Bon appétit longer in French!

Text translated into a foreign language will usually be a different length to the English original. In languages such as Chinese you can be confident that it will be shorter, but in many languages the translated text will be longer. This can cause problems for the unaware multilingual typesetter or designer.

Text translated from English to French often provides great examples of the issues. One sentence might be of a very similar length while another might double. A trivial example of this amused me when I was about to tuck into a lime dessert by a well known “decadent” pudding maker. The bilingual lid was labelled:
For use by date see side of pack
Voir sur le côté de l’emballage pour la date limite de consommation

No problem if, like my pudding makers, you have a whole lid to write it across – but a whopper if you’ve designed a tight fit round the English.

You might expect this in German or Russian where you can immediately see lots of long words. But French? A conservative but safe assumption is to add 50% for length when designing a layout that will have French typesetting dropped in later.

As for the lime pudding? Needless to say, wry French typesetting smiles and use by dates aside, it was a case of “bon appétit”!

2 thoughts on “Bon appétit longer in French!”

  1. French is known to be 20-25% longer than English on average, while building 50% wiggle room into your designs is sure to allow any translation in, I’m sure you can find success without such drastic proportions.

    In Canada, bilingual packaging laws in some regions insist that French and English (the two official languages) must be ‘equally’ prominent. This had led to arguments whether that means that both languages take up the same surface area (but the french font would be 20% smaller) or that the font size must be equal (and then the french runs 20% longer).

    I’m not sure of the nuance around this, and you do see a bit of both, but be aware that there are two ways to go about this and if a client wants the other way it’s easy to do, just do it!

    1. @Tom: thanks for your thoughtful and insightful comment.

      The same “equal prominence” issue comes up here in the UK sometimes – when creating signage, etc for use in Wales. Then the Welsh and English texts must also have equal prominence, but this is similarly problematic as the Welsh often runs a fair bit longer!

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