Translation Industry Jargon Every Translator Should Know

As I write, concepts I need to introduce keep popping up and new concepts emerge that need explanation. Knowing all the translation industry jargon is not necessary and most of the terms are self-explanatory. However, some terms need clear understanding to avoid miscommunication on your part. For convenience’ sake, I’ve decided to introduce those terms that every freelance translator should know in one place. However, it is difficult (and not necessary) to enumerate all the terms out there. My list here is not a dictionary but a set of terms intended for reading and studying. For that reason, I divided them into three parts, although they inevitably overlap.



Part 1: Definition of Translation

Translation and interpretation are different. Translation involves converting written text, while interpretation involves converting spoken language. In both cases, sentences are converted from one language into another, but the conditions in which this occurs and the people involved are very different in translation and interpretation. For example, translation occurs on a computer screen, while interpretation occurs on-site with other people. Interpretation via telephone or video call exists too of course, but these still involve listening and speaking on the spot with other people. Thus, on-site presence and immediacy are important in interpretation. Despite these distinct differences, people usually use the term ‘translate’ to include all of these things (umbrella term). However, in the translation industry, the two terms refer to distinct concepts.


Sight translation and transcription involves converting text to speech and speech to text and. On-site presence is important in sight translation. For example, an interpreter will read a patient’s informed consent form (ICF) and verbally provide the information in a different language to the patient at a hospital. Transcription involves, for example, converting recorded interviews in Korean into English text. The four concepts are expressed in a diagram below.





Part 2: Terms Related to Translation Process


Process of converting information into an appropriate format for the target language and culture.

Back translation

Process of translating a previously translated text back into its source language.


In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. An example of cognates within the same language would be English shirt and skirt.

Collaborative translation

Emerging approach to translation in which companies use the elements of crowd-sourcing in a controlled environment for working on large corporate projects in short periods of time.


Measure of how often a term or phrase is rendered the same way into the target language.


Information outside of the actual text that is essential for complete comprehension.

Controlled vocabulary

Standardized terms and phrases that constitute a system’s vocabulary.


The practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers

Cultural adaptation

Adjustment of a translation to conform with the target culture.

Culturally-sensitive translation

Translation that takes into account cultural differences.

Desktop publishing (DTP)

Applications like  to prepare documentation for publication. It’s about using specific software (such as FrameMaker, PageMaker, and QuarkXPress) to combine and rearrange text and images and creating digital files. 


Variety of a language spoken by members of a particular locale and characterized by a unique vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation.


Abbreviation for “do not translate”. List of such phrases and words would include brand names and trademarks.


Area of knowledge that is communicated within a text, translation, or corpus.


Recording or replacement of voices commonly used in motion pictures and videos for which the recorded voices do not belong to the original actors or speakers and are in a different language.

Dynamic content

Data produced in response to changeable, unfixed and retrieved from a database through user requests.


Second level of review in the traditional TEP process.

False friends

False friends are pairs of words or phrases in two languages or dialects (or letters in two alphabets) that look or sound similar, but differ in meaning.


Acronym for globalization, internationalization, localization, and translation.

Gist translation

Use of human or machine translation to create a rough translation of the source text that allows the reader to understand the essence of the text.


Globalization describes the process by which regional economies, societies, and cultures have become integrated through communication, transportation, and trade. Globalization is referred to as a cycle, rather than a single process. I created a post on this term in relation to translation: Localization, Internationalization, and Globalization Projects: Should You Do It? Can You Do It?


Combination of the words ‘global’ and ‘local,’ used to describe products or services intended for international markets and have been customized for different languages, countries, and cultures


A glossary, also known as an idioticon, vocabulary, or clavis, is an alphabetical list of terms in a particular domain of knowledge with the definitions for those terms. A bilingual glossary is a list of terms in one language which are defined in a second language or glossed by synonyms (or at least near-synonyms) in another language. 

