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6 Common Translation Techniques

By Hagen Weiss

Translators have a variety of tools at their disposal when tasked with translating a text. While some text is straightforward to translate, another text requires a deep understanding of the context and some creative thinking to translate well.

Let’s explore some of the most common translation techniques used by professional translators.

Direct Translation Techniques
Direct translation techniques are used when a translator can maintain the structural and conceptual meaning of the original text when translating to the new language.

1. Borrowing
Borrowing occurs when you take the word from the original language and use it in the new language without translating it. For example, words like balcony, piano, opera are borrowed from the Italian language. Likewise, the English language borrows the words lager, quartz, and pretzel from the German language.

2. Calque
This type of translation is a literal word-for-word translation. The translator will essentially take the words or phrases from one language and translate it directly into the other. A popular example is the German word Biergarten, which translates into “Beer Garden.”

3. Literal Translation
Similar to calque in that a literal translation is also a word-for-word translation. It is the process in which a translator will do a straightforward, direct translation. While it may work in some closely-tied languages, it most often does not work for many other types of translations. A word-for-word translation may be too direct and oversimplified, missing the intent of the original text.

Oblique Translation Techniques

When you cannot easily translate the source text without significantly altering the style or grammatical structure of the text, translators use what is known as “oblique translation techniques.”

4. Transposition
Transposition is the reordering of the original sentence in the new translation due to structural differences in grammar rules between the two languages. For example, English and French have different grammatical rules for ordering a noun and an adjective. In English, “purple fish” translates to poisson violet in French – a reversal of the noun and adjective.

5. Modulation
This technique is used when the translator takes the source text and changes the point of view while still keeping the same meaning to make it more comprehensible for the target reader. An example of this would be translating the English phrase “It is not difficult to show…” into Es fácil de demostrar (i.e. “It’s easy to prove”). The modulated translation makes it easier for the reader to understand compared to the literal translation.

6. Reformulation
Reformulation occurs when you completely change the translation to maintain the same meaning. Translators use this frequently when translating jokes, puns, idioms, and proverbs.

Other Oblique Translation Techniques

● Adaptation – finding a cultural equivalent for a phrase or word
● Compensation – when a language is unable to reproduce an equivalent substitute for a word, the translator must compensate by providing further references

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High-quality translations are tough to get right due to the various cultural and linguistic nuances. At iGlobe, we have a team of professional language translators with years of experience in the translation & localization industry.

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