Translation Category C: Types of Translation Based on The Translation Method Employed

This category has two sub-groups:
– the practical methods translation providers use to produce their translations, and
– the translation strategies/methods identified and discussed in academia.

The translation methods translation providers use

There are 4 main methods used in the translation industry today. We have an overview of each below, but for more detail, including when to use each one, see our comprehensive blog article.

Important: If you’re a client you need to understand these 4 methods – choose the wrong one and the translation you end up with may not meet your needs!

Machine Translation (MT)

What is it?
A translation produced entirely by a software program with no human intervention.

A widely used, and free, example is Google Translate. And there are also commercial MT engines, generally tailored to specific domains, languages and/or clients.

Pros and cons
There are two limitations to MT:
– they make mistakes (incorrect translations), and
– quality of wording is patchy (some parts good, others unnatural or even nonsensical)

On the positive side, they are virtually instantaneous and many are free.

Best suited for:
Getting the general idea of what a text says.

This method should never be relied on when high accuracy and/or good quality wording is needed.

Machine Translation plus Human Editing (PEMT)

What is it?

  • A machine translation subsequently edited by a human translator or editor (often called Post-editing Machine Translation = PEMT).
  • The editing process is designed to rectify some of the deficiencies of a machine translation.
  • This process can take different forms, with different desired outcomes. Probably most common is a ‘light editing’ process where the editor ensures the text is understandable, without trying to fix the quality of expression.

Pros and cons

  1. This method won’t necessarily eliminate all translation mistakes. That’s because the program may have chosen a wrong word (meaning) that wasn’t obvious to the editor.
  2. And wording won’t generally be as good as a professional human translator would produce.
  3. Its advantage is it’s generally quicker and a little cheaper than a full translation by a professional translator.

Best suited for:
Translations for information purposes only.

Again, this method shouldn’t be used when full accuracy and/or consistent, natural wording is needed.

Human Translation

What is it?
Translation by a professional human translator.

Pros and cons

  1. Professional translators should produce translations that are fully accurateand well-worded.
  2. That said, there is always the possibility of ‘human error’, which is why translation companies like us typically offer an additional review process – see the next method.
  3. This method will take a little longer and likely cost morethan the PEMT method.

Best suited for:
Most if not all translation purposes.

Human Translation + Revision

What is it?
A human translation with an additional review by a second translator.

The review is essentially a safety check – designed to pick up any translation errors and refine wording if need be.

Pros and cons

  1. This produces the highest levelof translation quality.
  2. It’s also the most expensive of the 4 methods and takes the longest.

Best suited for:
All translation purposes.
There’s also one other common term used by practitioners and academics alike to describe a type (method) of translation:

Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT)

What is it?
A human translator using computer tools to aid the translation process.

Key features

  1. Virtually all translators use such tools these days.
  2. The most prevalent tool is Translation Memory (TM) software. This creates a database of previous translations that can be accessed for future work.
  3. TM software is particularly useful when dealing with repeated and closely-matching text, and for ensuring consistency of terminology. For certain projects, it can speed up the translation process.

The translation methods described by academia

A great deal has been written within academia analysing how human translators go about their craft. Seminal has been the work of Newmark, and the following methods of translation attributed to him are widely discussed in the literature. These methods are approaches and strategies for translating the text as a whole, not techniques for handling smaller text units, which we discuss in our final translation category.

Word-for-word Translation

This method translates each word into the other language using its most common meaning and keeping the word order of the original language. So, the translator deliberately ignores context and target language grammar and syntax. Its main purpose is to help understand the source language structure and word use. Often the translation will be placed below the original text to aid comparison.

Literal Translation

Words are again translated independently using their most common meanings and out of context, but word order changed to the closest acceptable target language grammatical structure to the original. Its main suggested purpose is to help someone read the original text.

Faithful Translation

Faithful translation focuses on the intention of the author and seeks to convey the precise meaning of the original text. It uses correct target language structures, but the structure is less important than meaning.

Semantic Translation

Semantic translation is also author-focused and seeks to convey the exact meaning.

Where it differs from faithful translation is that it places equal emphasis on aesthetics, ie the ‘sounds’ of the text – repetition, wordplay, assonance, etc.

In this method, the form is as important as meaning as it seeks to “recreate the precise flavour and tone of the original” (Newmark).

Communicative Translation

Seeks to communicate the message and meaning of the text in a natural and easily understood way.

It’s described as reader-focused, seeking to produce the same effect on the reader as the original text. A good comparison of Communicative and Semantic translation can be found here.

Free Translation

  1. Here conveying the meaningand effect of the original are all important.
  2. There are no constraints on a grammatical form or word choice to achieve this.
  3. Often the translation will paraphrase, so may be of markedly different length to the original.


Mainly used for poetry and plays, this method involves re-writing the text where the translation would otherwise lack the same resonance and impact on the audience.

Themes, storylines and characters will generally be retained, but cultural references, acts and situations adapted to relevant target culture ones. So, this is effectively a re-creation of the work for the target culture.

Idiomatic Translation

Reproduces the meaning or message of the text using idioms and colloquial expressions and language wherever possible. The goal is to produce a translation with language that is as natural as possible.

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