What are the main translation methods and techniques? - Into23


What are the main translation methods and techniques?

The process of translation may seem like a mere exchange of words and phrases from one language to another but as any quality freelance translator will tell you, there is a lot more to it than that. A good translator will use a variety of translation techniques and methods depending on the language it’s being translated into and the target market it’s aiming to reach.

Translation’s beginnings

The Gilgamesh on a partially broken tablet

A section of ‘The Gilgamesh’ on a partially broken tablet – Wikimedia

In history, the translation of writing goes back as far as the Mesopotamian era and is believed to have started with the epic Sumerian poem, The Gilgamesh, which was translated into a variety of Asian languages around the second millennium BC. The need for translation began to increase with the development of religious texts and theories. The word translation is derived from a Latin term that means “to bring or carry across”. The word metaphrasis in Ancient Greek, which means “to speak across” created the word metaphrase which was the first term for a “word-to-word” translation. As translation and translation studies became more common, defined techniques and methods took form. 

Translation methods and techniques

Vinay and Darbelnet Translation Technique

Vinay and Darbelnet – Time Toast

J.P. Vinay and J.Darbelnet were pioneers of translation studies as they created and published formalised translation procedures in 1958 with their book titled, Comparative Stylistics of French and English: A Methodology for Translation. It was one of the first times translation methods had been categorised and since it has become the basis of technique for modern multilingual translation services

Vinay and Darbelnet’s methods and techniques

While a translation method can be applied to an entire translated text, translation techniques and types of translation vary based on what elements will be translated. Vinay and Darbelnet detailed seven different techniques within two methods of translation.

Direct or literal translation method

This method is used when similar concepts and structures of the source language can be used in the translated language. Languages need to be similar in a variety of ways for these techniques to work as these types of translation techniques are not able to capture a lot of nuances found in language.

Borrowing technique  is a technique that involves borrowing a word from one language and using it in another. So the translator will make the conscious choice to retain a word while translating the rest of the sentence. You’ll often see this with English as the English language tends to borrow many words from other languages. While not explicitly a translation technique it is common with globally familiar words. 

Borrowing examples: sombrero, café, kimono, hamburger, kimchi

Calque technique  Many words don’t translate well into other languages, the calque technique is used by translators in this instance. A translator will coin and come up with a new word or term in the translated language. 

Calque examples: gratte-ciel in French is a calque of ‘skyscraper’.  An ‘Adam’s apple’ is calque of the French phase pomme d’Adam. Beer garden is a calque of the German biergarten

Literal translation technique – This technique is the most straightforward in that each word is translated directly. This is generally ineffective for languages that are not closely related and is generally only used with select legal or corporate translation.

Indirect or Oblique translation method

This method is most often used when languages and cultures are substantially different, such as English to Chinese translation. This method will usually change the structural or conceptual elements of the text to preserve its meaning.

Transposition – This technique involves a shift from one grammatical structure to another, usually with languages that have different grammar structures. 

Transposition example: Rendering a French noun with an English verb, Je l’ai vu avant la rentrée can be directly translated to English as  “I saw her before school started”, this changes the noun la rentrée into a verb.

Modulation – The modulation technique is extremely common in marketing when localizing into a new market. Modulation changes and adjusts the original text completely but it preserves the same meaning and patterns so that it is recognisable in target translated language. 

Modulation examples: Lebensgefahr in German means danger to life, whereas in English we would say “danger of death”. A literal translation of this phrase from English to German would sound odd and confusing to a German person. Another example is how French speakers refer to the top floor of a building as dernier étage which translates as “last stage” in English. A literal translation of this phrase from French to English would baffle many prospective English apartment buyers and renters.

Equivalence/reformulation  – Similar to modulation and also an essential technique for any localization strategy, this technique preserves the meaning of an expression or proverb by using something equivalent in the translated language. 

Equivalence/reformulation examples: The English phrase “It’s pouring,” which refers to a downpour of rain doesn’t translate into German but the meaning can be altered to give the same effect, es regnet in Strömen (It rains in streams).

Adaptive – This technique is a sort of cultural substitution or equivalent in that one cultural element is replaced with one that will be better suited and understood in the language and region it’s being translated to. 

Adaptive examples: Baseball or NFL football in the US 🡪Football in England

Choosing the best translation technique 

Out of these basic and common techniques, how do you know what translation tools, translation techniques or methods are the best for your business or localization strategy? Every business, strategy and approach is different so the best way to get a return on your investment is to use certified translation services. Quality translators will assess your documents, software, website, eLearning platform or eCommerce software to ensure that your business successfully reaches your target market and audience. 

Into23 offers high quality translation services in any language your business needs. Contact us today for a free quote so we can help your business enter new global markets and enterprises.

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