The first question you probably have is, "Why would I write in a language I don’t know?" This is mainly for those of you who periodically purchase items internationally on sites like eBay. You may see an item you desire and want to ask the seller a question about it, but the seller does not read or write English; you’ll have to compose your message and run it through an online translator like Bing Translator or Google Translator first.
The tips below will allow you to get your message across so that the translator gets it (mostly) right.
Note before continuing: I am not an English professor/teacher/whatever. I’m just pointing out the foibles of dealing with online language translation technologies and how to get around some of them.
Tip 1. English and German have similar structures
Ordinarily you won’t have a problem when translating English-to-German because English is in fact Germanic in origin. What this means is that you will usually have an easier time communicating with someone who reads and writes German compared to, say, Chinese.
Tip 2. No slang
For example, instead of saying "Could I have a shipping cost ballpark figure?", it is better to use, "Could I have an approximate price concerning the shipping fees?" If approximate doesn’t work, estimated can be used instead.
Sometimes you will have to ‘overwrite’ things to get what your message translated correctly, but it’s worth the extra effort.
Tip 3. No contractions
Can’t, don’t, won’t, isn’t, they’re, you’re, we’re, weren’t, wouldn’t, etc. All of those words are contractions. Online translators as good as they are often make mistakes with translated contractions, so it is best not to use them.
For example, instead of saying, "I’ll ship the package before the end of the week", say, "I will ship the package before the end of the week".
Tip 4. Avoid the use of should
Should (along with should not) does not indicate an absolute, and online translators have a difficult time with translating it to another language mainly because it’s a word that just doesn’t translate well.
The easiest way to avoid should is to substitute with estimated. For example, if you wanted to write, "Your package should arrive in five days", change that to "Your package is estimated to arrive in five days".
Tip 5. Always reverse-translate what you write just to be on the safe side before sending your message
Run your message through the online translator, then copy the text and run it back through the translator to let you know if it’s understandable or not (roughly).
For example, write a message in English, send through the translator as English-to-German, copy the German translation, then send it again through the translator as German-to-English. If the message is the same as what you originally wrote, chances are good the German-speaking person you’re sending the message to will understand it properly.
Tip 6: Always announce the fact you do not speak the native language of the recipient in your first communication
This is a very good idea to do so the recipient knows up front that you are using a translator.
For example, at the start of your message you could use: "I am using an online translator to write this message. Please forgive me as I do not speak native German."
This translates to, "Ich benutze einen online-Übersetzer, um diese Nachricht zu schreiben. Bitte verzeihen Sie mir, wie ich nicht native Deutsch sprechen."
Reverse-translated, this comes back as, "I use an online translator to write this message. Please forgive me as I speak non native German."
The recipient upon read of this will not only know you’re using a translator, but also know not to use slang on his/her language either.
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