Copywriting & translation: Using the correct idioms

Using the correct idioms is critical to communicate the language culture.

Having lived and worked in the UK for over 25 years, I realise how critical it is to pay attention (and homage) to the small subtleties of a language when translating copy for the web. This in terms of essence and the meaning whilst portraying the language, culture, sense of humour and idioms correctly.
Having acquired a good level of written German and having used English on a day-to-day basis have highlighted these nuances. I have taken great interest into what they actually are (whilst not being a translation agency!), and how they can affect the quality of a written piece. I witness how even specialist translation agencies struggle with these subtleties within the English language. These nuances may affect the meaning of a sentence, and furthermore, do not pay tribute to the language culture into which the copy has been translated.

I am not a good English writer, that is obvious, but I think I am a good observer and reader. In my MA, in editorial design and narrative illustration, I undertook a little modest study of ‘sayings’ (idioms). I tried to research the history of idioms, then visually represented them and compared the differences. It was fun and not very scientific, but it certainly showed my interest in the small hidden nuances of a language.

Some editorials, translated from German to English, show up key translation errors which may be charming for a reader like myself. But it is critical to represent the culture of a language correctly. I may understand what the content is and what the copywriter means, but the smallest tweaks would embrace the English language further. These necessary adjustments can only be identified with years of using the English language as a native speaker. So it is that in-depth knowledge of both: understanding the German AND understanding the English language culture and how this would translate correctly whilst maintain a sense of humour, the seriousness of a text, the quality and the cultural essence. This is especially the case when using idioms.

It is critical to get the copy of your website just right.

A badly translated text can affect the brand of your company. It may even look like you are not paying attention to the addressed user audience. In the competitive business world, where every detail needs to be just so, it is important to make sure that you have the subtleties nailed. Get a copywriter to write your initial text, but then get this checked by someone who understands the language culture, such as the idioms, the ‘sayings’ (Direct translation definitely never works). It is important to really understand the sense of humour and how this is applied in copy, the tone of voice etc.

The same applies to graphical assets and how they can represent something very different in a different culture. I am astonished that despite the people movement within even Europe alone these small nuances remain, and represent a culture, a country, a language.

An example:

‘For some time now tunnels have not just been constructed in the Alps and for reasons of geography but also in the relatively flat Central Plateau region to save time and as less and less space is available on the surface.’

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