In-country review

Evaluation of a translated text by an individual who resides within the country where the target text will be used.


Internationalization is the planning and preparation stages for a product that is built by design to support global markets. This process removes all cultural assumptions and any country- or language-specific content is stored so that it can be easily adapted. If this content is not separated during this phase, it must be fixed during localization, adding time and expense to the project. In extreme cases, products that were not internationalized may not be localizable. See also Globalization above.


Process of rendering oral spoken or signed communication from one language to another, or the output that results from this process.


A document that claims the costs for the translation project to the consumer (agency, end client, etc.) who requested the translation. It must include all the components needed for the payment to be made. I created a post on this: Get Paid!: Creating Translation Invoices.


A homonym is one of a group of words that share the same spelling and the same pronunciation but have different meanings.

Language combination (language pair)

Group of source and target languages used by an interpreter/translator. Also called language pair. To see my language pair, read this post: The English to Korean Translation Market VS. the Korean to English Translation Market.

Language Services Provider (LSP)

An organization or business that supplies language services, such as translation, localization, or interpretation. Commonly abbreviated LSP. I created an e-book that emphasizes considering yourself (a freelance translator) as an LSP: 9 Ear-Opening Tips for Freelance Translators Running Single-Person Enterprises E-Book.

Literal translation

Translation that closely follows the phrasing, order and sentence construction of the source text.


Process of adapting or modifying a product, service, or website for a given language, culture or region. Language localization (from the English term locale, a place where something happens or is set) is the second phase of a larger process of product translation and cultural adaptation (for specific countries, regions, or groups) to account for differences in distinct markets, a process known as internationalization and localization. Language localization is not merely a translation activity, because it involves a comprehensive study of the target culture in order to correctly adapt the product to local needs. Localization often refers to the actual adaptation of the product for a specific market. The localization process is most generally related to the cultural adaptation and translation of software, video games, and websites, and less frequently to any written translation (which may also involve cultural adaptation processes). Localization can be done for regions or countries where people speak different languages, or where the same language is spoken: for instance, different dialects of Spanish, with different idioms, are spoken in Spain than are spoken in Latin America; likewise, word choices and idioms vary among countries where English is the official language (e.g., in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Philippines). See also the above entries of Globalization and Internationalization.

Meaning-for-meaning translation

Translation for which the words used in both languages may not be exact equivalents, but the meaning is the same.


One of the ten most important languages on the web, including Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

Mother tongue/Native language

Native and first learned language of an individual. Read a related post about your mother tongue (What You Really Need to Know to Become a Translator).

Multi-language vendor (MLV)

Language service provider that offers services in multiple language pairs. Abbreviated MLV. Read a related post (How Many Languages Should a Translator Know?).

Plain English

Method of writing English that employs a clear and simple style, usually for the purpose of improving readability. Among its features are using only active verbs (no passive voices) and making sure that each word has only one meaning. This is not only important for creating a source document but also for translation of other languages into English. I created a course geared for this purpose: 10 Simple Yet Powerful English Grammar Lessons for Non-Native Translators E-Course.

Project manager (PM)

PM – Abbreviation for project manager. A PM is an employee of an agency who carries out management and coordination tasks for a given translation project. As a freelance translator, PM is the face of the translation agency you deal with. A PM requests projects, provides source documents and additional information, receives target documents and invoices, and answers translators’ questions directly or asks the client and delivers the information. In another words, a PM manages projects. Read a related post about understanding PMs as your client (Know Your Clients’ Needs).


Abbreviation for price per word. Read a related post about translation rates (Translation Rates: How to Set Them Initially, When and How to Raise them Later).


Process by which one or more humans review, edit, and improve the quality of machine translation output.


Process by which a text is edited prior to translation in order to clarify ambiguous terms and increase translatability.


