity and creative skill. It is important never to underestimate the time and attention that are required in order to avoid appearing on the list of the ‘Top 10 Funniest Hotel Translations’.