Size Matters: Text Length when Translating from English

Size Matters

How much is too much (or too little) text?

There are a lot of factors to consider when you’re getting ready for a website localization project. One you may not have considered is Translated Text Length.

What’s your word count? It’s about to change!

If you read our blog post asking Which Language is Richest in Words? you know that English ranks high in overall word count. But it’s not the number of words in the dictionary that will define the amount of real estate you’ll need for your new website translation, but rather the number of words it takes to convey your message so that it is semantically and culturally accurate.

As you can see from the chart below, English is pretty efficient in character use when conveying messages. Of the languages pictured, only Chinese and Korean use less.

Translated Text Length

Characters, syllabary, and ideograms…oh my!

There are a number of reasons for these differences. Languages that are written phonetically may need fewer letters to spell a word…or not. French, for example, includes many words with silent letters. Creole, while largely based on French, does not. The six-letter French word droits becomes dwa in Creole, and is pronounced the same.

Some languages, such as Japanese, use syllabaries, which are single characters that represent full syllables. And in both Korean and Chinese, a word or even an entire phrase may be expressed with a single graphic ideogram.

And it’s not just the number of characters. English has a lot of single words that eliminate the need for an adjective or adverb, which may or may not be the case in other languages. In English, something may be “tiny.” In German, it is “very small.”

Go big or go simple.

Before localizing your website for your target market, you’ll need to take a look at the local language and see if your written content is going to expand or contract once your source text is translated. Will the visual layout of your site need to change? Should your heading tags be shortened or lengthened? Should your localized version cut down or expand your text? If you’re working with an experienced language services provider like Interpreters and Translators, Inc., you’ll be able to get some help answering those questions.

Talk to an Expert

Interpreters and Translators, Inc. is a full-service language solutions company based in Glastonbury, Connecticut. iTi has a New Jersey state contract, and is an NMSDC-certified minority owned business.


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