Lost in translation? Common terms used by translation agencies

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 »  Articles Overview  »  Business of Translation and Interpreting  »  Lost in translation? Common terms used by translation agencies

Lost in translation? Common terms used by translation agencies

By kwint | Published  08/6/2008 | Business of Translation and Interpreting | Recommendation:
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Quicklink: http://esl.proz.com/doc/1957
Common terms used by Translation Agencies

Below are some of the more common terms used by translation agencies:


An adaptation differs from a translation in that it seeks to capture the essence, meaning and message of an original text without being literal. The result is not a literal translation but nevertheless conveys the original meaning.

Background information

Sometimes a translator will need some background information on a text to allow them to provide an accurate translation. This information will provide extra facts about the subject matter, the context, the audience and the terminology.

Calculation of text volume

All translation agencies need to calculate the text volume or "word count". This helps with pricing, determining turnaround times and the number of translators needed to complete the translation.

Not all companies or countries use the same method of calculation. In the UK most translation agencies will calculate the text volume using the source word count. However, in countries such as Germany and France translation agencies work on the number of characters or lines.

Certified translation

A certified translation is where a translation agency or freelance translator carry out a piece of translation work then certify to the fact that they carried out the work in the form of an accompanying certificate or signature. Certified translations are usually necessary for official documents.


A term sometimes used to class Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.

CAT - Computer assisted translation

Not all translations are carried out by human translators. Due to advances in technology computer software can now carry out or assist with translations. CAT indicates the use of such software with the translator. These tools are commonly used to manage both the specific terminology linked to the field in question plus the translation memories.


Copywriting refers to the writing of text that will be used on brochures, websites, publicity copy and the like. Such copy does not always translate well as it is usually written for a specific country. It is always best to have copy for foreign countries written by experts from the country.


Deadlines: always too short for the translator/translation agency and always too long for the client. Deadlines simply refer to the point in time a translation becomes due to hand over to the client. Most translators prefer to translate around 1500 words per day. This allows them good time for research and checking.

Clients should always be aware of what is realistic. Coming to a translation agency with 70,000 words for completion in 24 hours is simply impossible. One should always think ahead if the translation of a text is necessary.

DTP - Desktop publishing

DTP or multilingual DTP is offered by some translation agencies. This is where a DTP expert can use foreign fonts for things such as typesetting, creation of image files, brochures, company reports, etc. In short, multilingual DTP is using foreign languages for artwork.

Free translation

The term "free translation" is the most typed in search term for search engines such as Google. A free translation is carried out by software that applies a literal translation of any text typed into it. Most of the time it produces gobbledygook but can on occasions provide the gist of a sentence of two.

Freelance translator

Most translation agencies use freelance translators. A freelancer acts as an independent entity and is not considered an employee. However, many translation agencies build good relationships with their freelance staff to the point where the solely work for that agency.


On occasions due to time constraints clients may ask for a gist translation. This is where the translator will provide a rough outline of the meaning and contents of a text so that the most salient points can be understood. A gist translation can be less expensive and less time-consuming.


A glossary is a specialised, single-language dictionary used by translators working on difficult text with specific terminology. It includes a term and its definition in the target language. For very specialised texts clients are sometimes asked to provide a glossary to ensure the translation meets their needs.

Hard copy

Hard copy refers to the source format of a document that needs translation. Hard copies are usually on paper such as faxes, letters and brochures. Hard copies are more difficult to work with for both translation agencies and translators. The agency can not calculate the source word count and the translator can not write over the source text.

Human translators

Human translators are, well, humans! This term is used to differentiate between a real person carrying out a translation and a computer.

Legal translation

Legal translations can be complex due to their importance as documents and the actual terminology used. For this reason legal translations, such as Italian legal translations, are charged at a premium as it involves using translators with specialised knowledge and possibly research.

Literal translation

A literal translation simply provides a word for word translation of the original text. It ignores things such as humour, sayings, puns, etc and as a result comes across stiff and unnatural. A literal translation is avoided at all costs.


A translator should only ever translate in their mother-tongue, i.e. their native language. This will be the language they grew up speaking and know "naturally". It is of course possible to have translators with more than one mother-tongue due to parents from different countries or growing up in a foreign country.


Proofreading refers to the revision, checking and editing of a translated text. After a translation is complete usually a second translator will read through the document and compare it against the original. In addition to checking the quality of the translation they also check for spelling, grammar and syntax.

Source word count

In translation a translation agency will usually charge per source word. Therefore prior to quoting a source word count is taken. When a source word count is impossible, i.e. on hard copies, the target word count is usually used instead.

Target word count

As opposed to "source word count" (see above) the term "target word count" is the number of words in a translated document. For example, if a client needs a Danish document translated into English and a source word count was not possible, they will be charged according to the number of English words in the final product.

Technical translation

A technical translation refers to the need for specialist translators due to the use of uncommon vocabulary in a text. Topics such as medicine, finance, law, engineering, software, manuals, etc would all be considered as technical.

Translation agency

A translation agency provides translation services. They will oversee translation projects for clients ensuring they are carried out and delivered on time. Some translation agencies may also provide interpreters, multilingual DTP and other language related services such as multilingual website design.


A translator converts the written text of one language into another. They only deal with written media. Vocal translations are carried out by interpreters.

Originally published by Kwintessential Ltd, a UK provider of translation services and multilingual business soluctions.

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