Not all German is the same


For translators of English, it is nothing new when the different variants of English are pointed out. Rather, it is a common occurrence for them that translations are often requested in a particular native variety. After all, it is well known that there are big differences in English, depending on whether you speak British English or American, Australian, Indian or South African English. However, there are also such distinctions in other languages, eg Spanish, Portuguese and German – and we will look at the latter in more detail in this article. 

The German language

When you think of the German language, most people probably have Germany in mind. However, German is also spoken by many people in other countries. Austria and Liechtenstein, for example, where German is spoken throughout the country. Then there is Switzerland, where German is one of the four official languages and a not insignificant proportion of the population are native German speakers. There are also German-speaking minorities in some other countries where German is an official regional language or is at least recognised as a minority language. These countries include, for example, Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg with more or less small regions with a German-speaking population, as well as Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Kazakhstan, which are home to small German-speaking minorities.

It is estimated that there are over 100 million native speakers of German in more than 40 countries worldwide[1]. With such a large number of speakers spread across numerous countries, it is not surprising that there are also several linguistic variants that should not be ignored when translating. 

As a translator who translates texts into German, however, it is surprisingly rare for a text to be adapted to a particular native variety. Rather, one encounters a kind of standard, which is modelled on High German as it is used in Germany. This is often regarded as standard German, although the official written language differs from country to country and there is actually more than just one standard. 

So, if you happen to have a customer from Switzerland, Liechtenstein or Austria, it is definitely worth adapting the translated text to the variant of the respective country. In this article, we will give you some simple tips on how you can customise your translations and ensure satisfied customers. 


Let us first take a look at Switzerland, because there is a very simple way to give your text a Swiss touch – avoid all “ß”, because this letter has not existed in the Swiss written language since the spelling reform of 2006 at the latest[2]. You can therefore replace any “ß” in your text with an “ss”. That is how “Liebe Grüße” (Kindest regards) becomes “Liebe Grüsse”. 

The language also shows its proximity to French when it comes to Germanised words. For example, in Germany it is spelt “Menü”, but in Switzerland it is “Menu”. It is therefore worth paying attention to this characteristic of originally French words. 

There is also a group of words known as “Helvetisms”. This term originates from Latin and goes back to the name of the Celtic ethnic group of the Helvetii, who settled in the area that is now Switzerland at the time of the Romans. So, you could say that these are typical Swiss words.


Here are some examples of such Helvetisms:

As there are numerous such words, it is better to have a text corrected by a native Swiss speaker or by someone who has lived in Switzerland for a long time and/or is familiar with the regional peculiarities. You can find a good overview of words commonly used in Switzerland here.

Other special features of the Swiss written language can be found in the punctuation. The inverted commas differ from those used in German spelling, as the Swiss, like the French, use the so-called guillemets («»). 

In Germany, large numbers are separated by a full stop or space, eg 1.500, whereas in Switzerland they write 1’500. Instead of a colon for the time, only a full stop is used. So in Switzerland you write 14.21 instead of 14:21 as in Germany.

Another characteristic is that abbreviations for currencies in Switzerland always appear before the sum, instead of after as it is done in Germany. Any missing zeros are indicated with a dot and a dash. In Switzerland, for example, you would write CHF 254.– and in Germany 254,– CHF.

If you follow these rules for your translation and consult a Swiss proofreader, you can be sure that you will leave a very good impression on your Swiss customers. 


Alemannic dialects are spoken in Liechtenstein, and although the country and its population are quite small, dialects must definitely be in the plural here. According to the constitution, however, the official language is standard German, whereby the official written language is based on the rules of the Swiss written language. 

You will therefore score points with your customers from Liechtenstein if you avoid the “ß” in your texts. In general, you can refer to the previous section on the Swiss written language if you want to adapt your translation to the Liechtenstein market. 



In contrast to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, the “ß” is still used in Austria. The punctuation rules do not differ from those used in Germany either. 

Differences can be found in the vocabulary though. Even if many terms are more dialectal, there are some words that are established in the written language and can therefore help you to adapt your translations to the Austrian market. 

Here are some typical words for the Austrian written language:

Furthermore, there are some official phrases that are a particularity:


Due to its geographical location, Austrian German has adopted many words from Switzerland and Germanised words from Slovenian, Hungarian, Slovakian and Czech. You should therefore use the services of an Austrian proofreader if you want to tailor your texts to the Austrian market. This guarantees that the standards of the written language are adhered to and that the text does not slip into dialect. 

This overview has given you an idea of how you can adapt your texts to the German-speaking markets outside Germany. However, it should be noted that any Austrian, Swiss or Liechtenstein citizen will have little to no problem understanding a text that has been adapted to the German market. On the other hand, a German will sometimes find it difficult to understand a text written or translated for the Swiss market. Adaptation to the smaller German-speaking markets therefore only makes sense if the text is actually intended exclusively for these markets. Otherwise, you will reach a larger audience with a text that is orientated towards the written language in Germany.




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