Translation Text Expansion: How it affects Design

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Do you use translation services for marketing copy, websites, apps, manuals, etc.? Are you a marketer involved with international projects? Are you aware of how text contraction/expansion can impact you?

Translating between languages involves text expansion/contraction, i.e. the target text will often include more or fewer characters, words and space. For marketers, graphic designers and website developers, this brings particular challenges, especially if they are inexperienced at multilingual projects. What happens when a German translation can’t fit into its allotted space? How does a web designer suddenly deal with lots of white space? How does a typesetter account for more words than they have room for?

This article offers a quick overview of how text expansion/contraction works and how people can manage its impact on their business.

Firstly, the length of a translation may vary a lot depending on a) the language, b) the text type (technical, legal, literary) and c) the translator’s particular writing style. So many variables impact text length; it’s not just down to the language.

The following figures are indications, but as a general rule, most languages take up more space in translation than a source text in English: For example, when translating English into French or Spanish, the translation will generally be about 15 % to 30 % longer than the original, for German or Dutch it can even be up to 35 % or more. Technical texts, especially about mathematics, physics or legal or economic issues, usually extend a translation much less than a literary translation.

Below you can find detailed indications for translations from English into French. Average extensions in length for this language combination according to the topic are:

•   General: +25 / +40 %

•   Literature: +15 / +25 %

•   Technical (Physics, Mathematics): 0 / +10 %

•   Humanities, Economy, Legal: +5 / +15 %

Exemplary rates for other European languages are as follows:

•   English into Spanish: +15 / +30 %

•   English into Portuguese: +15 / +30 %

•   English into Italian: +10 / +25 %

•   English into German: +10 / +35 %

Differences exist in phrase length and the length of individual words. Some languages, such as Finnish, German and Dutch, create single significant compound words to replace a sequence of smaller words. Accordingly, the English “Input processing features” may become “Eingabeverarbeitungsfunktionen” in German. Whereas the English text can easily be written into two lines with restricted width available, e.g. in a form entry field, a series of tabs or buttons or narrow columns, the German may not be separable easily and pose serious challenges to your layout.

Also, consider that some abbreviations you use in your own (source) language may not exist in other languages and must thus be spelt out in full length in a translation.

Other graphical problems may occur if scripts of another language take up more space than the letters of the Latin alphabet. Chinese, Japanese and Korean, amongst others, are scripts that typically contain more complicated characters than Latin. This can mean that even if the number of characters in translation remains the same or slightly decreases, the horizontal space required may be more significant. For example, the English “desktop” becomes “デスクトップ” in Japanese. The Japanese has one character less but typically takes up much more horizontal space.

Vertical expansion can also increase in translation as character height or space between lines often has to be greater, e.g. in many Asian scripts. Without proper buffers, text can become so crowded that documents may be challenging to read, even in Asian languages like Chinese, where text length contracts, but character height must be greater than in English.

Similarly, smaller translations can be just as problematic as bigger ones because they might leave too much white space. Flexible layouts are thus a good investment in every case.

For most languages, it is generally safe to prepare for as much as 25%-35% expansion (or contraction if you translate from another language into English, for example). However, expansion percentages vary depending on the subject matter, writing style, and sentence or string length. Very short strings of text (such as single words or abbreviations) may expand as much as 100%-300% in length. Longer passages will often expand at the following approximate rates:

LanguageFrom EnglishInto English
Albanian+15%-5% to -15%
Arabic+20% to +25%-20% to -25%
Burmese+15%-5% to -15%
Catalan+15%-5% to -15%
Croatian+15%-5% to -15%
Czech+10%-5% to -10%
Danish-10% to -15%+10% to +15%
Estonian+15%-5% to -15%
Finnish-25% to -30%+30% to +40%
Flemish+10%-5% to -10%
French+15% to +20%-10% to -15%
German+10% to +35%-20% to -30%
Greek+10%-5% to -15%
Hebrew-20% to -30%+20% to +30%
Hindi+15% to +35%-15%
Italian+10% to +25%-15%
Japanese-10% to -55%+20% to +60%
Korean-10% to -15%+15% to +20%
Norwegian-5% to -10%+5% to +10%
Polish+20% to +30%-5% to -15%
Portuguese+15% to +30%-5% to -15%
Russian+15%-5% to -15%
Spanish+15% to +30%-5% to -15%
Swedish-10%+10%
Thai+15%-5% to -15%

Again, actual expansion percentages vary, so the numbers above are rough approximations for somewhat typical expansion and contraction.

It would help if you keep these differences in mind when you want to have a text translated; layout and similar issues can become more complicated in another language.

Managing text expansion and contraction across different languages sounds complicated and intimidating, but the solutions are relatively straightforward. Since the text is the central aspect of any content project, knowing how words can differ when using a different language is essential. That’s why Kwintessential offers detailed language services for everyone, regardless of their experience level. By adequately preparing for localisation projects and keeping on top of industry practices, you’ll have all the tools to ensure that your friendly reminders are as clear and error-free in Russian as they are in English.

If you want to take your business global or explore new territories, the experts at Kwintessential will happily provide invaluable assistance on localising materials. Whether it’s required translation services, we got you covered! Contact us today and see how they can help bring your international aspirations to life.

 

Yvonne Seger and Aelaig Yvet were the creative minds behind this article, researching to bring you compelling content.

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