For SAP Screens Developed in German, English Translations Are Critical

For German companies that have traditionally developed the user interfaces for their custom SAP reports and transactions in German, one of the first challenges when expanding to another country is translating these SAP screens into English. Getting the translation right and ensuring high quality is a good idea in any language, but it’s especially important for English.

Going English-only Can Work in Many Countries

In many countries, an English translation may in fact be the only translation you need. For all Anglophone countries, it’s obvious that only an English version is needed, but there are many other countries where creating a local language version may not be necessary for many SAP transactions. This depends as much on the country you are expanding to as it does on the level of education and English proficiency of your employees. A bank analyst in Singapore, for example, will very likely be able to get his or her work done efficiently using SAP with logon language English, without having to constantly consult a dictionary. A factory worker in China, on the other hand, may not.

That being said, a handful of transactions or reports may still require translation into the local language. Local regulations may require a local language user interface to be in place, and since different transactions will be used by different groups of users, some of those user groups will be more proficient in English than others. Plus, forms and master data that are visible to customers will need translation into the local language in any case. But the point is, many transactions or reports will only need an English user interface, and can be deployed in many different countries, not just English-speaking ones.

This makes the English translation of your custom SAP transactions and reports much more visible than all other language versions, since a far larger number of users will log on in English on a day-to-day basis. For SAP translation, this has two main implications:

  • When you define the scope of your SAP translation project, it makes sense to find out exactly which user groups can make do with an English user interface, and which users need their SAP in their local language.
  • The English translation of your SAP transactions and reports should be correct and complete across the board, even more so than for other languages.

For the Majority of Languages, English Is the Source Language

In most SAP translation projects, especially if translation takes place in SE63 as SAP recommends, most languages translate not from German, but from English, even if the texts were originally developed in German. This is because, for many languages, especially non-European languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Arabic, you’d be hard-pressed to find translators who both know German and have the necessary SAP expertise, which is why English is most often selected as the source language.

For transactions that were developed in German, this leads to a two-step translation scenario, where the texts are first translated from German to English, and then from English to the all the other required languages. This means that any incorrect translations entered by an English translator will very likely lead to incorrect translations in a number of other languages (“follow-on languages”) as well, because the follow-on language translators are working from an already incorrect source text.

A mistake in English is an automatic mistake in all follow-on languages.
A mistake in English is an automatic mistake in all follow-on languages.


This makes getting the English translation right especially important. When every mistake made automatically causes a number of other mistakes, it makes sense to look at what you can do to ensure that your English UI is of the highest quality.

Ensuring High Translation Quality

Any translator will tell you that it’s always a good idea to invest in translation quality. But with SAP translation, ensuring that the largest chunk of that investment goes towards the English translation has the greatest benefits. Once that decision is made, the obvious place to start is to ask departments to test the translated reports and transactions before they go live. It is also helpful to plan for a terminology project before starting the actual translation, to ensure that the terminology used in the project has been approved by the departments and is used consistently by the translators.

The biggest factor by far in improving translation quality, however, is working with experienced translators. It can be tempting to ask your German ABAP developers to enter English translations themselves by branching to SE63; after all, a lot of them speak decent English. In most cases though, it turns out that, while the English texts created by German developers sound good to a German, they are often very hard to understand for the end users as well as the translators translating from English into their native language.

Experienced SAP translators will not only know the correct terminology and have the training and experience to work with a complex tool such as SE63, but they will also know how to look up any context information they require to produce a correct translation, and they will know how to use the developer transactions in the SAP system to do so. This goes a long way to improve translation quality, and as we’ve seen, nowhere is this more important than with the English translation.