When Said Says It Best: Localizing German News Copy for a U.S. Audience

By Marion Rhodes
English-German Translator

Have you ever translated a German press release or news article and scratched your head over the various different ways Germans appear to give statements? They hardly ever just say anything. Rather, they mention it, explain it, go on or criticize. Reading a German news release can provide more synonyms for say than a thesaurus.

And let’s not forget my favorite, the simple word so – as in “The new product is the result of years of planning,” so Bob the Manager. Honestly, this word is about as nondescript as it gets. Not to mention as lazy as it gets: Ah, forget it, let’s just use so to attribute this quote to the source and get this story in the paper.

As a trained journalist specializing in media translations, I’m no stranger to the challenges posed by localizing German news copy for the U.S. market. The question how to handle quote attribution can create more than a little headache for translators who are concerned with keeping the tone of the original text but also honor the journalistic conventions of the target country.

Growing up in Germany, the creative ways German spokespeople seem to express themselves (they äußern, meinen, erläutern and fahren fort, but they rarely ever sagen anything) did not rub me the wrong way. But when I studied journalistic writing in the US, I quickly learned that when it comes to attributing quotes, simplicity does it. “Said usually says it best,” my Associated Press Guide to News Writing emphasized.

“It’s short, clear, neutral and unfailingly accurate, a verb for all seasons.”

So what do you do if you have a piece of German news copy that needs to be translated into English, with all its elaborate said-synonyms?

Repeating the same attributive tag over and over throughout the same text certainly doesn’t make for elegant writing. But when trying to recreate the versatility of German journalistic copy, English writers need to carefully consider their word choices, especially when there is no direct equivalent in English (such as in the case of the blah-word so).

One word to be particularly careful with is the word meinen, which is commonly (albeit not always correctly) used in German newswriting when attributing quotes. Consider the following, real-life example:

„Wir feiern Geburtstag”, meinte er mit strahlender Miene. (“We are celebrating a birthday,” he said, his face lighting up.)

Meinen comes from the word Meinung, which means opinion, and it implies a certain conviction of the person making the statement. However, many German reporters and PR writers use it synonymously with the word say, such as in the example above, which is a statement of fact, not an opinion.

Consulting a dictionary to find a fitting translation for meinen isn’t the answer either. LEO, for example, suggests the words mean, opine, think, believe, guess, deem and suppose, among others – none of which captures the true meaning of the word in this case, which is plain and simple: He said it.

When I started working as a news reporter for the Omaha World-Herald in Nebraska, a newly arrived immigrant from Germany, I found myself trying to avoid repetition in the stories I wrote, coming up with creative alternatives for attribution whenever possible. I usually got my articles handed back to me after my editor had taken a look and found that in most, if not every, case, my innovative synonyms had been replaced with the same old, simple word: said. I quickly learned that US newspapers, as well as audiences, prefer simplicity when it comes to attribution.

When working on news copy, translators need to be aware of the hidden shades of meaning each attributive tag entails. Asserted, stated, declared, commented, remarked, revealed and observed are widely misused as alternatives for said, even though these words are really much stronger. If you need alternatives to avoid repetitiveness, consider these neutral options:

went on

Words such as pointed out, claimed, warned, complained, predicted and maintained can have editorial nuances and should always be used with caution, whether you write original English copy or translate from another language. When translating German news articles, try to determine if the chosen attributive tag was selected deliberately for its particular connotations, or if the only justification for its use was to avoid the word said again. If there is no reason to be fancy, feel free to keep your translation plain and simple by sticking with the obvious.

One last note: Many German news stories and press releases use attribution in present tense – the source says something rather than said it. In English news writing, past tense is usually preferred for press releases and hard news.

When translating journalistic writing, you should check with the end client whenever possible whether their priority is sticking as close as possible to the original or making the translation sound like it was written by a native speaker of the target language. If the latter is the case, try to write like a journalist, not a translator.

8 Reasons Why Translators Should Attend Non-Translation Conferences

By Marion Rhodes
English-German Translator

Step outside your comfort zone.

Step outside your comfort zone.