The final translation price: rate times the number of units. For example, if we’re talking about per hour rates, if the job took 3 hours at 40 dollars per hour, the total price would be 120 dollars. At a rate of 12 cents per word, if a document containing 5,000 words was translated, the total price would be 600 dollars. On a turnkey basis, the price would be agreed upon beforehand.


Refers to a translation request. This can also be referred to as a job, or an assignment. A project is a unit of work, and a PO (purchase order) must be received for each project.


Practice of checking a translated text to identify and correct spelling, grammar, syntax, and coherency and integrity errors. Proofreading is usually carried out by a second linguist or translator but not always. Proofreading can sometimes be done by editors with no second language. I created a series of posts on basic matters regarding proofreading. Read this post first: The Basics of Proofreading: Process From the Source to Target Document.

Quality assurance (QA)

Process designed to ensure translation quality, in which specific processes are followed with the purpose of minimizing errors.


Price of a unit of translation, and usually refers to a price per word in the source document. However, rates in other units exist (per character, per word, per page, per minute of audio, per hour, per target word, etc.) Read a related post: Translation Rates: How to Set Them Initially, When and How to Raise them Later.


Measure of formality of language dependent upon the tone, terminology, and grammar implemented.

Source count

Number of words in a text to be translated.

Source file (document)

File that contains the source document in its original form, as opposed to a generated file, and is required for localization processes.

Source language

Original language of the text that to be translated.

Specialized translation

Translation of content that requires a specific knowledge in the relevant field or special aptitude and preparedness for the field. I created a post on this: Specialized Translation: What It Is and Why You Should Do It.

Style guide

Document that describes the correct grammar, punctuation, spelling, style and numeric formats to ensure consistency and quality in a translated text.

Style sheet

Document or template that describes the structure and format of a document, with instructions regarding fonts, page size, spacing, margins, paragraph styles and tag mark-ups to ensure consistency and quality in a translated text.

Subtitles (also captioning)

Subtitles are textual versions of the dialog in films and television programs, usually displayed at the bottom of the screen. They can either a written form of the original language or a translation.


Synonyms are different words with almost identical or similar meanings, e.g. Student and pupil.


Study of structure and elements that form grammatical sentences.

Target audience

Group of people who receive the information rendered by the interpreter in the target language.

Target language

Language into which the text is translated.

Technical translation

Translation of technical texts, such as user or maintenance manuals, catalogues and data sheets.


Translation – Edit – Proofread Process.


Word, phrase, symbol or formula that describes or designates a particular concept.


Process by which new content is developed or adapted for a given target audience instead of merely translating existing material. It may include copywriting, image selection, font changes, and other transformations that tailor the message to the recipient.


Process of converting oral utterances into written form. See the picture in Part 1 of this post.


Degree to which a text can be rendered into another language.


Most common set of steps used for linguistic quality assurance in translation production processes. Commonly abbreviated TEP.


Process of rendering written communication from one language into another, or the output that results from this process. Translation is the communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text. The word translation derives from the Latin translatio (which itself comes from trans- and fero, together meaning to carry across or to bring across).

Translation capacity

Average number of characters, words, lines, or pages that a professional translator can translate within a given time frame, such as a day, week, or month.

Translation portal

Web-based service that enables translation agencies, freelance translators and customers to contact one another and exchange services. I created a few posts related to this: Two Practical Steps to Get Translating Jobs and Some of the Top Freelance Websites for Translators and Translation Market: Where It Is and Why This Is a Good Time to Be a Translator.


Process of converting words from a source text or audio file into a written text that facilitates pronunciation of the words.


Technique in which a disembodied voice narrates a film, documentary, or other visual media.

Word count

Total number of words in a text, typically used to price translation projects.

Are you interested in translation career? To learn more about how to become a translator, read one of my most popular page: Start Here for Translation Career.



Part 3: Terms Related to CAT tools




Alignment is the task of defining translation correspondences between source and target texts. Alignment is a process that allows text in a range of software packages to be converted semi-automatically into a Translation Memory format for re-use. There should be feedback from alignment to segmentation and a good alignment algorithm should be able to correct initial segmentation. I created a post on alignment: What Is Alignment and Why Should You Use It?

