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Prepare for Language Text Expansion During Translation

Language text expansion may come as a surprise to companies as they begin to translate their documents, marketing collateral, software applications and website content. If your source content is in English, translation into a language like German may result in increased character counts, which can have a major impact on formatting.

For example:

  • English: Press the red button to start. (29 characters/spaces)
  • German: Drücken Sie zum Starten die rote Taste. (38 characters/spaces)

As you can see, in just this one sentence the German is much longer than the original English sentence. Now extrapolate this to a full page and a full document and you will see that formatting can be impacted across pages and chapters.

Here is an example of character expansion in just one word:

  • English: Settings. (8 characters)
  • German: Einstellungen. (13 characters)

How to Address Text Expansion

Some standard solutions for language text expansion at the point of translation are to re-paginate the document or perhaps use a smaller point size, which is often not ideal. The best method to address text expansion is to plan for it in the original design to allow for additional white space in the English source so that there is room to support the expansion that may occur for the localized versions of your documents.

For software, there may be single words in the UI, and on a mobile device the space is even less than on a PC. In English, the five-character term “enter” expands in German to the eight-character “eingeben”. On a single word basis this may not be an issue, but in a UI with more terms across the screen, they may begin to appear pushed together or cut off if a dialog box is not big enough for the translation. During development, consider longer or dynamic dialog boxes that can be resized as needed. Also, let your translation vendor know of any character limitations they need to work within. It may be that an abbreviation is needed, but perhaps another term could be used that fits the available space.

For websites and web applications, responsive design should be a given these days. As for text expansion of common page text, the pages will expand as needed to support the text expansion. But as mentioned above with software, still take expansion into consideration for navigation items so the pages appear correctly and aren’t too cluttered.

As a very basic rule of thumb for many languages, expansion from the source English can be about 20% to 25%. Asian languages, such as Chinese and Japanese characters, can have fine lines for which a larger point size may even be needed.

Consider preparing for language text expansion early on to include additional space in your original design/formatting and let your translation vendor know of any string length restrictions. Discuss with your translation vendor which options may be possible for your specific needs should space not be available.