Sometimes, we are asked by German clients to improve the English text in their product information sheets. Although their staff speak and write excellent English, they recognise their marketing copy can appear a little stilted, “wordy” and unclear. The sentences may be grammatically correct, but no native-English speaker would ever write them in that way.
So, here are a few tips for German native speakers who need to write marketing copy in English:
- Take care when translating Möglichkeit(en)/möglich. Often, this is translated as “possible”, when a native English speaker might say “options”, “available”, “capabilities”, “optional”, “the ability to” or “able to”.
- “Information” is always singular. There is no such word as “informations”.
- Don’t use “thus” or “hence” in marketing documents. They are fine for scientific papers, but not in marketing documents or Web sites. You could use “this means” instead.
- Keep your sentences short, so they are clearer to the reader. Subordinate and relative clauses are used enthusiastically in German, but in English they can make a sentence appear unnaturally long. In each sentence, it’s best to be clear what is the subject, direct object, indirect object and verb. Think Cluedo – ask yourself, who is “the murderer”? Who is “the victim”? What was “the weapon”?
- Watch out for pseudo-anglicisms (Denglisch) and “false friends”. For example, “Labor” in German is not the same thing as “labor” in English.
- Using “a” or “an” depends on whether the next word sounds like it begins with a vowel. For example, “an F.E.B.” and “a unique”.
- Remember even native English speakers use specialists to write their marketing copy.
Here is Henning Wehn, German comedy ambassador to the United Kingdom, providing some examples:
Any more suggestions?