8 Main types of translation

types of translation

Translation allows us to unlock communication across cultures, but this broad term takes many forms. To capture the essence of a poem, for instance, a translator requires a different set of skills than one specialized in translating technical documents. This is exactly what we’re exploring in our article on the different types of translation.


Literal translation

Literal translation, also known as word-for-word translation, aims to translate the text from the source language to the target language while preserving the original structure and word order as closely as possible. Translators focus on translating each word or phrase directly, without considering idiomatic expressions or cultural nuances that may not exist in the target language.

Literal translation can sometimes result in accurate translations, but it may also lead to awkward or unnatural language in the target language. Because translators don’t have to consider the cultural contexts, the translation may not flow smoothly or convey the intended meaning effectively.

Free translation

Free translation, also known as dynamic equivalence or sense-for-sense translation, prioritizes conveying the meaning of the text rather than adhering strictly to the original wording. Unlike with literal translation, translators have more flexibility to rephrase sentences, use synonyms, and adapt cultural nuances to make the translation more natural and understandable for the target audience.

Literary translation

Literary translation deals with translating literary works such as novels, poems, plays, and short stories. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the literary genre as “Of or relating to the writing, study, or content of literature, esp. of the kind valued for quality of form.” However, defining the literary genre is difficult, and what is considered to be of artistic merit does change over time.

To translate literary content, translators must be proficient in both languages and possess literary skills to capture the style, tone, and cultural nuances of the original work. Literary translation requires creativity and sensitivity to preserve the artistic integrity and emotional impact of the original text while making it accessible to readers in the target language.

Audiovisual translation

Audiovisual translation includes translating audiovisual content such as movies, television shows, documentaries, and video games. Subtitling, dubbing, and voice-over are common techniques used in audiovisual translation. Audiovisual translators must consider factors such as timing, synchronization, lip-syncing, and cultural adaptation to ensure that the translated content is natural and engaging for the audience.

Specialized translation

Specialized translation is a type of translation that focuses on specific subject areas or industries, requiring in-depth knowledge and expertise in those fields. Here are some examples:

  • Legal translation: handles any legal document such as contracts, court documents, statutes, and patents. Translators need a deep understanding of legal terminology and concepts in both the source and target languages to ensure accuracy and precision.
  • Medical translation: deals with medical documents, clinical trials, patient records, pharmaceutical information, and healthcare-related content. Translators must be familiar with medical terminology, procedures, and regulations to produce accurate translations that meet industry standards.
  • Technical translation: covers a wide range of technical fields such as engineering, IT, automotive, aerospace, and manufacturing. Translators need expertise in the specific technical subject matter as well as knowledge of specialized terminology and industry standards.
  • Financial translation: includes financial documents such as annual reports, financial statements, investment reports, and banking documents. Translators must be proficient in financial terminology and understand accounting principles and regulations in both languages.
  • Scientific translation: deals with scientific research papers, academic journals, laboratory reports, and technical manuals in various scientific disciplines such as biology, chemistry, physics, and environmental science. Translators need a strong background in the relevant scientific field to accurately convey complex concepts and terminology.


Interpreting involves translating spoken language in real-time, facilitating communication between speakers of different languages. There are different types of interpreting, such as simultaneous interpreting (translating while the speaker is speaking), consecutive interpreting (waiting for the speaker to finish before translating), and whispered interpreting (providing a whispered translation to a small group or individual). Consequently, interpreters must have excellent listening and comprehension skills, as well as the ability to convey messages accurately and efficiently in both languages.


Transcreation, sometimes referred to as creative translation or adaptation, is a type of translation that goes beyond traditional linguistic translation to creatively adapt content for a specific target audience while maintaining the original message’s intent, tone, and style. It is distinguished by its emphasis on creative adaptation and cultural localization.

We usually see transcreation being used in marketing, advertising, and branding to ensure that promotional materials resonate with the cultural and linguistic nuances of the target market. Transcreators may need to modify slogans, taglines, advertising campaigns, product names, and branding elements to evoke the desired emotional response and effectively communicate the brand message in a different language and culture.


Localization goes beyond translation because it requires adapting a product, service, or content to a specific culture or locale. As such, it’s not just about translating text but also modifying elements such as date formats, currencies, images, and cultural references to make the content more relevant and appealing to the target audience.

You can localize anything from software and websites to marketing materials and multimedia content to meet the linguistic, cultural, and regulatory requirements of different regions or markets. For this, translators use a wide variety of tools such as Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) software, translation management systems, machine translation systems, and Content Management Systems (CMS).

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