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Translating e-commerce sites: part numbers

translation of part numbers in e-commerce

Translating e-commerce sites

Translating e-commerce sites (such as Amazon and eBay) and part numbers sounds innocuous enough. Surely common expressions like these must be easy to translate from one language to another. Mustn’t it? In fact it’s quite a problem, because the major European languages use different terms which give rise to “false friends” (words which look the same in each language but don’t have the same meaning).

How to translate “part numbers”

Part number is often translated into Spanish, for example, as número de pieza. Yet Spanish source texts mostly refer to products with a referencia, and this is translated into English not as part number but as reference. French tends to use code, which of course turns into English and Spanish as code and código respectively. And there’s more to come. German uses the word Artikel, and of course this ends up as article, artículo, item etc.

P.S. For detectives and code-breakers: you can often guess the source language of a text translated into, say, Russian, by looking at how it refers to products.

So a first conclusion is that part number = referencia = code = Artikel. And yet, each of these words should in many contexts be translated literally. Should you translate part number into German as Teilnummer or Bestellnummer or Artikel, for example? Similarly, translating French code as part number may be more dangerous than going for the easy, but not necessarily appropriate code.


In the end, there is no right answer. The most appropriate choice depends on the preferences of the source or target company, and sometimes on the personal preferences and practice of technical writers, translators and reviewers.

Whatever the “best” solution, the worst thing, as usual, is lack of consistency within and between projects.

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