Italian translation challenges. Some obstacles to watch out for.

Italian translation can help reach millions of customers such as these football fans.
Italian speakers are a big market for companies wanting to expand their business abroad.

While Italian isn’t necessarily as prevalent as English or Chinese, it’s still an important European language. In video game localization, we often used the acronym FIGS. FIGS stands for French, Italian, German and Spanish. And we used it because these languages were recurring in many multilingual translation projects. So many they were considered the standard, the base, upon which other languages would be added. That’s how important Italian translation is.

Europe has over 80 million Italian speakers. That’s more than it has French or Spanish speakers. Many companies have good reasons to want to make their website, or other content available to the 80 million Italian speakers in Europe. If you want to launch a video game, a product, or an online business, it’s an attractive market. Plus people generally prefer being served in their language. It’s a fact. So if you want to compete with businesses offering content in Italian, well, you’ll have to translate your content into Italian too.

But content localization is hard. Italian is no exception. Here are 4 Italian translation challenges you might face if you choose to go down that road.

#1. The Italian translation is usually longer than the English source text.

It’s not only valid for English, but it’s very obvious in English to Italian translation. Most of the time, the translated text is quite longer than the original one.

Why is that an issue?

It’s not. If you’re translating a blog or a web page, at least.

If you’re translating a book, you might expect marginally higher production costs for the extra paper, but not much.

But if you have a marketing pamphlet, subtitles, a user interface, or any similar, character-limited support, you’ve got a problem. If the translation is too literal, it might get cut-off, overflow from text boxes, or overlap with other parts of the text. And that’s not pretty.

Italian translation of a running machine UI where the text is too long for the text boxes.
The Italian translation is overflowing because it’s much longer than the English text.

On the other hand, if your Italian translation strays too far from the source text in an effort to be concise, you might not get the most faithful transcription of your message.

The solution is, once again, to hire an Italian translator who has experience dealing with such situations. Give them instructions for strings that have character limitations. You might also want to have a reviewer check the translation, not only for spelling mistakes, but also against the original text. Make sure the intended meaning is still there.

#2. Italian translations use gendered nouns that are not present in English.

This is not so much a challenge in Italian to English translations. Determiners in English are gender neutral. But it’s not the case in English to Italian translations.

We’ve mentioned this before, but let’s work with an example:

The Italian translation for “the boy” is “il ragazzo”. “The girl” becomes “La ragazza”.

Nothing too difficult here. The translator can choose the determiner based on the noun.

But what about nouns that are not gendered in English? Think about words like “the cleaner,” “the teacher,” “the mechanic”. Without context, expect the translator to come at you with some questions.

If you want to prevent possible issues with your Italian translation, read tip #3 of this article.

Another point on articles is that determiners in Italian can change depending on the first letter of the word they define. But that’s not really a challenge for Italian translators. Nor is it something you can plan for when submitting your text for translation. So let’s not dwell on it.

#3. English texts miss words that you need to add in your Italian translation.

This point is strongly linked to the one before. It’s also less of an issue for Italian translators, but deserves a mention here nonetheless.

English is full of compact sentences and expressions. At least compared to Italian. Here are a few cases where that’s really obvious:

Titles

Not as prevalent on the web as on printed press, news titles often omit articles, subjects, and other prepositions. Just look at these titles for instance:

“President to Step Down, Military Oficial Says”

“New Light Shone on 2,000 Year Old Mystery”

“Detroit Voted Most Promising Market in America”

Before being able to translate, your Italian translator might have some questions. “Is the military official a man or a woman?” “Should I add the full passive form here?”. And you’ll receive an Italian translation that probably includes more articles than your original titles.

Trends and general truths

These types of expressions commonly omit articles. We’re talking about sentences you see every day. Sentences like “Houses in the second district see their prices soar” or “College educated women are more likely to out-earn their partners”. Both sentences start with a noun. You can’t do that in Italian.

This habit of adding determiners and articles is another reason explaining why the English text is shorter than its Italian translation.

Out with the prepositions

Add to what we just wrote the tendency in English to link two words without any preposition: “The apple I like”, “A knife-wielding attacker”, “white-collar crime”. All these expressions skip prepositions like “that” or of”.

Something you can’t do in Italian. Which is why your Italian translation will be full of them.

#4. Italian translations will use characters that don’t exist in English.

Italian translations of the Assassin's Creed items interface.
Some of the characters like “è” or “à” don’t exist in English.

Italian is not the only language with special characters. Quite frankly, for anyone who knows Italian, this is no challenge at all. We may call them “special characters”, but letters like è, à, ò, ì belong fully in the proper spelling of Italian words.

The difficulty here is not in the translation itself, but in the implementation. You might want to use these with code. You might need to display them on a website. In these cases, are you sure your UI will display the characters properly?

Corrupted characters make reading a text more difficult. Not to mention, a lot more distracting.

Again, we wrote about the solution before. If you want to prevent this issue in your Italian translation (or in your German, French, Spanish translation), you can check tip #6 in this article.

Interestingly, English does have some letters that do not exist in Italian either. Letters such as j, k, w, x, and y simply don’t exist in Italian. Some words in your source text might use these letters. If you wish to keep them in the translation, simply inform your translator.

It’s okay to spell foreign names of people and places with those.

Want a professional Italian translation?

Italian translators at Kotolingo have years of experience. They know how to deal with potential issues in English to Italian translations. Some of them have QA and proofreading experience and can guide you through the translation process, making it smooth and easy to localize your content in their language.

All while making sure you receive a professional, competent, high-quality Italian translation that you can be proud of. Feel free to contact us for more details!

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