Text expansion in translation occurs when the target text has more words than the source. We often see it when translating from English to French. Of course, text expansion in translation can occur with other language pairs, too.

So why does a translated text “expand”? The simple answer is that the words in Language A don’t share a one-to-one correspondence with the words in Language B.

text expansion in translation

Figure 1. Expansion in a translated text isn’t inevitable. Here, a three-word phrase in English is translated by a three-word phrase in French.

A 1,000-word text in English could turn into a 1,200-word text in French. For translation from English into Romance languages, expansion rates between 10% and 20% are not uncommon.

Expansion is most easily seen over long stretches of text. With individual words or short phrases, however, English may not expand when translated (see Figure 1).

Text expansion has implications for clients and vendors alike. Why? Because the look of sales and marketing collateral—from glossy brochures to slide presentations—may be affected.

Consider the designer who has spent hours creating a brochure in English. She has chosen fonts, graphics, and a color scheme. She has designed all elements on the page to look aesthetically pleasing. But along comes a translation into French and she has to make significant adjustments to her design. With more words on the page, the designer may run into the following problems:

  • Heads and subheads that “run long”
  • Blocks of copy that run long by one or several lines
  • Table cells that increase in height due to expanded text
  • Kerning challenges with longer words (typical of Romance languages)

Text Expansion in Translation: English to French

text expansion in translation

Figure 2. This English brochure page expanded by 20% when it was translated to French.

On a recent project for LOX Extensions, RedLine encountered all of the above challenges. As shown in Figure 2, the word count of one page of the Canadian French translation had increased by 20%.

Extra words meant making some hard design decisions. We had to accommodate the longer text without “cheating” too much in other aspects of the design (type size, line leading, placement of objects, etc.).

The opposite of text expansion is text contraction. A French text may “contract” when translated into English. But an English text contracts when translated into Chinese!

Contact us if you have questions about text expansion in translation. You can also read our translation services page to learn more.

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