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Translation And Interpretation


Translation And Interpretation


Translation is a process by which ideas that are written in one language are represented by equivalent words of another language. Translation deals with written texts while interpretation deals with spoken words/information.

Interpretation refers to the transfer of ideas from one language to equivalent ideas of another language in form of speech. It involves one person speaking in a certain language and another one speaking the same message into another language.


Source Language (SL) is the language from which the information is taken.

Target Language (TL) is the language into which the meaning is turned.

Translator is a person who conveys written ideas from one language to equivalent ideas of another language.

Interpreter is a person who transfers the meaning of spoken messages from one language to equivalent meaning of another language in form of speech.

Source Text refers to message to be translated into another language.

Target Text refers to message translated from another language.



Both render information to the particular audience.

Both simplify communication among the people.

They both need skills and knowledge.

They are expensive.

They are both source of income.


Translation and interpretation can be differentiated under the following factors:

Medium – translation is done through written medium whereas interpretation is done orally.

Time – in most cases interpretation takes place in real time whereas translation does not. It requires pre-translation processes such as reading texts, dictionaries and encyclopedia.

Skills required – translation requires mainly reading and writing skills while interpretation mainly requires listening and speaking skills to accomplish.

Setting – interpretation is done in as specific setting such as in conferences, churches or any other place where an interpreter can meet his /her audience. On the other hand translator does not necessarily need a special place to carry out his work.

Participants – during translation, translator works alone but in interpretation interpreter works with source language speaker and the audience.


To become a successful translator one has to abide with the following principles:-

Translator should be very competent in both languages i.e. SL and TL. To become competent one must make use of dictionaries both monolingual and bilingual can be of great help.

The translator should understand the field covered by source text. Knowledge of the field is important because different fields have different terminologies which usually have special meaning in the particular field. For example religious text will be translated well if the translator understands it well.

Translator should consider the style used by the writer of the text in the source language. Here the translator may either preserve or violate the style used in the source language to make the readers understand.

The translator should try to be objective. Being subjective or biased will cause translated work to be different from that of the source language. Failure to be objective is mainly influenced by the ideology found in the community where the translator lives or hails from.

Consider the expectation of the readers. Translator should use the language style that will make the readers understand the message translated. For example translating a science text for ordinary people who are not conversant with science will make the translator use the style that is not scientific.

Translator should observe originality of the text. He or she should try as much as it is reasonable to produce the content that matches with the source text.

Translation And Interpretation

Translation And Interpretation Translation And Interpretation


A competent translator or interpreter should have the following qualities:

Familiarity with the subject matter of the text/speech to be translated or interpreted.

A very good knowledge of the language written and spoken from which she/he is interpreting/translating (Source Language).

An excellent command of the language into which she/he is translating (Target Language).

A good sense of when to metaphrase and when to paraphrase.

Adequate knowledge of idiomatic correlation between the two languages.

Extensive reading of different translations – especially those relating to his/field.


Some of the common methods of translation include:-

Word for word translation

This is the translation method in which the Target language words are put below Source language words. Under this type, the source language order is preserved and words are translated by their common meaning.

This method is used to show how source language is morphologically structured. The meaning of word – for – word translation usually is out of context; therefore this method is primarily a pre-translation process. In this method every morpheme is translated. Example

  • Msichana mpole   aliongea

Girl  meek spoke     (This means “the meek girl spoke”)

  • Look down

Tazama  chini

Literal translation.

In this type, source language lexical words are translated individually out of context but grammatical words are translated into their nearest target language equivalents. Lexical translation is also a pre-translation process since it does not necessarily convey the contextual meaning of the text but rather it helps to identify the problem to be solved.


  • Black sheep (eng) – kondoo mweusi (kisw)
  • Look for (eng) – angalia (kisw)
  • She is on the fence (eng) – yuko juu ya uzio (kisw)
  • Chris is a woman (eng) – Chris ni mwanamke (kisw)

Faithful translation

is a method of translation which attempts to reproduce contextual meaning of the original text and tries to be faithful to the intention of the text in the source language.


  • I am going to school (eng) – naenda kwa shule (kisw)
  • I love you (engl) – mimi penda wewe

Semantic translation.

