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Transl.Net Translations Techniques

Translation strategies

Being a translator comes with certain responsibilities one of which includes knowing your profession inside out. However simple the listing of translation techniques might sound the majority of translators tend to find this as a rather challenging task as such techniques are intuitively used day by day almost at a subconscious level.
Nevertheless being aware of the best strategical approach, what are the best techniques to use according to the context helps you deliver a more accurate translation.

Having said this let’s dive into the world of translation theories and techniques by  Peter Fawcett (Translation and Language):

Direct Translation Techniques

Direct Translation Techniques are used when structural and conceptual elements of the source language can be transposed into the target language. Direct translation techniques include:

  • Borrowing
  • Calque
  • Literal Translation


Borrowing is the taking of words directly from one language into another without translation. Many English words are "borrowed" into other languages, however our focus is on Hungarian; especially in the field of technology: software, file, web-cam, Internet and in culture: Euro, club, body building, grapefruit and from other fields as well: bestseller, show, cowboy, lady. English also borrows numerous words from other languages; abbatoire, café, passé and résumé from French; hamburger and kindergarten from German; bandana, musk and sugar from Sanskrit.

Borrowed words are often printed in italics when they are considered to be "foreign".


A calque or loan translation (itself a calque of German Lehnübersetzung) is a phrase borrowed from another language and translated literally word-for-word. You often see them in specialized or internationalized fields such as quality assurance (aseguramiento de calidad, assurance qualité taken from English). Examples that have been absorbed into English include standpoint and beer garden from German Standpunkt and Biergarten; breakfast from French déjeuner (which now means lunch in Europe, but maintains the same meaning of breakfast in Québec). Some calques can become widely accepted in the target language (such as standpoint, beer garden and breakfast). The meaning other calques can be rather obscure for most people, especially when they relate to specific vocations or subjects such as science and law. An unsuccessful calque can be extremely unnatural, and can cause unwanted humor, often interpreted as indicating the lack of expertise of the translator in the target language.

Literal Translation

A word-for-word translation can be used in some languages and not others depending on the sentence structure. This techinque is not recommended however in Hungarian as it only works with simple sentences without a lot of additional components.

Oblique Translation Techniques

Oblique Translation Techniques are used when the structural or conceptual elements of the source language cannot be directly translated without altering meaning or upsetting the grammatical and stylistics elements of the target language.

Oblique translation techniques include:

  • Transposition
  • Modulation
  • Reformulation or Equivalence
  • Adaptation
  • Compensation


This is the process where parts of speech change their sequence when they are translated (blue ball becomes boule bleue in French). It is in a sense a shift of word class. Grammatical structures are often different in different languages. He likes swimming translates as Er schwimmt gern in German. Transposition is often used between English and German because of the preferred position of the verb in the sentence: English often has the verb near the beginning of a sentence; German can have it closer to the end. This is also transferable to Hungarian and it requires that the translator knows that it is possible to replace a word category in the target language without altering the meaning of the source text, for example: English Hand knitted becomes Hungarian kézzel vart.


Modulation consists of using a phrase that is different in the source and target languages to convey the same idea: Megtarthatod means literally You can hold it but translates better as You can keep it. It changes the semantics and shifts the point of view of the source language. Through modulation, the translator generates a change in the point of view of the message without altering meaning and without generating a sense of awkwardness in the reader of the target text. It is often used within the same language.

Reformulation or Equivalence

Here you have to express something in a completely different way, for example when translating idioms or advertising slogans. The process is creative, but not always easy. Would you have translated the movie Limitless into Hungarian as Csúcshatás (official Hungarian title) or literary as Határtalan?


Adaptation occurs when something specific to one language culture is expressed in a totally different way that is familiar or appropriate to another language culture. It is a shift in cultural environment. Should Gulyás be translated as the Hungarian stew in English or just simply adapt the word accordingly as Goulash? It involves changing the cultural reference when a situation in the source culture does not exist in the target culture.


In general terms compensation can be used when something cannot be translated, and the meaning that is lost is expressed somewhere else in the translated text. Peter Fawcett defines it as: "...making good in one part of the text something that could not be translated in another". One example given by Fawcett is the problem of translating nuances of formality from languages that use forms such as Hungarian informal te and formal Ön, Spanish tú and usted, French tu and vous, and German du and Sie into English which only has 'you', and expresses degrees of formality in different ways.

As Louise M. Haywood from the University of Cambridge puts it, "we have to remember that translation is not just a movement between two languages but also between two cultures. Cultural transposition is present in all translation as degrees of free textual adaptation departing from maximally literal translation, and involves replacing items whose roots are in the source language culture with elements that are indigenous to the target language. The translator exercises a degree of choice in his or her use of indigenous features, and, as a consequence, successful translation may depend on the translator's command of cultural assumptions in each language in which he or she works".

If you are interested in reading further on the subject, please refer to Peter Fawcett, Translation and Language, St. Jerome, Manchester, 1997 (Chapter 4, Translation Techniques).

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