Interpretation vs. Translation—Translation Techniques

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In August, I discussed the interpretation modes, process, and scope. Click here to read part one regarding the interpretation process. In this September article, I will focus on translation. Translation is a reproduction of written content in written form from the source (language of origin) into the target language (language of destination). Translation cannot be performed in real time or verbally.

The translation process is carried out by a translator using required the tools, which range from a computer, reference resources, and software. It bounces between two main factors, which are language and culture. There must complete congruence between these two concepts for the translation to be acceptable.  

In the translation industry, the evolution of technology has allowed for the invention of technological tools that translators can utilize to speed the timescales, but they are handled by humans. Computers can also perform automatic translations, also known as “machine translation”.

Machine translation cannot be relied on in terms of quality since the computer doesn’t speak any language. If used, automatic translation needs to be handled by an experienced translator professional who will perform additional steps. Language professionals and clients who focus on quality do not prefer this option.

One of the most popular steps performed on top of machine translation is post-editing, also sometimes called machine translation post-editing (MTPE). To achieve the desired results, MTPE can be performed multiple times as needed until the final translation is accurate and error-free. Click here to read more about our MTPE process.   

For more information about the translation process, please refer to my May article about 8 fundamental steps to successfully carry our translations (and localizations) up to the final version in ascending order.

For translation to be efficient, the translator does not simply reproduce words from the source to the target language. There are quite a few translation techniques that vary based on the language content, intended audience, and the intended use of the translation.

This may sound confusing since translation is a reproduction of a given text in written form, but the reason being is that translation must flow naturally and read like the original text. Otherwise, it would not make sense to a native speaker of the target language.

For example, word for word translation sounds quite diluted and awkward. In the language industry, it is known as “literal”, or simply “word for word” translation. A good example of this would be machine translation. A computer translates individual words without considering lexical, syntactic, and semantic nuances.

Consider the following translation techniques:


Adaptation as a translation technique is resorted to if there is no lexical equivalence in the target language. It is a widely used technique, especially while translating into rare language whose terminology is limited.

This may require adapting foreign texts to accommodate new concepts in the target language. Even though it is critiqued for its limitedness in terms of how much meaning it really carries, adaptation is widely accepted as a way of rendering the language that would otherwise have no equivalence whatsoever.

In contrasting translation and adaptation, some language professionals define adaptation as a set of translative operations that result in a text that is not generally accepted as a translation but is nevertheless traced to a source text”.

According to this definition, adaptation is a text resulting from translative operation, but cannot be called a translation because of its overall distortion, falsification of the source text and deviation from literality in such a way that the resulting text is so globally distant from the source text. Click here to read more about the concept of adaptation.

Based on the nature of its rationale, professional translators differentiate between local adaptation and global adaptation. Local adaptation applies to concepts that are limited to the local culture and geographical location, while the global adaptation technique refers to concepts that are intended for the global audience.


As mentioned above, the translation process is not about merely changing words in a different language. The modulation technique, therefore, is used to convey the same meaning in the target language by introducing a semantic change. The translator uses this technique to avoid word for word translation. This makes the final product sound original to the target people in their original language.    

Modulation cares more about the cultural meaning as opposed to lexical meaning. Using this technique helps to come up with coherent and culturally acceptable concepts in the target language. Cambridge Dictionary defines modulation as “a change in the style […]”, or “a small change that happens in response to something or is intended to achieve an effect”.

Literal translation:

In some cases, literal translation is acceptable if the source and the target languages are semantically and structurally close. As long as the translation will retain the style and produce the desired meaning, the translator can translate word for word. This, of course, depends on whether the two languages are bound by a syntactic and semantic relationship.

Even though the word for word translation technique (also called calque) is sometimes used synonymously with literal translation, it is a different technique that focuses on choosing words or expressions on purpose to translate the source language by keeping the original style.


Equivalence is used to convey concepts that don’t have equivalents in the target language. In this case, the translator employs this technique to render the same meaning as the original using a different expression. Equivalence is commonly used to translate popular adages and literary writings which wouldn’t otherwise be accurately translatable.

The process of equivalence changes the entire meaning and crates a completely different idea in the target language. Somebody who doesn’t understand the original language wouldn’t necessarily know anything else than what they are told by the translator.

Equivalence in meaning is critiqued by some language experts because it alters the original meaning. Umberto Eco says that “equivalence in meaning cannot be taken as a satisfactory criterion for a correct translation”. This is because equivalence relies on synonymy, whereas it is commonly accepted that there are no complete synonyms in language (see Experiences in Translation, 2001, page 9).


This technique alters the grammatical structure of a phrase or sentence without changing its meaning. In this style, the words in the source language would have different positions in the target language. The equivalent concepts are moved at the beginning, in the middle, or the end of a sentence to make the translation as idiomatic as possible.

The transposition technique is known for its idiomacy. In other words, translators who utilize transposition are highly knowledgeable and produce idiomatic translations. This technique is commonly used in world languages such as English, French, and others that have enough terminology and therefore can have semantic similarities but employ different grammatical categories.


Lexical borrowing is taking words or expressions from one language and using them in a different language without translating them. The purpose of borrowing can vary. However, the most common reason for borrowing is the lack of lexical equivalence in the target language, which necessitates borrowing terminology.

There are many foreign concepts in the English language that were borrowed from other languages. For example, cliché, post scriptum (p.s.), curriculum vitae (CV), and et cetera (etc.). To remain faithful to the source language (since there are no complete synonyms in language), professional translators prefer using this technique to avoid losing the original meaning of the words or expressions. Sometimes the borrowing technique is used to create a stylistic effect.

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4 thoughts on “Interpretation vs. Translation—Translation Techniques”

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    Certified Translation Services USA

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