Translation Terms for Beginners

Last Updated May 20, 2014

Understanding the ins and outs of a big translation project can be tricky at first – there are so many new words and terms to understand that it can seem like you’re having a conversation in another language! For easy reference, here are translation terms for beginners that will really help when you’re researching translation services, or talking to a translation or localization services professional. Scroll down to see the full list of definitions.

Translation Terms for Beginners


Client – A company needing translation or localization for their product or content; may hire an agency or a team of linguists.

Agency – A company that manages whole localization and translation projects on behalf of clients, contracting or employing linguists and other resources.

Project Manager – Working for an agency, coordinates all activities for localization and translation.

Subcategory: Linguists

Translator – A person with professional skills in translating one language to another.

Editor – A person with professional skills in translation who provides editing for translated text.

Interpreter – A person with professional skills in facilitating communication from one language to another in real time.

Localization Engineer – Disassembles a product to isolate files to be translated, then puts it back together again after translation and makes the necessary adjustments. This might be a website, video, eLearning program or other piece of software. Also assists with internationalization of a product. For more on what a localization engineer does, see this post.

Localization QA Tester – Tests localized products to make sure they are ready to go to market. Read this post for more info.


Translation – The process of translating words and writing from one language, the source language, into another, the target language.

Interpretation – The real-time facilitation of communication between users of different languages, either oral or signed.

Localization –  the process of adapting a product or service to a particular language and culture.

Internationalization – preparing a website, software or an app’s code for localization. Take a look here to find more on the difference between localization and internationalization.

Tools & More

Source language – the language to be translated from.

Target language – the language to be translated to.

Translation Management System (TMS) – A type of software that manages the project information, process workflow, and language assets required for large-scale translation activity. Used by agencies and linguists.

Content Management System (CMS)  – A computer system that allows publishing, editing and modifying content as well as maintenance from a central interface. Most modern websites run on content management systems.

Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) Tools – Software that supports the translation process; this could be anything from text search tools, to electronic dictionaries, to translation memory and terminology tools that manage a database of existing translated phrases. Used primarily by linguists.

Defect Tracking – Software that keeps track of translation and localization defects, letting project stakeholders manage and monitor the quality assurance testing process. More on defect tracking and other testing tools in our blog post here.

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