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German-to-English translation: The similarity trap

Both German and English belong to the West Germanic family of languages. They’re practically cousins, although English certainly has much more clout. Given those facts, you’d think that a German-to-English translation would be easy. The opposite is actually true, because the similarities between the two languages also lead to pitfalls.

Legend has it that German almost became the official language in the USA. That may not be exactly accurate, but it demonstrates that German once had the potential to be a world language.

Unlike German, modern-day English is the result of several waves of immigration to the British Isles. Angles, Saxons, Danes and Icelanders all brought different Germanic languages with them, which displaced the local Celtic language.

False friends become stumbling blocks

After the Germanic immigrants, the Normans arrived in the 11th century and added French to the mix of languages. This blend resulted in the development of an extremely flexible language with an extensive vocabulary.

Similar-sounding words with Germanic roots were retained, however, which sometimes makes German-English translations tricky. The German-English language combination contains what are known as “false friends”. These are words that sound similar but have completely different meanings. Here is a detailed list of the treacherous terms.

The perils of close family ties

Despite all their similarities, German-to-English translations still pose certain challenges. An English sentence likes to get straight to the point, while German ones tend to delay the climax until the very end. Mark Twain certainly had a point when he mockingly said that when someone dives into a German sentence, that is the last you are going to see of them till they emerge on the other side of the Atlantic with the verb in their mouth.

This means that a good translator has to dissect each German sentence and reconstruct it in English so that the translation doesn’t sound awkward.

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