The Translation Terminology Cheatsheet for New Translators and Interpreters: 54 Vocabulary Definitions To Get You Started in Translation

I get what it’s like to be a new translator.

I started translating in 1995 while I was living in Ecuador without any knowledge of the translation industry or what it meant to be a translator.

Fast forward a couple of years and I was in college in the middle of my translation studies program and I was the only one in the program who was doing in-house translation part-time while also doing freelance work on the side.

I don’t say this to brag. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Even though I was translating a ton for money, I still really had no idea about the industry, how it worked, how to get paid, translation memory, or a host of other things that beginning translators seem to know now.

I had no guidepost
to move me ahead in
the translation world.

Which is why I eventually started this site.

I wanted to make it easier for other translators who came after me to find the information they needed without having to make the same mistakes I did and take as long as I did to make their translation business financially viable.

One of the things that really helped me not feel like such a noobie when it came to the translation industry was a basic understanding of the terms involved in the field.

If this is you, I’ve got the solution for you right here.

54 Vocabulary Definitions That Will Get You Started in Translation

  1. A Language refers to what is commonly referred to as someone’s native or mother tongue. It is the language which a person has complete mastery and competence on a multitude of levels, including cultural, linguistics, etc. Not everyone has an A Language, in fact. Some people who are raised bilingual might not have complete mastery of a single language. In this case, their two languages could be considered B Languages.
  2. B Language refers to a second language spoken or used by an interpreter or translator that is extremely close to near native-like fluency of the A Language. Some people say that the user’s ability in a B Language should be within 5 to 10% of the native fluency in an A Language, including almost having no accent seepage from the A Language into the B Language.
  3. C Language refers to a passive language for an interpreter or translator. While the A Language and B Language are active languages, the C Language is a language that the translator or interpreter understands completely but does not work into that language. However, the translator can work from that language into an or B Language.
  4. Accreditation is often used in place of or alongside certificationAccreditation is merely a way for an organization to vet the translation skills of a translators. The American Translator’s Association in the United States used to offer accreditation but has since changed their terminology to certification instead. The organization probably made the switch because certification is a more widely-used term.
  5. Ad hoc Interpretation is exactly what it sounds like: interpretation that is done on the spot without any prior preparation for the interpretation activity. This interpretation is usually done by a person with no prior training in interpretation and can sometimes lead to misunderstandings and errors. Ad hoc interpreting can often take place in hospitals with family members or staff members being asked to provide interpretation services for the medical personnel and patient in question.
  6. Alignment is a term used in terminology management and translation memory tools. Alignment takes place when a translated text is plugged into a translation memory tool and the translated segments are matched up with their source language counterparts. These segments can then be reused by the translator in future translations, speeding up the translation process.
  7. Back Translation is when a translated unit gets translated back into the source language. For example, a sentence or paragraph might get translated from English to Spanish. A back translation would occur if that segment were then translated back into English. Back translations are an interesting exercise to perform, especially in a translation training setting to see how individual translators’ cultural and linguistic experiences can affect their translations. I did this exercise multiple times in school with hilarious results.
  8. Bilingual is such a loaded term that I hesitate to even put it on here. For most interpreters (and probably translators, as well) a true bilingual person is fairly rare because a true bilingual speaker needs to have mastered both languages at an A Language level with its accompanying cultural, linguistic, historical, and phonetic insights. However, for people outside of the interpretation and translation community, bilingual often refers to the just the ability (however small or great) to speak two languages.
  9. CAT (Computer-Assisted Translation) is also sometimes referred to as computer-aided translation and refers to the broad idea of using a computer to assist in the translation process. This could be through the use of terminology management, translation memory, alignment, and the like.
  10. Certified Translation is a term that can mean different things depending on where you’re from, what country you’re translating in, and the target country of your translation. If you’re a U.S.-based translator, a certified translation is often one that is merely notarized. A notary certifies that you are the person who performed the translation. In other countries, a certified translation is one that might mean some established criteria for a certain standard.