Alignment tool

Application that automatically pairs versions of same text in the source and target languages in a table. Also called bi-text tool. Good CAT tools, such as Fluency Now, usually incorporate this tool in them.

Automatic retrieval

TMs are searched and displayed automatically as a translator moves through a document.

Automatic substitution

Exact matches come up in translating new versions of a document. During automatic substitution, the translator does not check the translation against the original, so if there are any mistakes in the previous translation, they will carry over.

Automatic translation (machine translation)

Translation using a computer algorithm instead of translation by a human. The most well-known machine translation is Google Translate, but there are other programs that are competing in the market. (Warning: This is not to be confused with CAT tools, which is a completely different concept.) I created a post on this topic: Could Advanced Machine Translation Spell the End of Human Translators? 

CAT tool (Computer-assisted translation tool)




This is a type of software that aids translators in their work and can greatly affect the quality and quantity of translation. Trados, the leading CAT tool, and others compete in the current translation market. I created a post about comparing different CAT tools: CAT Tool Comparison: How Does Your CAT Tool Stack Up?


This feature allows translators to select one or more words in the source segment and the system retrieves segment pairs that match the search criteria. This feature is helpful for finding translations of terms and idioms in the absence of a terminology database.


This refers to producing a target document using a CAT tool. It can also refer to producing a TMX file outside a CAT tool.

Exact match

Exact matches (during Translation memory analysis) appear when the match between the current source segment and the stored one has been a character by character match. When translating a sentence, an exact match means the same sentence has been translated before. Exact matches are also called 100% matches.


This refers to opening up a source document using a CAT tool. It can also refer to opening a TMX file in a CAT tool.

Fuzzy match

Indication that words or sentences are partially – but not exactly – matched to previous translations. 
When the match (during Translation Memory analysis) has not been exact, it is a fuzzy match. Some systems assign percentages to these kinds of matches, in which case a fuzzy match is greater than 0% and less than 100%. Those figures are not comparable across systems unless the method of scoring is specified.

In Context Exact (ICE) match or Guaranteed Match

An ICE match is an exact match that occurs in exactly the same context, that is, the same location in a paragraph. Context is often defined by the surrounding sentences and attributes such as document file name, date, and permissions.


  1. Practice of reusing previously translated terms and phrases in new translations
  2. Rank which evaluates how much of the previously translated text can be reused

Localization tool

Application that assists with the translation and adaptation required for localization.


Indication that words or sentences are matched – either partially or fully – to previous translations.


MT – Abbreviation for machine translation.

Networking (TM Server)

When networking during the translation it is possible to translate a text efficiently together with a group of translators. This way, the translations entered by one translator are available to the others. Moreover, if translation memories are shared before the final translation, there is a chance that mistakes made by one translator will be corrected by other team members.


Phase of translation process in which documents are prepared for conversion into another language. Usually includes an automated analysis against translation memories so that previously translated text is inserted in a file, therefore avoiding rework and associated costs.


Abbreviation for rules-based machine translation.


Sentence or phrase that is repeated in the source text, often referred to a Translation Memory analysis.


When you use a CAT tool to open up a source document, the CAT tool will break up the document based on several standards (punctuation, line breaks, etc.) into the smallest meaningful units. These small meaningful units are called segments. Translation using a CAT tool will involve translating each segment.


Its purpose is to choose the most useful translation units. Segmentation is like a type of parsing. It is done monolingually using superficial parsing and alignment is based on segmentation. If the translators correct the segmentations manually, later versions of the document will not find matches against the TM based on the corrected segmentation because the program will repeat its own errors. Translators usually proceed sentence by sentence, although the translation of one sentence may depend on the translation of the surrounding ones.

