Politeness – lose it in translation

Your multilingual ad copy sounds it swallowed a walking stick? By far the most common translation mistake is not losing things in translation but keeping them. Here are two stylistic devices that don’t work the same across languages.

Talk to readers directly

German and French organization still tend to speak of themselves and of their visitors in the 3rd pers. plural (he/she/it) instead of using direct rapport (we/you).

Modern English is the language of cool. Politeness is British, and the last time I checked they weren’t even selling umbrellas.

(Also, if you’re a freelancer, please don’t refer to your business as we. There’s no disgrace in being small, just in faking big.)

Rule: English copywriting connects you and your buyers. Use direct language, always.

Example:

  • “The Opéra de Nancy welcomes visitors to its performances.”
  • “We’re the Opéra de Nancy – welcome to the show.”

Tell your readers what to do

Although Germany even has laws for sandcastles, you’ll be surprised that official writing rarely tells readers directly what to do. Officials tend to speak in axioms (“The law is thus, hence xyz is to be done.”) Many businesses copy official language instead of using writing for customers. The problem also exists in France, where you’ll often read sentences like.

Internet English is more compact than a Korean convenience store. Anyone can beat around the bush – but it’s an art to pack “Buy and get out!” into a crunchy call to action (CTA).

Example

  • “Tickets can be purchased, if desired, after following this link.”
  • “Buy tickets here! Cya!”

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