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Language Variations Part 1 – German

This is the first in a series of blogs looking at regional variations in languages. We understand that moving into new markets can be daunting and if translation is something that you are not familiar with it can cost you unnecessarily. In this blog we are looking at variations of German.

You’ve decided you are going to expand into Europe. You’ve chosen German as one of your first languages – with over 95 million native speakers worldwide and Europe’s largest and strongest economy (stronger than the UK) this is a solid choice. You speak to your language service provider and they ask the question: ‘do you only require German for Germany or other variants as well?’ …Silence… ‘other variants? – isn’t German just German?

Yes, German is spoken in Germany (obviously) but also in parts of Switzerland; Austria; Liechtenstein and even in a small part of Italy. German has three standard forms, Standard German; Austrian German and Swiss German but do you need to localise into these variants and what impact will it have if you don’t?

Firstly, here is a brief summary to help understand the differences:

German v’s Swiss German

Swiss German is not an official language and whist the majority of differences are related the spoken form – such as the pronunciation there are a few key differences in the written form:

  • The most obvious and visual difference is that Swiss Germans have replaced the German ß with ss;
  • Swiss Germans use the past participle as opposed to using the past tense;
  • There are some words that only exist in Swiss German, some that have different spellings and also some that have French influences due to Switzerland also being French speaking – in Switzerland you would not say ‘vielen Dank’ but ‘Merci vilmal’ – one to remember for your next Skiing trip to the Alps!

German v’s Austrian German

There are a lot less differences in Austrian German, they write and use the same spelling as Standard German however there are again differences in the Spoken form. Differences that do exist in the written form include:

  • Austrians prefer to use the present perfect tense over the simple past;
  • The main differences are in legal texts and food related words, Marille vs. Aprikose for apricot

So, taking into consideration these changes, the next thing you have to consider is what impact will localising or not localising have for you and your business. A few questions you might want to ask yourself:

  • What markets am I targeting?
  • Who are my customers and where are they based?
  • What budget do I have?

If you are broadly targeting German speakers then it might not be worth the extra investment to localise into Austrian and Swiss variants. Austrian and Swiss Germans will all understand Standard German and the majority of German speakers are based in Mainland Germany. If you are targeting Austria or Switzerland then you might want to consider this as an option as your customers will notice that this is not localised specifically for them, but again it depends on the investment you are looking to make and the impact this will have. If you are selling to distributers globally then it makes sense that Standard German will suffice – they will understand the content and it will not have an impact on how they see your brand however, if you are (at the risk of sounding clichéd) selling luxury watches then you might want to consider localising for Switzerland as your customers will notice that this is not specifically aimed at them and with high levels of competition in the market this may be the deciding factor on choosing your brand or another.

At One Global, we encourage our clients to consider all options before localising and to choose the right variations for your brand as it can be very costly to find out issues on the other side. We offer no obligation advice and if we don’t know the answer we have a network of linguists worldwide that will!

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