Why I don’t translate into German

Since I’m originally from Germany, clients or colleagues sometimes ask me to translate into German, and are often surprised that I categorically refuse to translate from English back into my “mother tongue”.

The fact is that I have been living in England for so long, and have been involved in proofreading, editing and writing English copy for much longer even than I have been a translator, I just feel much more at home writing in English.

And, aside from having gained my DipTrans Diploma for translation from German into English only, I simply don’t feel comfortable translating into German. I’ve never even got used to the new “Rechtschreibregelung“, which was introduced a few years after I had moved to the UK.

I think my clients appreciate the fact that I have a more comprehensive grasp of the source text than some of my English-mother-tongue colleagues, especially the subtle nuances that are so important in marketing and advertising copy.

So, in a way, they see the fact that I’m mother-tongue German as a strength rather than a weakness, in spite of what the generally accepted industry rule-of-thumb says.


2 Responses to Why I don’t translate into German

  1. Betti

    I just came across this great quote:
    “The greater your understanding of the original language, its culture and nuances, the more you are able to free yourself from its immediate forms and write convincingly in your own language. Faithfulness is not just a faithfulness to the semantics of a text but to its readability and register.”

    It’s from this article in the FT: “New Word Order”

    I think it makes the point very well: sometimes, being fully at home in the source language can help you to move further away from it when it comes to rendering a good, legible translation!

  2. Hi Betti,

    I’ve lived in England long enough to see that this can happen quite naturally (although I know it’s never going to happen for me because my environment at home still is very German). So I can understand that you would feel uncomfortable translating into German! And I have met other people here who have also “switched mother tongues” simply because they’ve lived abroad for a such a long time.

    Best wishes,


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