Statistical machine translation (SMT)

Second-generation solutions that take a probability-based approach to translation through computational analysis of data, treating data as character strings, determining patterns, and leveraging regularities. Commonly abbreviated SMT.


Collection of terms

Terminology analysis

Process carried out prior to translation in order to analyze the vocabulary within a text and its meaning within the given context, often for the purpose of creating specialized dictionaries within specific fields.

Terminology database

Electronic repository of terms and associated data.

Term extraction

It can have as input a previous dictionary. Moreover, when extracting unknown terms, it can use parsing based on text statistics. These are used to estimate the amount of work involved in a translation job. This is very useful for planning and scheduling the work. Translation statistics usually count the words and estimate the amount of repetition in the text.


A termbase is a database containing terminology and related information. Most termbases are multilingual and contain terminology data in a range of different languages.

Terminology Management

Quality translation relies on the correct use of specialized terms. It improves reader understanding and reduces the time and costs associated with translation. Special terminology management systems store terms and their translations, so that terms can be translated consistently. Full-featured systems go beyond simple term lookup, however, to contain information about terms, such as part of speech, alternate terms and synonyms, product line information, and usage notes. They are generally integrated with translation memory systems and word processors to improve translator productivity.

Term extraction tools

Tools for extracting text automatically from text to create a termbase. Tools include SDL MultiTerm Extract 2009.

Term base eXchange

XML standard for exchanging terminological data. Commonly abbreviated TBX.

Text extraction

Process in which the text from a source file is placed into a word processing file for use by a linguist

Text style

Characteristics of terminology, style and sentence formation within a given text.


Abbreviation for translation memory eXchange. Translation Memory eXchange (TMX) is a standard that enables the interchange of translation memories between translation suppliers. TMX has been adopted by the translation community as the best way of importing and exporting translation memories. The current version is 1.4b – it allows for the recreation of the original source and target documents from the TMX data. An updated version, 2.0, is under development.

Translation memory

This is a type of electronic memory that is produced when a translation is completed in a CAT tool. The format is quite simple. On one side there are source segments and on the other side are target segments, and the TM matches them. This information is converted into a table and exported to what’s called a bilingual file.

Translation memory eXchange (also TMX)

Standard for converting translation memories from one format to another. Commonly abbreviated TMX.

Translation memory plus machine translation

A workflow and technology process in which terms not found in translation memory are automatically sent to the machine translation software for translation, with the results fed back into the translation memory. Commonly abbreviated TMT.

Translation memory system

Computer-aided translation tool that offers translation suggestions from translation memory.

Translation unit (also TU)

Segment of text treated as a single unit of meaning.


Translation Memory, see Translation Memory.


SDL Trados is a leading Translation Memory Editor used in translation. Latest versions SDL Trados Studio 2009 and SDL Trados TM Server.

Updating TM

A TM is updated with a new translation when it has been accepted by the translator. As always in updating a database, there is the question what to do with the previous contents of the database. A TM can be modified by changing or deleting entries in the TM. Some systems allow translators to save multiple translations of the same source segment.

UTF-16, UTF-32, UTF-8

UTF-16 – Abbreviation for 16-bit Unicode transformation format. UTF-32 – Abbreviation for 32-bit Unicode transformation format. UTF-8 -Abbreviation for 8-bit Unicode transformation format.


XML Localisation Interchange File Format. It is intended to provide a single interchange file format that can be understood by any localization provider. XLIFF is the preferred way of exchanging data in XML format in the translation industry


Abbreviation for eXtensible markup language. Metadata language used to describe other markup languages. Commonly abbreviated XML.

XML Text Memory (xml:tm)

xml:tm (XML-based Text Memory) is the vendor-neutral open XML standard for embedding text memory directly within an XML document using XML namespace syntax. xml:tm leverages the namespace syntax of XML to embed text memory information within the XML document itself. 


Interested in CAT tools? Click here to learn more about CAT tools.


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