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Intro to translation terminology

Interpretation and translation terminology can confuse the layperson. We try to break it down. We do not attempt a glossary, per se, but rather an explanatory piece on some of the concepts fundamental to the translation and interpretation industries. More specifically, this article focuses on those particular terms and ideas that pertain to U.S. Translation Company and its business model.

Translation vs. Interpretation

On a basic level, language services divide into translation services and interpretation services. While both types of language professionals transfer meaning from one language to another, their method of delivery differs. Translators work with written meaning, reproducing it the target language. Interpreters do the same for spoken language, using their voice to transfer meaning from the speaker to the listener.


Transcreation, a portmanteau of translation and creation, involves the transfer of meaning contained in creative content such as poetry and advertising. Because such content relies heavily on puns, culturally-specific metaphor, and insider humor, the transcreator must go deeper than a literal translation (a new cultural context tends to render a literal translation meaningless) to find some sort of cultural equivalent.

Translation memory

Of all terms encountered in translation terminology, translation memory may pop up most frequently. Commonly shortened to its acronym, TM comprises the record of all previous translations of a given text. Translators and quality assurance teams refer to translation memory to ensure consistency across translations.

  • Fuzzy matches: segments of the source text with 75% to 99% fidelity to the equivalent translation memory segment.
  • 100% matches: as the term suggests, segments with total fidelity to the translation memory.
  • 101% matches: despite the oxymoronic nature of the name, 100% matching segments that have other 100% matching segments before and after them. These are also referred to as context matches.
  • Repetitions: the number of times a segment is repeated throughout the source document.


A term of considerable elasticity. One segment usually equals one sentence, though it can be as small as a phrase or a single symbol, or as long as an entire paragraph.

Source text

The original text, the document to be translated.

target text

The target text refers to the translated version of the source text.

term base

A highly client-specific and industry-specific bit of translation terminology, the term base comprises a list of related terms and their translated equivalents.


The epitome of specialized translation terminology: an acronym for translation, editing and proofreading, the workflow triad commonly touted by translation firms as the gold standard of quality assurance.

sworn translator

More common in other countries than in the US, sworn translators are typically required to have a four-year translation degree, plus a certificate in translation from their respective government.

globalization, internationalization, localization

These terms have been traditionally associated with the exporting of software to foreign markets, and grew out of philosophies of agile development. However, the terms increasingly apply to any sort of industry, product or service that extends across national, cultural or linguistic boundaries. The terms themselves share significant overlap, depending on who wields them. The best consensus seems to use globalization as an umbrella term to contain the other two. Globalization, in this context, indicates the overarching effort to customize content for audiences with different languages, cultures, and customs than one’s own. As the first level of the globalization project, internationalization seeks to standardize best practices on a pre-localization organizational level. The final component of the bicameral globalization effort, localization, refers to the adaptation of content into a regionally-appropriate end product, usually through collaboration with local cultural experts and culturally-aware translators.


Acronym for globalization, internationalization, localization and translation.

T9n, L10n, i18n g11n

Shorthand variations of translation, localization, internationalization and globalization, respectively.

machine translation

Translation by a trained computer engine. The engine employs learning algorithms to detect language patterns in input texts. As it processes texts, the engine builds its recognition architecture around syntactic patterns in the text. Subsequently, the engine can apply its training to source texts for translation. For example, if you wanted to use your machine translation engine to translate technical journal publications, you would train it on a variety of such publications to prepare it to understand — if we may use that term loosely — the structures, vocabulary and other nuances specific to such texts.


Gisting involves the use of machine translation to get a basic sense of a text. Often, users employ gisting to determine whether or not they need to send a text to a translator.


A translator specially trained to edit machine translation output (gisting) to bring it to an acceptable quality standard.

post-edited machine translation

PEMT is machine translation that has subsequently been processed by a human post-editor. Also referred to as hybrid translation.

Website translation: filetypes

In the field of website translation, a number of types of computer files come into play.

  • XLIFF (XML Localization Interchange File Format) files are bilingual, and are designed to work with and between all translation systems and tools. XLIFF files are the language services industry standard. They are based on XML that has been standardized for easy passing between various CAT (computer-aided translation) systems.
  • XML (Extensible Markup Language) is a markup language that is human-readable as well as machine-readable. Typically, a webpage will be “packaged” for translation in the XML format.
  • TMX (Translation Memory Exchange) is a file format designed for translation memories and shares much in common with XLIFF. There are also important differences between the two, which are technical enough to place them beyond the scope of this post.

Simultaneous interpretation

The most challenging form of interpretation. A simultaneous interpreter speaks while listening, interpreting a speaker’s words in real time without pause. Conferences, conventions, and other large events prefer simultaneous, in which multiple listeners receive the interpreted words of a single presenter. In such a setting, a translator must talk at the same time as the speaker in order to keep up.

Consecutive interpretation

Arguably easier than simultaneous interpretation, consecutive interpretation allows the speaker to pause after speech blocks. However, consecutive interpretation presents challenges of a different sort than simultaneous interpretation: the interpreter must take mental (or actual) notes while the speaker articulates, and then recreate the speech blocks during the pauses. Consecutive interpretation usually applies to conversational situations in which two interlocutors, speaking different languages, converse.

Technical translation

The translation of written technical communication of any kind (technical interpretation refers to the interpretation of spoken technical communication).

Scientific translation

Closely related to technical translation, scientific translation entails translating scientific texts. As the term would suggest.

Technical communication

Communication, written or verbal, that conveys domain-specific, complex knowledge.