Open Translation Tools


When we use the term "translation" in everyday speech, we typically mean that content in one language is rendered in another so that speakers of the second language can understand it. This usage is quite broad and covers everything from real-time interpretation of the spoken word to translation of a novel for publication in another language.

Translators strive for faithfulness and transparency as their ideals in translation.  Faithfulness refers to how accurately the translation represents the meaning of the original text, while transparency is a measure of how readable the text is in the target language.  These two aspects are often at odds with one another leading to the concept of equivalence.

Functional (or dynamic) equivalence refers to a translation that aims to represent a concept well in the target language, adapting idioms and structure to the target language.  Formal (literal or direct translation) equivalence refers to a translation that faithfully follows the sentence structure and idioms.  These translations would be difficult to read and idioms will lose meaning.  Most often a translation is a balance of these aspects.

Indeed it very much depends on what you are translating to understand how far you can go in terms of "simply changing" things in whatever direction you wish. When translating a blog entry it is essential to transmit the same "feeling" of the original text. Dealing with different cultures one might need to go so far to completely change the text in some of its passages. When the original text instead is about facts freedom in expression becomes much less and you have to keep your text much more aligned to the original one. In extreme cases this might go so far that you may not translate a concept but leave it in its original language adding an explanatory translation in brackets, simply because what you have in front of you cannot be transmitted properly into another language without explaining it. Some contexts require to "force" the target language by trying to maintain the sentence structure as similar as possible to the original or by being limited in the length of text. The last case is mainly to be found in software strings, becoming less and less relevant for computer software but being still higly relevant for PLC messages in the machinery sector.

While equivalence is important to understand when planning for translation it is worth understanding that recent trends have questioned the idea of equivalence.  Instead the idea of the purpose of a translation is now often a consideration.  This is best seen in the development of a translation brief which is a document that specifies the purpose of the translation, the target audience, the reference resource, etc.

The translation brief or purpose of a translation allows translators to do things such as:

  • summarisation - when the reader only wants to know what the general topic of discussion is about this is a good approach.  For instance getting a summary of a Russian maths paper to see what is being considered you don't need a full translation.
  • correction - correcting grammar, logic, etc.
  • synopsis - a brief intro to the idea being discussed without the full coverage of a summary,

Of course many of the above concepts can introduce translator bias.  Of course all translations can introduce bias from the translator, even though they strive to remain neutral.  Understanding your bias is important when trying to prevent your bias from entering a work.

One aspect used to check translation quality is back-translation.  By using this technique a translator will translate the target text back into the source language so that a client can review that the sense of the translation has remained mostly unchanged. This is used extensively in medical translation and like for the medical domain it is a useful strategy to apply in many other domains in terms of quality assurance and monitoring bias.

The traditional view is that translators should translate into their native language.  The logic is that this is the language in which you have best access to idioms and expressions that you can transfer the source text into.  When the language is foreign, even when well understood, it is likely that you will not have the same depth of understanding.

Translators play a very important role in society.  They act as a bridge between cultures and langauges.  They bring new words and new concepts into their languages and culture.  It is said that the close alignment and ease of transference between European languages has been achieved through a strong history of translation that has allowed many words and concepts to be shared over the ages.

Code mixing, that is when a person uses many concepts or words from various languages, is one of the aspects that is evident in spoken language but also can influence translations.  Therefore in such cases, during the translation process it is important to stay aligned to the target language.