Translation Techniques You Need to Know

Translation involves understanding the original text's meaning and expressing it in another language without altering its intended message.

To achieve this, it's crucial to be aware of various translation techniques. The choice of technique depends on factors like the content's nature and purpose. Skilled translators employ these techniques to ensure a faithful rendition of the author's message.

Professional translators can guide you in selecting the most appropriate technique for your content, ensuring the preservation of its original meaning.

Most relevant translation techniques

Literal translation

Literal, or word-for-word translation, is often used when two languages have formal and semantic similarities. It assumes an exact equivalence between different words.

In reality, this type of translation is rarely used because very few words have a unique translation in a single language. This is the case with concrete objects, such as "cat" / "chat" or "window" / "fenêtre", in the French-English combination, or with words that express feelings or abstract and intangible concepts, such as "amour" / "love" or "mort" / "death".

Semantic loan

Semantic loan (also referred to as borrowing), a translation technique, involves incorporating a word or phrase from the source text into the target text. In the translated text, these borrowed terms are typically presented in italics. The goal is to faithfully reproduce an expression from the source text in the target text.

In essence, this technique avoids translating expressions or names deeply rooted in the cultural heritage of the original language. Often, terms referring to national concepts without direct equivalents in the target culture are retained in the original language and italicized. For instance, terms like "tacos" or "fashion week" might be handled this way.

Notably, some experts, such as García Yebra, recommend minimizing the use of this technique. Alternatively, when the context isn't sufficient for understanding, they suggest clarifying the meaning of the borrowed term. Nevertheless, it's worth mentioning that in many texts, this technique is employed to add local nuances to the translation.

The Calque technique (Loan Translation)

The calque (layer) technique involves a literal translation of all the components within a phrase or syntagm to prevent xenisms (foreignisms) or semantic borrowings. Essentially, it's a form of borrowing that retains the structure of the source language's syntagm while translating its individual elements. For instance, consider the translation of "skyscraper" to "grate-ciel."

To better understand this, let's take the example of the word "rosbif." It helps distinguish between semantic borrowings, adapted xenisms, and tracings. When "rosbif" is preserved in its English form as "roast beef," it represents a pure xenism. When adapted as "roasbif," it becomes a borrowing. Lastly, when fully modeled in French, the term transforms into "roasted beef."

This technique allows for a nuanced approach to translation, selecting the level of adaptation to best suit the context and the target language.


The process of transposition involves altering the grammatical category of part of a sentence while preserving the message's intended meaning. In essence, this technique entails modifying the sentence's grammatical structure. For instance, consider the sentence "Two hundred years ago," which is translated into French as "There are two hundred years." In this case, we transition from using an adverb to using a verb, showcasing the transformation that occurs during transposition.


Modulation in translation refers to the adjustment of the conceptual foundation of a term. In simpler terms, it involves changing the viewpoint or perspective while keeping the original meaning intact. This process operates on a higher, more abstract level and entails adopting a different metaphorical starting point. For example, consider the term "Health insurance," which is translated into French as "assurance maladie" (which literally means sickness insurance). In this case, the viewpoint has shifted, but the core meaning remains unchanged.


In translation, equivalence involves attempting to convey the same situation or meaning using entirely different stylistic and formal means. It's commonly used in translating sayings or proverbs that are culturally specific. For example, in French, the British saying "it's raining cats and dogs" is often rendered as "it's raining cords." This technique ensures that the essence of the expression is maintained, even though the literal words change.


This technique, also known as cultural substitution or cultural equivalence, where a cultural element from the source language is replaced with one more suited to the culture of the target language. For instance, consider the cultural practice of tea: while the English may say they're "staying for tea," in France, it's more common to say they're "going to have a coffee" instead. Another example would be the American phrase "tailgate party," which refers to a social gathering in the parking lot of a sports event, typically involving food, drinks, and camaraderie. In a different cultural context, such as in parts of Europe where this tradition is less common, a translator might adapt it to something like a "pre-game picnic" or "pre-match gathering", therefore ensuring that the translation aligns with the cultural context of the target audience.


Compensation as a translation technique designates a solution chosen by the translator, in which a word is selected in the target language that may not be an exact match for the source language word but is conceptually close. It's essential to maintain the original word's meaning to the extent possible. Note that bilingual dictionaries may sometimes list words as synonyms that aren't always interchangeable in every context.

Consider the English idiom "costs an arm and a leg," which means something is very expensive. When translating this into French, a literal translation wouldn't capture the idiom's essence. Instead, a translator might use the French expression "coûte les yeux de la tête," which literally means "costs the eyes from the head." This adaptation conveys the idea of something being extremely expensive in French, even though it uses different body parts as a reference. This example showcases how compensation can be applied to idiomatic expressions to ensure the message remains clear in the target language

Learn more about technical translation solutions

Is a translation method the same thing as a translation technique?

No, in the field of translation, a method and a technique are distinct concepts. A translation method applies to the entire text being translated, while various translation techniques can be employed within the same text, depending on specific cases and linguistic elements that need translation.

What are the most used translation methods?

  1. Communicative Translation : This method, also know as Interpretative translation, aims to preserve the purpose of the source text, ensuring that the translated text has the same impact on the reader as the original.
  2. Literal Translation: This approach involves reproducing the linguistic structure of the source language as-is, meticulously translating its linguistic components word for word, phrase by phrase, or sentence by sentence.
  3. Free Translation: Here, the translator diverges from the structure of the original text to convey the author's message more freely.
  4. Faithful Translation: This method is a scholarly and critical form of translation often employed for literary or documentary purposes. It emphasizes precision and faithfulness to the source text.

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