Translation & translation strategy

What is translation and translation strategy?

Let’s start with defining translation. Where does the word come from and what does it actually mean?

The Latin word for translation is ‘translatio’, which means to carry across or to bring across. In this sense you therefore bring/carry across the text, word etc. from the source language (SL) to the target language (TL).

The Greek word for translation is μετάφρασις (metaphrasis), which means a speaking across. Metaphrasis or metaphase, as it’s called in English, means literal or word-for-word translation. The contrast to μετάφρασις (metaphrasis ) is παράφρασις (paraphrasis), meaning a saying in other words. Today the two terms are parallel to the English terms; formal equivalence (literal) and functional equivalence (meaning).

The definition of translation in Oxford’s dictionary is, [mass noun] the process of translating words or text from one language into another. [count noun] a written or spoken rendering of the meaning of a word or text in another language.” (

From this we can conclude that a translation is a process, where the SL is carried across in the TL, either formal or functional. But what else is there to know about translation?

Interlingual vs. Intralingual

A translation of a text can either be interlingual, which means that the text is translated from one language in another language or intralingual, which is translations within one language e.g. translation of ‘legal language’ to ‘general language’ or from a ‘dialect’ to ‘general language etc.

But does a translation always have to be done on word or text basis? No, you can also translate e.g. spoken language, signs, sign language, gestures, context etc.

Translation strategy

Moving on to a more practice orientated level of translating. We have established that translating is a process, but how do we come from SL to TL? And which strategy should we choose – a literal or a functional?

When translating, there are many factors to take into consideration. First of all it’s important to identify, what the purpose (skopos) of the translation is, why is it being translated? Then the translation situation must be analyzed; who is the text for (target audience – TA) and where is it being published (target place –TP). In continuation hereof the source text (ST) must be analyzed; what is the purpose of the text, which genre are we dealing with, how is the structure, which language instruments have been used etc.? And finally it’s time to consider, which strategy you want to use. When deciding on a strategy, following aspects can be considered; is the purpose directly transferable, is the genre and language instruments to be directly transferred and does the TA have the same knowledge as the source audience (SA) – if not, do we need to change something in order to maintain the meaning (see also: or do we need to add extra information? And last but not least, are we (the translators) to concentrate on the text’s form or purpose? (

Translation stages:

To give you an overview of the process I’ve divided it into stages:

1: Communication situation & Target audience

–          Who is the sender

–          Who is the receiver

–          What’s the purpose of the text (general)

2: Source text

–          Read all of the text*

–          Analyze it

–          What’s the purpose of the text

–          What’s the genre

–          Which language instruments are used

–          How is the text structured

–          Which knowledge is presupposed by the reader of the ST

3: Translation strategy

–           Is the purpose of the ST to be transferred directly

–          Are the genre/language instruments to be transferred directly

–          Can the same knowledge be presupposed by the target text (TT)

–          Should you focus on the form or the meaning of the text

–          Should the translation be close to the ST or not: e.g. B-menneske (Danish)= a) B-person or b) late riser (English)

4: The actual translation and proofingProofing

–         The translation starts

–         When proofing, remember to check up on terms, names etc. are they consistent or not.

–         A good idea is to write down everything you need to check up on later or make a clear comment in your text, so you don’t forget it later.


* You might not always have time to read the entire text, especially if it’s a book translation that has a certain time frame – then other strategies must be considered.

All depending of the genre there are different strategies to consider, as I just mentioned, if you are to translate a book, you don’t have time to read the book, but you still have to familiarize yourself with the genre, theme(s), style, person gallery etc. If you are translating legal document make sure to be close to the text, whereas other genres such as commercials, sales letters etc. can be freer, as the main goal is to transfer the meaning of message. Not too free though, if it changes the style of the original writer.

Have fun translating



2 responses to “Translation & translation strategy”

  1. […] Your translation should always be tailored: purpose, subject, genre, target group, situation etc. in order to fulfill the purpose and secure a good translation. (see also […]

  2. […] brings us back to another topic, namely which translation technique to choose, when translating: word-for-word or sense? […]

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