This is the translation method in which the translator translates every word in SL but using grammatical features of TL. Or Is a method which considers aesthetic value of the SL text. The emphasize is put on the meaning of the text on the SL. For instance the following expressions have been translated from English to Swahili by using this method;

  • Naomba nichukue fursa hii – may I take this opportunity
  • Mabibi na mabwana – ladies and gentlemen
  • Naomba mniazime masikio yenu – please lend me your ears
  • Mwisho wa siku – at the end of the day.
  • Usiku mwema – good night.

NB: Semantic translation is more flexible than faithful translation. It is more economic and accurate.

Communicative translation.

This is a method of translation which tries to convey the exact contextual meaning of the original text in such a way that both content and language are clear and comprehensive to the readers.

It also fulfills two aims of translation i.e. accuracy and being economic, It is written at readers’ linguistic level and It is better than its original.

For example the following expressions could be translated as hereunder:-

  • May I take this opportunity – naomba nitumie nafasi hii
  • Ladies and gentlemen – ndugu zangu/ wapendwa
  • Please lend me your eyes – naomba mnisikilize kwa umakini
  • At the end of the day – hatimaye.
  • Good night – lala unono

Free translation

is a method of translation which produces the matter without the manner or the content without the form of the original text. Usually it is a paraphrase much longer than the original.

Examples:    English                                          Kiswahili

  • I’m at home                                nimeshafika nyumbani
  • Shut up! Kimya!
  • Come help me                                tafadhali naomba uje unisaidie
  • Slowly naomba ufanye taratibu

Idiomatic translation

is a method of translation which produces the message of the source text but tends to distort the meaning by preferring colloquialisms and idioms.

Examples :  English                                                       Kiswahili

  • Hadija married a poor man Hadija ameolewa na mtu asokuwa na mbele wala nyuma.
  • Yesterday it rained very much Jana ilinyesha mvua ya kishindo
  • His mother is sick                              Bi mkubwa wake anaumwa
  • Sele is bewitched                              Sele amepigwa juju
  • Diana entertained us                              Diana alitukosha sana

Adaptation translation 

is a method of translation which is used mainly for plays and poems. The text is written considering source language culture converted into Target language culture where the characters, themes and plot are usually maintained. It is the freest form of translation and usually text is rewritten.

Translation can be categorized according to the manner in which it is conducted as;

Machine translation. This is a type of interpretation done by automatic machine. This interpretation is done without human assistance hence its meaning can be doubtful or out of context.

Machine – assisted translationIt is done by machine assisted by a human being.

Screen translation. This is translation employed in movies and Television Programmes, where the translation is typed along the bottom of the screen)



Idioms are challenging during translation because they have different meaning from words constitute them. Translating idioms literally may give the meaning which is out of context.

For instance observe the following sentences

  • Hassan ana mkono wa birika
  • Maneno ana mdomo mrefu
  • Baada ya sherehe Shija alivaa miwani

Observe the following again:-

  • Hadija is very mean
  • Maneno is very talkative
  • After the party Maneno was very drunk

There are two main ways/approaches of translating idioms.

  • By using figurative expressions with the same meaning in TL ( Though it is rare to find such a match)
  • By basing on their contextual meaning.

For example

She looks down upon the poor contextual meaning is she despises the poor

Therefore the expression can be translated as huwadharau masikini

More examples:

  • He remained on the fence – alibaki njia panda
  • Jane was crying for the moon – jane alikuwa akililia yasowezekana
  • She paved way for my success – alisababisha maendeleo yangu
  • In the sitting room Eliufoo broke the ice – eliufoo alivunja ukimya sebuleni
  • Somali soldiers finally gave in – hatimaye wanajeshi wa Kisomali walisalimu amri

It is also challenging to translate proper nouns. But generally proper nouns are not translated.

Consider the following:

  • Juma is humble – Juma ni mnyenyekevu
  • Dar es Salaam is the biggest city in Tanzania – dar es salaam ni jiji nkubwa kuliko yote Tanzania
  • Victory is my uncle – Victory ni mjomba wangu.