  11. Cognates are words in different languages that have the same linguistic heritage. For example, the Spanish word “promesa” and the English word “promise” are cognates. False cognates are an easy way for beginning language learners to screw up when learning or maintaining a second language. “Embarazado” in Spanish does not mean “embarrassed,” for example.
  12. Concordance is like an index in the back of the book but more granular. It consists of an alphabetical list of the major words in a body of work. Concordances are important in translation but now don’t have to be managed by hand for translators translating a lengthy body of work. Plenty of software is available that will do that for you.
  13. Conference Interpreting is obviously a type of interpreting that tends to take place in conference-like settings. It can take the form of either simultaneous interpreting or consecutive interpreting.
  14. Consecutive Interpreting is a type of interpreting where the speaker of the source language says a phrase, sentence, paragraph, or some length of utterance, and then stops to allow the interpreter to repeat in the target language what was said. Sometimes it’s used in a conference-like setting, but it can also be used in more intimate settings such as meetings and visits.
  15. Content Management Systems (CMS) are used by a ton of organizations as a way to maintain a central repository of the company’s content. This content can then be accessed easily to reuse on different mediums and across various sources. It makes translation much easier (and cheaper) for the company, because instead of paying a translator to translate the same thing multiple times, the company can pay the translator once and then reuse that translated content in multiple places.
  16. Corpora are just a collection or body of writing. They are used extensively in linguistic studies and research for a wide variety of activities.
  17. Crowdsourcing is a relatively new term that wasn’t around when I started translating. It basically means enlisting the help of a group of individuals (either paid or volunteer) to accomplish a task, which in our case would be translating. Crowdsourcing works (sometimes) if you have a large user base that is passionate enough about what you’re doing to make it available in their native language. Even then, though, crowdsourcing doesn’t always solve the problem of translating massive amounts of material. Sometimes, though, crowdsourcing translation work isn’t necessarily about the translating; it’s more about engaging users.
  18. Desktop Publishing is not a new term, unlike crowdsourcing. It’s so old it’s hardly even used anymore. When I first started translating, it really was just a fancy term for formatting. You would finish a translation but then be asked to perform desktop publishing on the translation which meant that you would just make it look nice so that it looked good when it was printed.
  19. Dialects are specific forms of language that can vary due to geographical or social differences. These forms can be different grammatically, semantically, morphologically, etc. or through a combination of differences.
  20. Equivalence is really what the act of translation is all about. First, figuring out what exactly the source language text means. Second, rendering that meaning into an equivalent text in the target language that retains as much of the meaning as was embedded in the source language. There are whole books written about the theory of translation equivalence. They all make me fall asleep.
  21. Full Match or exact match is a term used in translation memory that defines how much a target language already-translated translation segment matches up with a corresponding segment in the source language. A full or exact match means that the whole segment matches up. For example, a sentence in the source language matches up exactly with a sentence in the translation memory that has already been translated.
  22. Fuzzy Match, as opposed to an exact match, only matches partially with the segment located in the translation memory.
  23. Gist Translations are exactly what they sound like — translations that aren’t a 100% transfer of thoughts and ideas and nuances from one language to another. Instead, a gist translation is simply one that encompasses the overall meaning, or gist, of the source text. These are often done when a client wants to know what the text is about, but isn’t sure he wants to spend the money or time to have the whole thing translated.
  24. Globalization is a relatively new buzzword when it comes to translation and refers to the general idea of adapting a translation (or a text) to suit the needs of a global audience
  25. Glossaries are a set of terms in a source and target language that are usually accompanied by a short definition of each term. In my mind, the thing that sets dictionaries and glossaries apart from each other is that glossaries tend to be specialized dictionaries containing words and definitions from a specific topic or field.
  26. Idiomatic Translations are those that try to convey the overall meaning of a source language text, even if that means sacrificing some of the literal meanings associated with the source language version. Different translation jobs require different levels of idiomatic translations and it’s important to talk with the client to know what level is needed.
  27. In-house Translator is a translator that works for a specific company as a full-time regular employee translating and performing translation-related tasks. Most translators work as freelance translators, but there are a number of in-house translator positions that open up in the marketplace from time to time.
  28. Internationalization is the process of preparing a text or source document to facilitate its translation and localization.
