Localisation challenges of Central European languages: Top Five Tips for translating from English into Hungarian

This post is a follow-up to our buyers’ guide to the Hungarian language. Companies and organisations can learn about common problems that may arise when translating English content into Hungarian.

Representative of the people who speak it, the Hungarian language is resilient in spirit and complex in nature. To the 13 million native speakers in and outside of Hungary, their language defines their culture, and they have held onto it throughout the onslaught of war, foreign occupation, and modern globalisation.

Clients new to the Hungarian market will surely find that localisation into Hungarian is essential. However, they may soon find themselves facing unique challenges in the process. So as to understand potential problems, and how to best address them, we sought advice from our expert Hungarian translators. Experienced in translation from English to Hungarian, and well-versed in the demands of both languages, they offered five top tips for overcoming localisation challenges in Hungarian.

  1. Defy logic

Centuries ago, Hungarian was written right to left. Even today, logical differences remain one of the main challenges when translating from English into Hungarian. Hungarian logic goes from large to small, general to specific. Take name order, for example, in which Hungarian places the surname before the given name.

Whilst translating from English, one often needs to start from the very end of a sentence and go backwards. Formatting markers and placeholders in translation files can make this even more complicated.

“I like to think that translating English to Hungarian is like untangling a big ball of yarn. You have to deconstruct the whole sentence, then rewrite it in Hungarian.”

 

  1. Find your focus

It is important to remember that Hungarian is a topic-prominent language, meaning that its word order is entirely dependent upon context. An incorrect word order or suffix can alter the meaning of a sentence, and a slight change in meaning can therefore modify the syntax.

This presents a unique challenge to Hungarian translators, as English so often relies on vocal stress to give emphasis. Hungarian translators therefore need to fully understand the topic and context to pinpoint the focus of the translation.

“We have to be really familiar with the topic and understand the aim of the author of the text, so as to find where to place the emphasis in the translation. The last thing we want to do is mislead the reader!”

 

  1. Be explicit

In translation, explication is the technique of finding the implied meaning of the original text and expressing it explicitly in the target text. Hungarian requires use of this technique more than most languages. It likes to be very clear in meaning, whilst English enjoys “playing” with implications.

“We express things more exactly and less contextually. It is therefore often difficult to translate something in the exact form and shape of the source text. When translating, we need to spend time figuring out where to put dashes or commas in sentences, while making sure that we are following strict Hungarian spelling rules- all things that help us explain explicitly.”

 

  1. Know your audience

Unlike most languages, modern English doesn’t make a great distinction between formal and informal speech. Hungarian on the other hand, takes the distinction very seriously. The language has a four-tiered system of politeness which is used daily by all ages and social classes.

“We as translators must be sure of the intended audience of the translation. We need to alter our translation based on whether it is a medical prescription for the elderly or a marketing promotion for young people, for example. Sticking with informal speech may offend Hungarian readers, so we must do careful QA checks as well!”

 

  1. Get creative with abbreviations

English is a far more compact language than Hungarian; it can place a lot of meaning into a short, simple sentence. At the same time, Hungarian needs much more room for all those many suffixes to stretch out. Translators thus face a challenge when asked to stick to character limitations, for example.

“Usually, it is impossible to make a translation as simple and compact as the source sentence. We either spend time finding a shorter solution, or we need to abbreviate. In IT texts for example, Beállítások (Settings), is often abbreviated to Beáll.”

Localising content into Hungarian is no simple task. Translators obviously need to be native Hungarian speakers, but also show a deep understanding of the language’s unique history and grammatical structure. The problems discussed here are common but complex, and are only resolved by expertise earned from experience. Clients new to the Hungarian market are thus encouraged to seek an experienced LSP with expert native Hungarian translators.

 

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The Chain Bridge and Buda Castle in Budapest, Hungary

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