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All You Need to Know About Text Expansion and Contraction

Jul 27, 2020

You may have noticed that it can take more words to say something in one language than in another. For example, it takes three words in French (s’il vous plaît) to accomplish what you can with one word of English (please). Text expansion and contraction has a direct impact on the cost of translation, and it plays an extremely important role when considering design for multilingual websites, marketing campaigns, presentations – and pretty much any project that needs to be available in multiple languages.

What is text expansion and contraction?

This is a term used in the translation industry to account for the increase or decrease in a document’s final word count when it is translated. For example, French and other romance languages are known to be wordier than English. A document with 1,000 English words translated into French will convert into approximately 1,150 target words — a 15% increase in the document’s word count. That is text expansion. Asian languages like Chinese, Korean and Japanese will usually convert into fewer total words when translated into English. That is text contraction.

How does text expansion and contraction affect pricing?

Calculating expansion or contraction during translation is not an exact science. Most language service providers use ratios based on typical expansion/contraction rates for different language pairs. For example, in English to German translation, the word count usually contracts by 20%, and therefore this is the ratio that most translation companies use. (If you have ever seen a German compound word like Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänsmütze – which translates to “Danube steamboat shipping company Captain’s hat” – you’ll understand why.) Pricing can also be affected by a document’s subject matter, terminology, and the quality of the original writing — all of which can cause the text to expand more or less than the ratios predict.

How does text expansion and contraction affect design?

Let’s say you have a short product description in English (100 words) that needs to be translated into French for a PDF brochure, a video advertisement, and a software app. Here’s what could happen: A one-line English headline in a cleanly laid out PDF brochure can turn into a two-line French headline that bumps the rest of the copy down or even off the page. A video with music and graphics synced to English text can become unsynced when the text is translated to French. The menu buttons on a software app can end up expanding awkwardly or displaying incomplete words, causing a major UI problem. So, as you can see, translations that result in text expansion or contraction can have a very real impact on design quality. That’s why it’s important to work with a localization expert to ensure all of your materials are not only translated accurately, but visually adapted as well.

Trust a localization expert

Morningside has 20 years of experience working with businesses to linguistically adapt products, documents, websites and software applications for target markets around the world. It’s a process we call localization, where translation is just the first step. We then work to adapt layout, design and graphical elements to properly fit the translated text. Our team includes expert linguists, DTP specialists, voiceover talent, and dedicated project managers experienced in providing multilingual localization services in 200+ languages. If you have any more questions about text expansion and contraction, or localization in general, contact us below.


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