  29. Interpretation is rendering spoken source language into spoken target language through spoken words or signs.
  30. Language Combination in translation is languages that a translator or interpreter works. For example, my language combination is Spanish to English because those are the two languages that I work. Other translators and interpreters can have three or more language combinations, depending on their skill level with those languages.
  31. Language of Habitual Use is the language that you use most often. It might be your native language but that isn’t always the case. Someone having been born in Mexico and grown up speaking Spanish might feel more comfortable using English after having lived in the United States for 20 years.
  32. Language Pair is similar to language combination.
  33. Language Service Provider (LSP) is a fancy name for an individual or organization that provides professional language services to clients. This could include services like translation, interpretation, content search engine optimization (SEO), or any number of other services.
  34. Literal Translation is opposite of an idiomatic translation in that the translation is done word-by-word without worrying about the meaning of the text as a whole.
  35. Localization is the processing of rendering a text or source language in a way to meet the needs of a certain language or culture. Localization is a huge component of the translation industry and anyone interested in becoming a freelance translator should understand more about localization.
  36. Mother Tongue is somewhat of a loaded term to some people but for most, a mother tongue is the language that a person has grown up speaking. For some, this could be more than one language.
  37. Native Language is for the most part the same as mother tongue.
  38. Notarized Translation is often used in the United States to certify that the translation was done by a specific person. The notary can’t necessarily attest to the veracity or fidelity of a translation; instead, the notary can certify that the person who did the translation is who he says he is.
  39. Parallel Text are often used in linguistic statistical studies or computational linguistics. It consists of a text that has been translated. Both texts can then be put side by side as parallel text.
  40. Project Manager is the person at a translation agency that usually manages one or more translation projects.
  41. Proofreading is the process of checking a translation for any errors. Some translators offer proofreading services in addition to translation services as a way to provide more value to customers.
  42. Remote Interpretation is a type of interpreting where the interpreter is not in the same room as the speakers. Remote interpreting can use video conferencing or teleconferencing to accomplish the interpretation.
  43. Sight Translation is a type of hybrid interpretation/translation. The translator will read a piece of source text and then verbalize the translation directly afterwards.
  44. Simultaneous Interpreting occurs when an interpreter is doing the interpreting at near realtime of the speaker speaking in the source language.
  45. Source Language is the language from which an interpreter or translator works.
  46. Sworn Translators are not the norm in the United States. Instead, translators in the U.S. often offer certified or notarized translations. For those countries that have the concept of a sworn translator, it is someone who has gone before a court and has been approved to translate in a certain language combination.
  47. Target Language is the language a translator or interpreter works into.
  48. Terminology is just a set of terms that are used in a project or across multiple translation projects.
  49. Terminology Database is a repository of terminology. Pretty simple.
  50. Terminology Management, then of course, is the process of managing those terms to effectively take advantage of that database in your translation projects.
  51. Transcription is the process of putting oral speech into written form. Many translators also offer transcription services as part of their language portfolio.
  52. Translation Agency is a company that acts almost as a middleman between clients and translators. Translation agencies often have a database of translators who work in different language combinations and can then farm out translation work depending on subject matter expertise and language proficiency.
  53. Translation Memory is basically a database that stores translated text, usually segments that can be words, sentences, or paragraphs. These segments have already been translated so that when a translator runs across those same segments in a translation, the translation can be automatically populated with the translation, which saves the translator time.
  54. Word Count is the main way that translators charge their clients. Translators often charge so much money per word, and then multiply that by the total word count to get a final amount. However, there are some translators that charge by the hour.

5 thoughts on “The Translation Terminology Cheatsheet for New Translators and Interpreters: 54 Vocabulary Definitions To Get You Started in Translation”

  1. ConnieHinesDorothyProvine

    If a man says “estoy embarazado” thinking that he’s saying “I’m embarrassed”, it’s going to sound especially awkward.

    1. That’s for sure. I had a friend do that. Awkward for him. Hilarious for me.

  2. Pingback: Weekly translation favorites (Nov 13-19)

  3. Jessica Martinez

    It is helpful for new and experienced translators. You shared extremely well points from your experience, thanks a lot.

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