There are quite a number of obstacles to negotiate when engaged in a translation from German to English. In most cases, partially losing the meaning when the translation is taking place is hard to prevent even when the translator is dealing with quite simple text. This translation loss could be due to a number of things. It happens when the targeted readership of the translation reads something a little different from what the author of the text originally intended.

German to English Translation

Culture Influences Translation

The way a text is translated is sometimes related to the differences in culture between that of the source language to that of the targeted language. For example, when explaining the routine at a workplace meeting the way the meeting comes to an end is different than what you would expect to find in an English context.

The Germans rap their knuckles on the table when the meeting comes to an end. In England, when a meeting finishes, there isn’t any noticeable protocol involved. The translator when describing a German meeting may emphasise the unusual ending which in fact isn’t unusual at all but just commonplace.  The reader of the text may take it as being unusual which would be misunderstanding the context.

Dialects and Translations

If a dialect is used just to illustrate some difference between, for example, a sophisticated urban dweller and a villager an appropriate translation wouldn’t be too difficult. The situation is totally different though when the dialect puts a person in a specific place like Berlin or Bavaria.  In this situation it would not do to replace the Bavarian with the Scottish dialect or the Berliner dialect with London’s Cockney.

There are a few German words that simply can’t be translated into English correctly, either because of mismatches between the social systems of England and Germany or because what is being referred to is not found in England. “Geheimrat” is one example of this and its literal meaning is “privy councillor.” However, for at least the last two centuries it’s use has been only an honorific title which does not have any equivalence in English.

The best way to deal with this case depends entirely upon how important the word is in its original text. If a character happens to be just a “Geheimrat,” but this fact is incidental in the story, it may be possible simply to substitute it by using the English honorific such as “his Grace” or even something far more specific such as “his Lordship”. If the character being mentioned is behaving in such a way because he’s a “Geheimrat”, it might be important to explain precisely the meaning of the word while continuing to use it throughout the rest of the text. Another situation might arise while describing German military ranks which are somewhat different from those in Anglo-American situations.