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Translation is the act or process of rendering the meaning of a written text from a source language into a written text in the target language. An accurate translation requires complete understanding of the original text on the part of the translator. “Translation” is not to be confused with “Interpretation”, which involves the oral rendering of a message in a source language into a target language. A translator works with written words, unlike an interpreter, who works with spoken words. Thus, the frequently used phrase "speaking through a translator" contradicts itself, as translators work in writing.

There are common Common misconceptions about translation.

Literal translation

Literal translation, or direct translation, is the rendering of text from one language to another "word-for-word" (Latin: "verbum pro verbo") rather than conveying the sense of the original. (This distinction is valid only when a literal translation does not accurately convey the sense, which is not invariably true.)

Human translation

Human translation is the one carried out by a human translator.

Machine translation (MT)

Machine translation (MT) is a process whereby a computer program analyzes a source text and, in principle, produces a target text without human intervention. In reality, however, machine translation typically does involve human intervention, in the form of pre-editing and post-editing. MT uses terminology glossaries and advanced grammatical, syntactic and semantic analysis techniques.

Machine-aided translation (MAT)

Computer technology applications that assist in the translation of text from one spoken language to another, based on the concept of translation memory and the reuse of previously translated terms and sentences.


Localization (L10N) is the process of adapting a product or software to a specific language or culture so that it seems natural to that particular region. True localization considers language, culture, customs and the characteristics of the target locale. It frequently involves changes to the software's writing system and may change keyboard use and fonts as well as date, time and monetary formats. "L10N" is the common abbreviation for "localization", the 10 refers to the ten letters between the "l" and the "n".

Among other things, the localization of a written text involves:

  • Adapting the language by creating a linguistic equivalent (not a literal translation)
  • Assessing color for cultural implications
  • Changing telephone number formats
  • Changing time/date/measurements to reflect that culture's counting system
  • Assessing and changing any icons or graphics that will not make sense in the target culture.

Software Localization

It is a sub-specialty within the translation and localization industry. It comprises the process of translating software user interfaces from one language into another. Software localization involves both bilingual software developers and document translators specialized in information technology, since the software's user interface, help files, readme files, screen shots and incidental files (such as warranty information and packaging) must all be translated. Software localization is an enormous industry in its own right.


How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, Corinne McKay, ed., 2006, pp. 27.

Multilingual, 2011 Resource Directory & Index 2010, pp. 62.

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