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Document lenght difference between English and other languages
Thread poster: Jerónimo Fernández

Jerónimo Fernández  Identity Verified
English to Spanish
+ ...
Jan 21, 2004

Hi everybody.

I was wondering if there's any kind of research done and available about the differences in document lenght between languages. (I'm particulary interested in the differences between English and Spanish, but data on other languages would be more than welcome.)

For example, imagine that a typical commercial letter in English has 300 words, how many words do those letters have, say, in Spanish?

Thanks a lot in advance.


Susana Galilea  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:33
English to Spanish
+ ...
depends on nature of document Jan 22, 2004

On average, I estimate a Spanish document will be 25%-30% longer than the English source. Your hypothetical 300 words in English would become around 380 words in Spanish.

That may vary, for instance in the case of advertising copy where brevity is desired.


Susana Galilea
Accredited Translator, EUTI

[Edited at 2004-01-22 02:40]


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:33
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
depends what you mean with length Jan 22, 2004

If you mean word count, in Finnish the text will become about 30 % shorter, but the numer of characters may grow a bit. When translating from German into Finnish the character count decreases by 10 % and word count by 40 %.


Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:33
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Depends what you mean by length: Russian/English Jan 22, 2004

I find that when translating Russian into English, the original Russian word count is only about 70% of the English word count. But I once had to produce a document in two columns, Russian in one and English in the other, and found out that though this was true of the word count for this document, in terms of character count, the Russian was slightly longer.

[Edited at 2004-01-22 09:25]

Daniel Trujillo

Sybille  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:33
Member (2003)
English to German
+ ...
Document length Jan 22, 2004

During my language studies we were told that
document length from German into English
would be about one third less (for the English document); and German into Russian
would be about one third more (for the Russian document). And I am of this opinion, too. It is like this, as a rule.



Óscar Canales  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:33
English to Spanish
+ ...
The myth of English brevity Jan 22, 2004

A very enlightening article on this topic appeared on Panacea, a online magazine on medical translation.

In brief, the author uses examples to show that, contrary to popular belief, translations are generally longer than the originals, independently of the language pair.

That said, short sentences in English tend to have fewer words than the same sentences in Spanish. However, Spanish is more efficient with longer sentences, because it does not need as many articles and pronouns as English. This results in a technical draw.icon_smile.gif

The article is written in Spanish. You can find it at

Click on Vol. 3, n.º 9-10. Diciembre del 2002

Hope it helps!

Daniel Trujillo

Spanish to English
+ ...
Oscar Jan 22, 2004

This is fascinating. I always believed my into-English documents would be shorter than the source text, but have just done one assignments where the English was actually 200 words longer than the French. I was getting annoyed at being told I would be paid on the target text wordcount instead of the source text as I was expecting - now I think I'll stay quiet!!!


Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:33
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Word count 25% higher in English than Danish Jan 22, 2004

The agency I often work for weights my rates - they reckon the word count in English is about 25% higher than in the Danish text. On average I get the same pay, whether I calculate from the English or the Danish word count.

Not only does Danish run words together like German where English does not. Danish also attaches the definite article to the noun, so those disappear from the word count too. (e.g. cat = kat, the cat = katten) It's one of many reasons why machine translations into Danish are so hopeless!

English tends to take up more space on paper, but how much varies a lot. With one-line captions, there is generally very little difference, but with a fairly straight text English takes up 5 - 10% more, or has to be squeezed one way or another.

I bet agencies know quite a lot about that sort of thing - it could cost them money!

Daniel Trujillo

Tina Vonhof
Local time: 22:33
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Dutch Jan 22, 2004

Dutch is more 'wordy' than English, so the English translation is usually shorter. For a large document, this could amount to several hundred words.


DGK T-I  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:33
Georgian to English
+ ...
word length Russ:Eng & Georgian:Eng Jan 22, 2004

if one had to give an average for translating Georgian to English then perhaps 45-50 per cent longer (higher word count) for the English, although it depends on the nature of the document - eg: some lists might have the same word count, and for different sorts of document there might be variations from 33% to much more than 50%.

I'd agree on a difference of say 30 percent translating Russian into English, with variations as above.
I'd imagine there might be variations like this (depending on style needed) for other language pairs.

I'd also agree about the tendency for translations (sometimes at least) to be longer than the "theoretical density" of the target language, alone, would suggest - and within reason there seems no shame in that as long as the translation is good and "does what it needs to do". There can also be differences in the word density of specialist terminology in different languages.
Best wishes
~Eng Russ Geo~

[Edited at 2004-12-10 12:30]


Jörgen Slet  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:33
English to Estonian
+ ...
Estonian has the same character count and 30% lower word count Jan 23, 2004

My English - Estonian translations have, on average, the same character count, but Estonian has a much lower word count (about 30% lower).

The character count ratio varies a lot from job to job, but the average is about 1:1. The tough thing is that I once produced a huge translation much shorter than the original (which was much harder than producing a bloated result would've been), and then got paid by target character count (the contract was very ambiguously worded, and I had assumed source character count, based on previous clients).


Local time: 06:33
English to French
+ ...
French Jan 23, 2004

there are statistics about that. The whole thing is called "foisonnement" in French and it is expected between 15 and 25% more word in french than in English. I check once for fun on my translations and I came with 18% on 100 pages.


Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:33
English to Turkish
+ ...
with Turkish Jan 23, 2004

it may well depend on the context, and my observation is that especially in literary depictions regarding nature, for example, or feelings and states of mind, or bodily postures, English tends to be more precise with words, hence more economic finally. But the enormous structural difference between two languages is an important factor here: sometimes what can be best expressed with a verb in English needs to be put into nouns in Turkish, and vice versa. Still, with its agglutinating character that can make it possible to make up a whole sentence in an all-in-one word (that covers the object, the verb, the subject, all the articles and auxiliary elements in between) Turkish usually produces shorter texts than English. Just check out this well-known example of agglutination (though a bit outdated politically):

Cekoslovakyalilastiramadiklarimizdan misiniz?
=Are you one of those whom we could not turn into a Czechoslovakian?


Pavle Perencevic  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:33
Member (2002)
Serbian to English
+ ...
translation length in English vs other languages Jan 23, 2004

The same goes for Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian. English is largely an uninflected, analytical language and, unlike most Slavic languages, has articles, which means that it uses more words to express the same ideas. Many of these words, however, seem to be shorter than their Slavic equivalents, and this generally results in English translations having more words but fewer characters than their Slavic originals. This may be important when stating your rates (source vs target count).

Jack Doughty wrote:

I find that when translating Russian into English, the original Russian word count is only about 70% of the English word count. But I once had to produce a document in two columns, Russian in one and English in the other, and found out that though this was true of the word count for this document, in terms of character count, the Russian was slightly longer.

[Edited at 2004-01-22 09:25]


chica nueva
Local time: 18:33
Chinese to English
Chinese Jan 23, 2004

Length of business letters? Not sure how they would compare - a matter of convention? This has changed in English over time. 19C letters were longer and wordier I think.

Chinese text does take up much less space on the page, because of the script and because there are no gaps between words.Does this fit with your question?

Generally Chinese sentences are longer with more clauses than English ones, but there are fewer sentences per paragraph. So it cancels out.

However, in terms of word count, the difference would be that Chinese uses fewer articles, pronouns and auxiliary verbs. (Other than that, it is word for word). So the Chinese text is a bit shorter than the English one structurally, I think.

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Document lenght difference between English and other languages

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