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Did you know that when English text is translated into Spanish, it expands by approximately 25%? Or that when the same piece of text is translated into Finnish, it can contract by up to 30%? You might wonder why that’s important but when it comes to translation, these expansion and contraction factors can really make a huge difference! We’re here to explain why…

Why does a text expand or contract at all when translated?

First of all, let’s look at why text can expand or contract by such a considerable amount in different languages. The subject matter can play a significant part in predicting the word count of a translation (also referred to as the target word count). For example, literary translations tend to expand by a greater amount than legal or technical texts. This is due to the fact that legal and technical texts use specific vocabulary to convey instructions or rules, whereas literary text can be more poetic and allows for more creativity to express imagery or ideas effectively.

Additionally, every language has its own grammar and syntax, which are also important factors to consider. In some languages, single words are used to replace a string of words in English – these are called compound nouns. To make things clearer, let’s have a look at some German examples:

English source text

wire gauge 

German translation

Leitungsquerschnitt

 

English source text

Black Forest gateau

German translation

Schwarzwälderkirschtorte

 

Can you see how the translations differ from the English source text in terms of word count and length?

 

Why do expansion and contraction factors matter?

With regard to word count, it’s important to find out whether the price you have been offered for translation is based on the source word count (the number of words in the original document) or target word count (the number of words in the finished translation). Most agencies charge per source word. However, if the source file is scanned or handwritten, it is difficult to determine the exact word count; in such cases, most agencies will charge per target word instead. In order to send an estimate to the client, it’s useful to know whether the source text is likely to expand or contract.

From a design perspective, expansion and contraction factors can make a huge difference to the layout and appearance of a website or brochure. If you’re a web developer or graphic designer, ensuring that there is adequate white space for the translation is therefore essential. As you can see from the German examples above, when English is translated into German, although the word count decreases, the text expands. It’s similar for lots of other languages too, including Arabic, French, Italian and Spanish. Smaller translations can also be tricky as you don’t want to leave too much white space.

If you’re worried about how much space to allow for a translation, have a look at the table below to get a better idea of expansion and contraction factors:

Language

From English

Into English

Arabic

+20% to +25%

-20% to -25%

Croatian

+15%

-5% to -15%

Czech

+10%

-5% to -10%

Danish

-10% to -15%

+10% to +15%

Finnish

-25% to -30%

+30% to +40%

French

+15% to +20%

-10% to -15%

German

+10% to +35%

-20% to -30%

Greek

+10%

-5% to -15%

Hebrew

-20% to -30%

+20% to +30%

Hindi

+15% to +35%

-15%

Italian

+10% to +25%

-15%

Japanese

-10% to -55%

+20% to +60%

Korean

-10% to -15%

+15% to +20%

Norwegian

-5% to -10%

+5% to +10%

Polish

+20% to +30%

-5% to -15%

Portuguese

+15% to +30%

-5% to -15%

Russian

+15%

-5% to -15%

Spanish

+15% to +30%

-5% to -15%

Swedish

-10%

+10%

 

If you have any questions on expansion or contraction factors, or would like to know more information about our typesetting service, please feel free to contact us as we will be delighted to help!