English is such a wonderfully ‘bendy’ language that allows for all sorts of sentence structures, repurposes words for new meanings and turns adjectives into nouns at the drop of a hat (‘I had 3 new likes on Facebook today!’). Unfortunately, German isn’t quite so flexible, owing to its more complex grammatical structure. So when we translate marketing content, we have to be especially careful not to fall into the trap of translating too directly. In this blog article, we will take a look at one of the most important parts of marketing content: the call to action.
‘Filler’ verbs in imperatives
One thing you might have noticed is that English marketing texts are often jam-packed with sentences that start with a verb that serves as a call to action (subscribe today, explore our collection, join our community etc.). These imperative structures have one aim: to encourage the reader to take an action. In English, this is an effective way of writing and engaging the reader. However, you might find that this style sometimes doesn’t translate particularly well into German. Why is that?
Well, one of the reasons is that English writers often use words like get, see, learn, use, discover etc. in these constructions. I like to think of these as words that are added in front of a declarative sentence to make it sound more engaging.
Take a look at these examples:
- See how we protect your valuable media assets. > We protect your valuable media assets
- Learn how to manage your profile > How to manage your profile
- Discover the optional add-ons that we offer > We offer optional add-ons
In essence, these verbs are empty ‘filler’ words, and translating them directly into German can sound clumsy. So what can we do? Start by taking out this first verb, boil down the sentence to its essential meaning – and then reconstruct it in German in a way that makes more sense to German readers. It takes a little bit longer to translate it this way, but you end up with a much more eloquent translation. And after a while, you will spot these filler words a mile off and know how to best translate them.
Imperatives with ‘passive’ verbs
Another common translation problem arises when ‘passive’ verbs are used in an imperative call-to-action construction. Take a look at the following example, a fairly typical call to action:
“Receive the latest news directly in your inbox – simply sign up to our newsletter”
If you think about it, to ‘receive’ is not really something that a person can actively do or influence, it just sort of happens to them. So when you translate ‘receive the latest news’ directly into German (‘Erhalten Sie die neuesten Nachrichten’), it sounds a little off. There are various different ways to get around this problem:
- You could change the sentence structure around to avoid putting the passive verb at the beginning of the sentence: ‘Melden Sie sich jetzt für unseren Newsletter an, um immer die neuesten Nachrichten direkt in Ihrem Posteingang zu erhalten’
- You could use a synonymous verb that is more active, e.g. ‘Sichern Sie sich die neuesten Nachrichten in Ihrem Posteingang – abonnieren Sie einfach unseren Newsletter’
- You could leave the passive verb out completely: ‘Die neuesten Nachrichten direkt in Ihrem Posteingang – abonnieren Sie einfach unseren Newsletter’
Calls to action with ‘to’
Another example of a call to action where a direct translation might not sound great is the construction ‘X to Y’, for example, ‘Sign up now to enjoy full access to all our features’. You can of course translate this literally as ‘Melden Sie sich an, um Zugriff auf alle unsere Funktionen zu genießen’. However, keep in mind that calls to action should be short and snappy, ideally short enough so you don’t need to use a comma! Here are a few options you can try:
- Use the infinitive form combined with ‘and’ rather than ‘to’: Jetzt anmelden und vollen Zugriff auf alle unsere Funktionen genießen.
- Turn it into question: Möchten Sie vollen Zugriff auf unsere Funktionen genießen? Dann melden Sie sich jetzt an.
Want to know more about marketing translation? We are planning a whole series of blogs on this topic, but for now, why not check out our blog article on 5 copywriting tips for translators – you see, that was another call to action 😉