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Text Expansion

Document length changes due to translation


Text Expansion (or Contraction)

Without a doubt, text expansion and even text contraction are crucial considerations for the graphic designer developing document layouts that will ultimately go through the localization process. To avoid significant increases in formatting costs during localization due to excessive struggles to fit too much copy into too little space, documents should be formatted with sufficient white space to accommodate text expansion. There are also issues concerning the overall appearance of the localized document. Expansion may create a crowded, hard-to-read document, while contraction may leave the localized document with enormous amounts of white space well beyond any amount considered graphically pleasing. Although target language text expansion of 20% or more is typical during the translation process to another language, expansion rates are not consistent across the board. And indeed, text may even substantially contract. The same is true when translating from another language into English.

Subject matter plays a significant role in the degree of text expansion or contraction.

For example, average, well-written German technical, legal or scholarly text translated into English expands 20%. Parts lists or MSDS can expand as much as 40%, while the average educational transcript expands only 30%. Most letters and personal documents expand less than 10%. Although German text translated into English expands, Japanese text translated into English experiences varying degrees of contraction. Once again, the degree of contraction is related to the subject matter. As a guide, to determine the English word count, divide the number of Japanese characters by 1.8. The more transliteration (katakana characters) is used in Japanese, the greater the contraction rate into English. For example, technology-related documents translated into English from Japanese (computer fields especially) have a higher contraction rate than other text types. Here’s a sample of some of the expansion and contraction dynamics of various language combinations:


Source Language Target Language Text Expansion Text Contraction
English Arabic 25%
Arabic English 25%
English Finnish 25-30%
Finnish English 30-40%
English Danish 10-15%
Danish English 10-15%
English Swedish 10%
Swedish English 10%
English Japanese 20-60% varies by content
Japanese English 10-55%
English Norwegian 5-10%
Norwegian English 5-10%
English Greek 5-10%
Greek English 10-20% 10%
English Korean 10~15%
Korean English 15~20%
Chinese English varies
English Chinese varies
French English 10-15%
English French 15-20%
German English 5-40%
English German 5-20%
Spanish English 15%
English Spanish 25%
Spanish (MX) English 15%
English Spanish (MX) 20%
Spanish (US) English 15%
English Spanish (US) 20%
Spanish (EA) English 15%
English Spanish (EA) 20%
English Italian 15%
Italian English 15%
Portugese English 15%
English Portugese 30%
English Portugese (BR) 20-30% rarely
Portugese (BR) English minimal 5-10%
French (CA) English 10-15%
English French (CA) 15-20%