Symbols in Foreign-Language Translations

You need to be very careful how symbols are treated in the source text you provide for translation to other languages. Here are a few common issues:


Not everyone associates this symbol with “number.” In many languages, some sort of text abbreviation for the word “number” is used (for example, or núm. in Spanish).


This abbreviation for inches should usually be avoided in translations. While it may be recognized in regions familiar with English usage (Canada, Spanish speakers in the USA or Mexico), it is better to use the standard abbreviation in the target language. Of course, unless the item being described necessarily comes in inch sizes—like a nut, wrench or pipe fitting, for example—it should usually be converted to metric system anyway!


To most speakers of foreign languages, the ampersand does NOT represent the word “and.”


The “at” sign is ubiquitous in e-mail addresses, of course. But many languages use a distinct term for this symbol, that doesn’t suggest the word “at” to speakers of that language at all. Consequently, creative constructions like “Work@Home” don’t translate.


American English frequently uses the slash symbol to represent the idea of “or” or “and.” To minimize ambiguity in your source English text for translation, it is recommendable to actually use the words “or” or “and.”


When the dollar sign is used in Spanish, to avoid confusion this should be the version with a single vertical bar — not two vertical bars, which is used for the peso in Mexico, Dominican Republic, Colombia and Cuba.
ASIST Translations can help you prepare your source text for translation to a foreign language, to ensure that your original content is as universal and unambiguous as possible. Feel free to contact us about effective communication in today’s multilingual, multicultural environment.
ASIST Translation Services, Inc. is a full-service translation agency located in Columbus, Ohio. We provide translation, interpreting, proofreading, voice recording and media production, localization of interactive and Web content, and specialized language services to clients around the world.