The Role of Target Language and Source Language in the Translation Process

By: Erik Angelone


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Strengthening your knowledge of source and target languages will improve the quality of your translation, which is essential for accurately spreading knowledge and ideas across the world. The term target language refers to the language into which text is being translated. This differs from the source language, which is what the original message or content being translated was written in.

Let’s take a look at the roles source language and target language play in the translation process, as well as tactics you can practice to improve your knowledge in both areas.

Understanding Source Language and Target Language

Target language shapes the entire translation process, accounting for the culture, dialects, grammar, and any other element that may differ from the source language to the target language.

However, translating a language from the source language to its target language can be challenging due to the translator’s tendency to carry over personal interpretation and other ideas that might not be generally acceptable. While this may seem challenging to avoid, there are many ways to improve your knowledge of a target language and create more accurate translations for your audience.

Concrete Ways to Improve Your Knowledge of a Target Language

To improve your skills, try any, or all, of the following:

  • Read in your native language – Translating text into any target language requires extensive knowledge of both culture and language. Improving your native vocabulary by reading can help produce more accurate and engaging translations for your audience. It helps to read many types of text by diverse authors to gain familiarity with different writing styles. This can aid you in creating translations for different media and occasions.
  • Read in your target language – Since widening your reading habits can help boost your language skills, reading in your target language can further develop your abilities while you familiarize yourself with multiple life situations. This can help you to gain a new perspective on how people communicate and why they choose specific words to express themselves.
  • Travel to the country where your target language is spoken – Traveling can be a great opportunity to learn more about your target language. It can help you to see cultures and situations from a different perspective, influencing how you approach future translations. Traveling also gives you access to a wide network of native speakers, which also forces you to exercise your language skills while adapting to the local culture and their norms.
  • Compare translations – Looking at translations of other translators can help you learn new meanings for some words and phrases, and expand your vocabulary, leading to enhanced knowledge of your target language.
  • Practice writing – Regularly write in the target language. This practice will help improve your grammar, syntax, and overall writing skills. Writing also allows you to further develop your skills for creative expression. Whether you write stories, poems, or essays to practice in your target language, it will help improve your creativity. Plus, writing will aid your ability to convey ideas, thoughts, and information effectively in your target language.
  • Read aloud – This can be a valuable method to hone your abilities and facilitate translating from your source language to the target language for several reasons. Reading aloud helps enhance your listening skills in the target language, making you more well-adapted to its nuances. By reading aloud, you also get great practice using expression of emotion in the target language, as well as improved pronunciation.
target language

Strategies That Can Help You Gain a Better Understanding of a Target Language

While there are activities that can help you to achieve better knowledge of a target language, there are other tips to keep in mind that can lead you to becoming an expert. Strategies for becoming more advanced in a target language include:

  • Focus on overall meaning instead of individual details
  • Slowly increase fluency, accuracy, and complexity over time
  • Spontaneously use your target language to adjust to different situations
  • Learn strategies for requesting clarification and assistance if there are any comprehension difficulties
  • Don’t use a source language as the default for checking meaning

FAQs on Target Language and Source Language

Explore our frequently asked questions to help guide your understanding on the role of the source and target language in translation services.

How often will the source language be my native language, and how often will the target language be my native language?

When it comes to how often your source language or target language will be in your native language, it very much depends on your working location and the needs of your project.

For example, if you speak English and were working in the United States and translating materials for another location, such as legal documents for immigrants, video games for an international audience, medical information for accessibility purposes, and so on, then you would most likely be using your native language as your source language.

However, there could also be cases where you might be translating international media, translating government documents, and more, where you would be translating a foreign language into English for an American audience. In this case, your native language would be your target language.

There are also instances where both the source language and target language could be your native language depending on the task. For example, if you are living in another country and English is your native language, then you may have to translate both ways to facilitate proper communication between audiences.

Will I ever need to work with multiple target languages?

Depending on the company or organization that you are working for, there may be material that needs to be translated into multiple target languages. These translations could be given to different individuals to accomplish, but if your skill set involves knowledge of multiple languages, you may be able to tackle everything needed.

Having the ability to work with multiple target languages enhances flexibility, marketability, and the range of translation services a professional can offer.

How does cultural understanding impact the translation between source and target languages?

Cultural understanding is essential for maintaining context and conveying accurate expressions, which in turn helps ensure the translated text resonates with the target audience.

Language localization considers the cultural identities and preferences of end users. This includes cultural differences, traditions, expectations, and taboos that may be absent in the target language compared to the source language.

This gap of understanding can have a major impact on the interpretation of the given translation for your target language’s audience. It is significant that you as the translator analyze the given source language for cultural norms, figures of speech, and more to properly convey the intended meaning in your translation.

Furthering Your Journey in Translation

Kent State MCLS has the faculty and classes you need to excel in learning a target language and develop the skills to succeed in your career. If you have earned your bachelor’s degree and are looking to further expand your knowledge, our M.A. in Translation program is your destination.

Our M.A. in Translation is equipped with the flexibility that allows you to earn your degree from anywhere, as well as principles and practices of translation that are taught by our dedicated faculty of professors. Learn more about why Kent State is the right destination for acquiring and practicing a target language:

  • Graduation rates exceeding 90%
  • Personalized guidance by faculty
  • Only 36 hours of coursework to be completed on a full-time or part-time basis
  • Ability to complete the program in just 4 semesters
  • Base tuition of $536 per credit hour

Hone Your Translation Abilities for Target Languages at Kent State

If you are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of source and target languages, and want to expand your overall translation skill set, be sure to start your Kent State application today!