In my work as an Italian to English translator, I often end up on Italian websites with an English and Italian version. Sometimes the English version is a wonderful read and really does justice to the Made in Italy brand.
However, more often than not, it’s just a direct literal translation of the Italian website. And it just sounds…odd.
Why is this a problem?
Literal translations follow the original text so closely that they are often full of grammatical mistakes and puzzling word choices that make it difficult to read.
I’m sure it’s clear why you wouldn’t your website to be full of grammatical errors.
But puzzling word choices? Often, the translation is not exactly wrong, but there are much better choices you can use.
Simplicity is the key to winning customers over. The is even more true on the web, where short attention spans means the simpler the better.
If a website or piece of marketing material is too difficult to read fluently, then the customer will likely get bored and go onto another website (your competitor).
I know that small businesses do not always have the budget to hire a professional, native translator for the job. So I‘ve put together a list of the most common ‘Italianisms’ I see on Italian consumer websites and my tips for making it a better read. (And read here why a native English speaker is the best for the job).
Didattico > didactic
I always know I’m on an Italian website, when the ‘d’ word comes up. Didactic farms, didactic kitchen, didactic museum.
Didactic does exist in English, but it is formal, and doesn’t come up in everyday conversation.
You won’t impress most English-speaking tourists with this word – instead they’ll be scratching their heads and reaching for their dictionary.
Caratteristico > characteristic
A much-loved adjective in the tourism sector, you can usually bet on something being described as ‘caratteristico’. This is almost always translated as ‘characteristic’.
Again, ‘characteristic’ does exist in English. But we use it much less often than in Italian. Depending on the context, there are other adjectives that capture your meaning in a better way.
If you are talking about a product being particular to one region, the best option is ‘traditional’.
Try: typical, traditional, distinctive, unique.
Prodotto tipico > typical product
This brings us nicely on to ‘prodotti tipici’. ‘Typical products’ is not an often-used phrase in English, and you’re better off going with a number of familiar phrases that we do use.
If the product you are describing has a long history in your region, then ‘traditional product’ is the best option. If it is simply made or grown in your area, then ‘local product’ works well.
Try: local products, traditional products. Produce is best if you are talking about fresh food.
Suggerire/suggestivo > suggest/suggestive
A much-loved verb for tourism texts. As with characteristic, using the literal translation in English is not incorrect, but there are much better options you can use.
In English, ‘suggestive’ has connotations of being easy to manipulate, or hypnotised. So, it’s not the ideal adjective to use when you’re trying to sell your products or services.
Try: shows, demonstrates, displays for suggerire. Evocative for suggestivo.
Grazie a > thanks to
Like most of these examples, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with using this phrase in English. However, we use this expression less often. It’s very common to see this phrase overused on English translations of Italian websites.
Try varying the phrase used to keep the English more natural.
Try: because, because of, as a result of.
Prodotti firmati da designer > Products signed by designers
In English, designers don’t sign their products, so translating this phrase directly sounds heavy and unappealing. Instead, we have a much shorter way to convey this.
Try: designer goods (recommended), designer products/clothes/sunglasses etc.
Luminoso > luminous
In common speech, luminous usually means the shocking, bright colour of highlighter pens. So, if you describe an apartment as luminous, you’re likely to give the impression of a daring paint job instead of a well-lit and airy room.
Try: spacious, airy or well-lit for property.
Bonus extra: Passive voice
The Italian language is very fond of the passive voice, as well as long sentences. However, the active voice is king in English. We also favour shorter sentences.
Following English language preferences in the English version of your website will make it much easier for English-speaking customers to understand your offering and connect with you.
Try: changing the sentence around so you can use the active voice
The easiest and most effective way to ensure your English website does your business justice is to work with a professional, native translator. It’s also cost-effective because they’ll get it right first time.