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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Packing Sourcer

Translation: An Art, Not a Science

Like all areas of translation, label translation has its challenges. Done well, labels and inserts should inform your customers, but done badly, they may be confusing, or worse, give you regulatory problems or require expensive re-labelling. What’s the best route to clear multilingual labelling, and what are the challenges?


As we are paid by the source word, all translation companies would like more text. However, labels and packaging always struggle for space and the inevitable trade-off between numbers of languages and legibility. Starting with an English text, you may think that adding nine additional languages will result in nine times the length of text, but it’s usually worse than that. Most languages are longer than an English equivalent text. For example, French or Spanish are likely to be around 25-30% longer. German typically uses less words – but lots of compound longer words, which take more space. Chinese languages are an artworker’s dream as each character is a word, and its typically much shorter than English. How do you combat space challenges? First, consider very carefully the source text; is anything not required, or can you express things in a simpler or shorter way? Second, look carefully at your box or pack copy – can anything be moved inside to a leaflet or insert? Look carefully at the ingredients, if they are in Latin or English, they may not need to be translated – a big space saver. You may also be able to combine some languages; for example, Nordic languages like Danish and Swedish have many common words, and listing the languages together allows you to cut duplicated text. I don’t personally like this approach as it gives a worse consumer experience, but it may be necessary to save space.

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About the author

Mike Hunter is CEO of Better Languages, an East Midlands-based translation company founded in 1982, which specialises in label and packaging translation for the pharma and general retail sectors. He has a background of senior management in the charity sector prior to joining the company in 2001, and he holds an MBA from Nottingham Trent University, UK.

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