On the other hand some of the proper nouns can be translated

  • She travelled to USA – Amesafiri kwenda Marekani
  • Mozambique is an African land – Msumbiji ni nchi ya kiafrika
  • I like reading the book of Matthew – napenda kusoma kitabu cha Mathayo

NOTE: According to experience translation of proper nouns is done when it is believed that it will be difficult for speakers of TL to pronounce the names if they remain un-translated. Generally proper names should remain as they are in the source language.


Proverbs are short well known sentences or phrases that state a general truth about life or give advice. It is also challenging while translating proverbs because they are somewhat culturally bound.

Observe the following:

A friend in need is a friend in deed – akufaaye kwa dhiki ndiye rafiki wa kweli

All that glitters is not gold – si vyote ving’aavoyo ni dhahabu

Kindness begets kindness wema huzaa wema

Time is money – muda ni mali

Akiba haiozi – saving is very helpful

Kikulacho ki nguoni mwako – your enemy can be among your close friends.

NOTE: Since some proverbs use a bit of figurative language the two suggested ways of translating idioms can also be used in translating proverbs.


Translating abbreviations is also challenging as in proper nouns. For instance some of the abbreviations are translated while others are not.

Abbreviations that can be translated:

CUF – Chama cha Wananchi

AU – Umoja wa Mataifa

NATO – Umoja wa Kujihami

IMF – Shirika la Fedha Ulimwenguni

ID – kitambulisho

Abbreviations that cannot be translated, for example ITV, DTV, DVD, CD, MP3 etc.

It is also difficult to translate Kiswahili acronyms into English such as CCM, SHIHATA, UWAVITA, ACT Wazalendo etc.

NOTE: Abbreviations are not translated.


Translating company names is difficult as in proper nouns.

For instance:

Niko Mzalendo Pub should be translated as I am at Mzalendo Pub and not I am at Patriotic Pub

    Tukutane Hekima should be We shall meet at Hekima and not we shall meet at wisdom

Again the names of news papers or magazines cannot be translated: Majira, Nipashe, Mwananchi, Daily News, The Citizen etc should remain unchanged.


Ambiguity is a statement/word which consists of more than one meaning. Such words may confuse translator because it is difficult to predict the intended meaning.

For instance: Many people are at the bank may mean people are at the side of the river or at a financial institution building.


Some compound words have hidden meaning; more especially opaque compounds. For instance the compound honey moon, its meaning has nothing to do with the meaning of separate words honey + moon.


These are verbs which have some particles attached to them. They function as a whole. They also have hidden meaning.


  • Look into – investigate
  • Come across – meet
  • Take after – resemble


What should one do during translation?

The following may help guiding you:

Read the source text carefully in order to get the general idea in it. This will help you to know the items needed as well as style to be used.

Get dictionaries according to the demand of your translation work. For instance if the source text is in English or Kiswahili, you will need English and Swahili dictionaries (both monolingual and bilingual)

Begin with the first draft. This gives you chance for further corrections.

Revise the translation by improving the first draft. Here you will have the second draft.

Give your draft to the second reader. This will help to edit your work. You will have to work on the found mistakes.

Write the final draft after making all necessary revisions.

What are the qualities of good translation?

A good translation should be capable of being translated back and yield the same meaning

Performance testing – this is achieved by asking speakers of language A to do actions based on the translation. The same is done to the speakers B to do the same actions basing on the original text. If the results are the same, then translation will be regarded as of good quality.

Knowledge testing – this is done by asking questions especially by way of questionnaire to the speakers of both languages. If the same results are obtained, the translation will be considered good.



It is the type of interpretation where the speaker of TL speaks continuously and the interpreter speaks at the same time in TL. It is usually done in conferences, the interpreter is usually confined in a sound-proof room and usually the interpreter remains confined in a sound-proof room.


It is the type of interpretation where the interpreter speaks after the speaker of the SL. The interpreter sits/stands near the speaker of SL. This type of interpretation is usually employed in gatherings like in churches, mosques etc.


This takes place when several languages are target languages. A source language is interpreted into a language that is understood by several interpreters who later convert the messages into their different target languages.


This is a type of interpretation which involves an interpreter and his client(s) in the areas where different languages are spoken. The interpreter interprets each language to the client(s).

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