Hello from Germany, where we finally have a little rain! To continue this series (see here for the last article), I am going to talk about being consistent in your translation, what this means, and when you need to be a little more creative.


Because you will see a variety of types of text when you translate, you will, of course, need to gear your style to fit the context. This means that if you are dealing with a text that is factual, and/or has legal content, you should very careful to keep everything meticulously consistent. But if, for instance, you are faced with a marketing text, you have more scope to be creative – within certain limits. Read on to find out what I mean.


By a text with legal content, I do not just mean a contract or agreement: there are a large variety of examples where you need not just to make the exact meaning very clear, but also not to change your terminology within the document. These might be financial texts (financial statements, pay slips etc.), job advertisements or applications, product descriptions or many other examples. If a product is involved, even if a text is aimed at marketing, you have to be careful to describe the product itself consistently. Do not, for instance, refer to an item as a screw in one sentence and a bolt in the next: this can be confusing and potentially misleading.


Here are a few examples that I have seen recently:


German: Geschäftsjahr


was translated initially as:


English: financial year


and then later as:


fiscal year.


In this case, the first translation was used several times and then the second just once, but sometimes I see translations where more than one term seems to be used at random. Such as:


German: Die Gesellschaft kann…


Translated as both


English: The company can…




The company may…


Whatever the type of document – and this second one was a legal one, while the first was financial – I would suggest in this case choosing one option and sticking to it. The same goes for using “shall” or “will” in a legal document. My preference is for “shall”, which implies intent to act, as opposed to “will” which, taken literally, implies merely a desire to act. There are, however, if you Google the subject, many arguments for each option, so I would not mark either one as incorrect, as long as you do not switch from one to the other.


Yet another example I have seen was in a pay statement:


German: Abrechnung


was translated (correctly) as:


English: earnings statement


and later as:




The latter, in this case, was not just inconsistent, but also incorrect. Thus, the two things you need to be aware of are:


  • is the terminology consistent; and
  • is it also correct?


In every case, as you always should, you need to read your translation through carefully to check whether you can answer both these questions with a “yes” before you submit your work.


If you are translating a set of instructions for operating a lawn mower, flowery language is not just unnecessary, but generally undesirable. Be factual, be accurate, and stick to consistent terminology. If, however, your text is aimed at selling that same lawn mower, you should aim to make your language appealing, in order to tempt people to buy. However, the lawn mower should not be described as anything else, such as a strimmer: facts need to remain consistent, including the manufacturer’s name for the product.


The English language has many more words than the German one (if you exclude the countless compound words that German produces). So when you are translating a text that allows for creativity, you can choose different words – adjectives in particular come to mind – to make the text sound more attractive, and flow better. This means that it is easily possible to avoid examples such as the following:


The German word used, at the beginning of two sentences in close succession, was “zwar”. This can have a number of meanings, including “namely”, “indeed”, “certainly”, “to be sure” or “even though”. Which one you choose depends on the context, and the way you use it (where you place it in the sentence, for instance). Probably the last choice from the list I would select is “to be sure” – purely because this sounds a bit like an Irish joke. If you are unfamiliar with Irish English (as opposed to the Irish language), the Irish use this phrase a lot, and many English people find it amusing. However, I would not have marked one usage of it as an error, but the translation contained this phrase twice in quick succession, like the original “zwar”, and it stuck out. So I would suggest, as I did in this case, rephrasing the entire second sentence. Instead of:


To be sure, job growth was below expectations,


my suggestion was:


Job growth was certainly below expectations.


Factually there is no difference, but it improves the flow of the text and makes it more interesting to read. If you wonder why this makes a difference, look back at this text. You will see that I have, unfortunately, started two consecutive paragraphs with “The”, which was difficult to avoid in this case, but I do always try to avoid repetition that may make reading what I write tedious. (Please do tell me if you think my writing is tedious, and I shall try to work on that!). Sometimes repetition can be used for emphasis, but in general it should be avoided as far as possible in a creative text unless you have a particular reason to use it.


Once again, this is rather long. However, I hope you find the points I make informative. Once again*, too, please do give me some feedback (I hope not to say that this is tedious) so that I know at least someone finds my articles useful.


*Did you notice the deliberate repetition there?


  • 2
    Heike S.

    Hi Sarah, I don't translate from German into English for Gengo, but the other way round, however, I do find your article interesting, helpful and an entertaining read :-)

  • 2

    Thank you for this series of stimulating articles!

  • 3
    Sarah (DE>EN language specialist)

    Thank you both. It is always nice to know that people find these articles helpful.

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