I am currently doing my master’s in German and need to start writing my thesis. Although I am already comfortable speaking the language, writing (especially academic papers) is not something I feel great about. Also, my thesis is a big deal. Legally speaking, could I write it in English and have it translated? It would still be my work.

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    Also: Are you sure that you have to write your thesis in German? In all German master’s programs I am aware of, English theses are the default. While I can think of fields where I would not expect this, e.g., Germanistics, you probably wouldn’t be asking this question if you were studying in those fields.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jul 10, 2018 at 8:24
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    In all German schools that I know (ok, only a few) writing a thesis in English is no problem
    – gefei
    Jul 10, 2018 at 11:44
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    Doing Master's programme in German does not necessarily mean, you are obliged to write your thesis in German. Ask your advisor, read up the regulations ("Prüfungsordnung"). Jul 10, 2018 at 23:17
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    Are you doing a master's degree in the study of the German language, or are you doing a master's degree at a university in Germany? It appears that most people are assuming the second case, but from the wording it appears to me that the first case is true. Which is it? Jul 11, 2018 at 11:48

5 Answers 5


This is not a legal issue—at least not at first. If you have copyright of your work, you can at any point in time—even years from now—sign a contract with a professional who will translate the thesis into another language and provide certification of having done so. That would be perfectly legal.

The real question is if your faculty will allow you to have someone else translate your thesis so that you can submit it in German, which is largely an administrative decision that may depend on the university. If it were professionally translated, you would have to disclose that fact as part of the submission since it would technically not be entirely your work. Most theses require such an explicit statement as part of the submission.

There may be an alternative: you should consult the relevant Prüfungsordnungen (examination regulations) that cover your program. Many programs now permit theses to be submitted almost entirely in English along with a short amount of material in German (usually something like an abstract or summary plus any “pro forma” statements. It may not be necessary to hire a translator if you can do the basic translation and submit in English.

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    @ScottSeidman I meant “administrative” in the sense of “no lawsuits or charges.” But administrative punishments can still be quite severe, as you point out.
    – aeismail
    Jul 10, 2018 at 13:38
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    @DRF The difference is that TeX is a compiler, and translators' jobs are much fuzzier. TeX converts a known, fixed, unambiguous (if occasionally arcane and arbitrary) syntax into a known, fixed, unambiguous output. In contrast, there's no perfect translation from English to German (or any language to any other, really) so a person has to make some decisions about what to write to get across the meaning in the intended way -- which, when phrased like that, sounds a lot like writing the paper in the first place, albeit without doing the original research yourself.
    – anon
    Jul 10, 2018 at 17:43
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    @DRF Yes, the end result is equally unambiguous and means the same thing. However, the translator is still using their skill in the area to pick the actual German words which mean what you're trying to say -- which, coincidentally, is what you do when writing a paper, except in another language. I'm not saying the two tasks are equivalent, I'm saying they're analogous, especially when compared to software applying a fixed set of relatively simple transformations to text. Translation is not that simple, as nice as it would be. Compilation, on the other hand, is. That's the difference.
    – anon
    Jul 10, 2018 at 21:10
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    @DRF To be clear, I'm not suggesting the translator deserves authorship. Sorry if it sounded like that. I'm stating that it's worth noting the paper was translated by someone other than the author because it's significantly more complex and subjective than compilation, and it's possible that there are nuances in translation that weren't in the original paper, which might need correction. My point with the analogy is that translation is much closer to authorship than compilation -- it's not authorship, obviously, but closer than a compiler transforming text into an AST into different text.
    – anon
    Jul 10, 2018 at 23:59
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    @DRF An Italian proverb sums up the issue in two words; "Traduttori,traditori" (Translators, traitors!). Any translation that reads well inevitably involves some rewriting of the original - and if that rewriting improves the original author's poorly expressed argument or logic, is the result a "fair" reflection of the original author's ability or not? Potentially, not, IMO.
    – alephzero
    Jul 11, 2018 at 10:33

I really need someone to create an "ask your advisor" sticker or something...

No, seriously, ask your advisor. He/she will know the rules, he might even be totally ok with an English thesis, it is not uncommon to write in English, especially if you are planning to publish it or part of it later. Furthermore, even if you would be allowed to write it in English and have it translated later by law (which I don't know for certain), you don't know if your translator properly translates all the technical terms and it would be an insult on your supervisor to force him to accept it because he has to by law, without talking with him first.

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    After I asked "Have you asked your advisor?" about one thousand times or so, I quit because the answers are mostly either "no" or "Yes, but he said he didn't know." or no response at all. But, anyway, you're right, asking the advisor should be the first thing to do and the OP should include the answer from the advisor in the question. +1
    – Nobody
    Jul 10, 2018 at 7:55
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    +1 I teach in Germany, and I actually encourage good students who are interested in staying in academia to write their bachelor or master thesis in English. I don't force it, but I bring it up as an option and explain that if they want to stay in academia, then writing in English is going to be part of their day to day work. So why not start now... Jul 10, 2018 at 9:50
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    I agree with the concept (of advisors) but in my experience there are so many who are simply not there. I believe this is why we get such questions and such "advisors" won't.
    – Scientist
    Jul 10, 2018 at 11:09
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    Side note: I can recommend AutoReview comments. cc @scaaahu
    – Raphael
    Jul 11, 2018 at 6:40

When I had to do my project in French - I wrote in French directly trying to minimise my errors - as it was engineering based the vocabulary is more difficult...

But as I completed each chapter / section I got my French colleagues (also students) to read and correct / improve / comment on what I was writing.

I bribed them with food and wine :) :) But we also had an exchange where I would look at the the English they had to write and help them with that...

We helped each other...

  • Could you answer the OP's question more explicitly?
    – user104541
    Feb 17, 2019 at 23:42

In my experience (fluent in Spanish, German and English) is that it is much harder to translate than to write in the target language in the first place. There are too many colloquialisms, figures of speech, exact technical phrasings that are next to impossible to translate decently (if at all). And the translator will have to be familiar with both languages (hard to get) and very familiar with the subject (that presumably leaves anybody but yourself and perhaps a handful others straight out).

I'd try first to write in English (fun fact: was strictly forbidden here, but often done anyway as many theses were published as papers elsewhere, or were written as part of international collaborations; local language is Spanish!). You can do your presentation in English or German at the end. Ask your advisor.

Second choice, and like others tell you, write in German, check with available tools (spelling, ...). Ask your colleagues/co-students to read chapters (both for language and contents). Bribe them by throwing a party for helpers if need be, make sure to credit their help.

Only as a very last resort would I reach out to a translation service.


First of all you need to weigh in pros and cons of having the final version of your thesis in German vs in English. Think of your future career plans in Germany or elsewhere, language the defense committee is comfortable with, etc.

If you decide to write it in English and translate into German, do the following:

  1. Make sure the thesis is complete, nice, and shiny in English

  2. Translate it roughly by yourself into German with the help of fine free tools such as Google Translate and text editor spell checker, etc. Read it and see if you can correct some translation by yourself.

  3. Buy a translation service to edit and proofread your translation. You will supply the translators with your German version and well as the English version.

That way everything is perfectly legal, ethical, moral, transparent, and makes total sense on your side. Now, whether the translators will edit your German translation or completely discard it and translate it on their own isn't really of your concern, in fact it is their own business.

  • I'd be shocked if google translate would produce anything even remotely in the ballpark of being acceptable for a submission. Translate is a decent aide when trying to understand some text in a foreign language, it's not at all suited for authorship in a foreign language you're so unfamiliar with that you'd have to rely on a translator in the first place.
    – Cubic
    Jul 12, 2018 at 13:28

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