One of my resolutions for this year was to step out of my professional comfort zone and try new ways to connect with potential clients. So when I learned that the second annual conference of the Colorado American Marketing Association would take place in Denver at the end of February, I seized the opportunity and signed up for my first professional conference outside of the translation industry: REV UP 360º.

For a marketing translator and student of integrated marketing communications, this event was a natural fit. It was a one-day, local affair – perfect to ease my entry into this new world. Sure, I had attended conferences held by the American Translators Association and the Colorado Translators Association in the past, but this was a completely different ballgame. I wasn’t attending as a translator among fellow translators. This time, I was attending as a marketing professional.

Not knowing what to expect, I attended the conference without any specific goals. I spent the day observing and learning, letting the event carry me along for the ride. I met several interesting people, learned about trends in the marketing industry, and even found a potential new client for my translation business – by pure chance. It was a great day.

So for anyone who’s been thinking about taking the plunge into non-translation conferences, here is a list of 8 reasons to go for it:

1. To rub elbows with industry professionals

First things first: If you go to any industry conference with the specific goal to gain new clients for your translation business, you’ll likely end up disappointed. Instead, think of yourself as an industry expert, one of “them” – if you’re a translator who specializes in the field, you are. Don’t approach people with the expectation of finding a new lead. Nothing stops a conversation faster in its tracks than introducing yourself with, “Hi, I’m a translator looking for new clients.” Instead, join conversations about the event and get to know the other people at the conference. Try to blend in. Observe how peers talk to each other. Establish connections that are based on your mutual area of interest. If you feel like a fish out of water, maybe you need to immerse yourself more into your subject of expertise.

2. To boost your expertise

If you are a specialized translator, you need to stay on top of current developments within your area of specialization as much as those who work directly in the field. An industry conference allows you to learn about new developments and provides a perfect opportunity to brush up on your terminology. Obviously, it wouldn’t make sense for a marketing translator to attend a conference of the American Bar Association. But it might for a legal translator. Find the conference that makes the most sense for your specialty, and soak up as much information as you can.

3. To connect on social media

In today’s day and age, most conferences have their own Twitter hashtags, which is good news for social media savvy translators. Join the conversation about the event on Twitter, and you’ll pop up on the radar of other attendees who are following the hashtag. You’ll also be able to find out who else is attending, allowing you to identify potential business prospects. Then, connect with those people by following their updates and replying to their tweets. You’ll likely gain some new followers that way – followers who may just turn out to be interested in your translation services down the road. At the very least, you’ll get your name out there to a very specific crowd of people.

4. To see how other industries do conferences

We translators are spoiled. The annual conference of the American Translators Association, a three-day event, only costs about $400. Events of similar magnitude in other industries often cost more than $1,000 to attend. In fact, even the one-day REV UP conference set me back $266 – twice as much as the registration fee for our two-day annual conference of the Colorado Translators Association. How’s that for perspective?

5. To get out of the house

Many, if not most, freelance translators work from home. A conference is always a welcome opportunity to put on our fancy business suits (which are gathering dust in our closets) and meet people face to face. Getting out into the real world every once in a while is important – not only for our social skills, but to avoid burn-out. From time to time, we need to remind ourselves that we are successful business professionals rather than lonely home-office-nerds.

6. To educate others about the translation process

As far as I know, I was the only translator at the REV UP conference. Many of the people I talked to had no idea what my job entails and why a translator would attend a marketing conference. While translation is an important part of the marketing process, the details of how we work aren’t well known to those outside of the translation profession. I enjoyed telling people about the translation process and explaining to them why good translations are vital if you want to achieve international marketing success. In the age of Google Translate and the commoditization of translation, it is up to us professional translators to make sure people are aware of the added value we provide.

7. To meet new clients

I put this at the end of my list, because this is, at best, a potential added benefit rather than a given. At the REV UP conference, I got lucky: I was talking casually to another attendee about his business when he asked me what I do. I told him I’m a translator specializing in marketing and PR. As luck would have it, a woman passed by us right then and overheard our conversation. It turned out she was a marketing sales manager at a local company who had recently started working with some new companies in Germany and was in need of a good translator for press releases and marketing material. She asked for my business card. Sometimes, it’s better to let things happen naturally than to try to pursue specific goals.

8. To get swag

Need I say more? I mean, you can never have too many water bottles.