Translators Cabin

Translation Terminology

The following are some of the terms most likely to come up during meetings or consultations, or that you may find used in a prospective translation firm’s marketing materials or contracts.

Let’s start with the word translation. This term is often used interchangeably with interpretation. However, they are two very different processes. Translation entails converting a written language into another target language. This is different from interpretation, which involves converting the spoken word from one language to another, usually in either simultaneous or consecutive mode.

Written translation, by contrast, involves professional translators, typically native speakers, who physically work within the documents to be translated, and do the translation work themselves. These days, there are also automated translation tools that can translate as well. However, automated translation tools are risky because there is no human rationale or heart involved to ensure that tone, nuance, idiomatic language, humor, and culture are translated along with the words. Often what emerges from an online translation tool is incomprehensible.

Now let’s look at other terms in alphabetical order:

A, B, and C languages. For a translator or interpreter, an A language is their mother tongue, or a language that they use at a native level. A B language is their second most fluent language, although it may not be at a mother tongue level. A and B languages are active languages – a language that a translator or interpreter is fully comfortable translating and interpreting both to and from, and in which they are fluent. By contrast, a C language is one that the translator or interpreter only works from, not into, although their understanding of that language is perfect; it is therefore called a passive language.

Bidirectional writing system. In English and other western languages, we read from left to right. If a language is bidirectional, it means that it is written right to left, but the numbers are written left to right. Arabic and Hebrew are examples of bidirectional languages. In translation, this alters how your materials may look and how clients will interact with them.

In interpretation, however, bidirectional has a very different meaning. While interpreters usually prefer to work only into one language, usually their native language, if an interpreter works bidirectionally, it means that s/he can interpret fluidly between two languages in either direction (usually active languages – see above).

Consistency. This refers to ensuring that a word or phrase is translated the same way throughout a text and even between several documents or projects, in order to ensure the meaning is clear.

Culturalization. Translation materials use the clients’ visual sense. So, in addition to the language being translated, we must also be sensitive to the target audience’s culture. The translator may come back to you with requests for alternative colors, logos or images, to appeal and adapt to the audience’s cultural sensitivities and preferences. This is an example of culturalization – ensuring the way a piece looks and feels as appealing as the translated text.

Editing. Just like any scholarly work, or written piece of marketing, your translation will undergo editing – or correcting, checking – to ensure that everything linguistic (meaning, words, grammar, punctuation, etc.) is accurate. It should be part of a multi-step process that includes project setup, translating, editing and final proofreading phases, all overseen by a project manager. See also proofreading below.

Interpretation. Think of interpretation as oral translation, the main objective being to orally transfer someone’s meaning from one language into another with the same impact. While a translator works with written words, an interpreter works with anything spoken.

Localization. There are some things – particularly idioms, that are country or culture-specific. Therefore, a translator has to find a consistent way to capture the essence of that phrase without it coming off too trite or missing the mark altogether. In the digital era, the term localization may refer to the process of converting your website, social media and digital presence into one that is more culturally specific to the target audience with respect to language as well as images, banners and color schemes.

Proofreading. Same process as editing (see above) but for anything non-linguistic: formatting, numbers, pictures and graphics, fonts and general appearance of the final translation, etc.

Transcription. Process of writing or typing whatever has been recorded, like a speech, usually with a view to then translate it into another language. This differs from translation and transliteration (see below).

Translation.  Communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text. This differs from interpretation (see above).

Transliteration. The process of converting one type of writing system into another, without translating the words themselves. For example, taking a Russian word written in Cyrillic letters and writing it in Roman letters so that a non-Russian speaker would know how to pronounce the word.