Acronyms and Common Translation Industry Terms that May Puzzle You

You might think that an industry focused on translation to ensure effective communication would avoid using puzzling acronyms, abbreviations, terms and jargon.

Nevertheless, the fact is that when you discuss translation industry terms, you’ll encounter all of these — and it can be difficult to figure out what the latest bit of alphabet soup and word salad refers to.

This guide is for those of you who are not familiar with the jargon used in the translation industry and it  should help you understand them a little better.

Source language and target language

Let’s take it to the basics for a moment. Sometimes the seemingly ‘obvious’ terms that are bandied about without anyone stopping to explain them just pass us by, so don’t worry if you still get confused about source and target languages. Simply put the source language is the language you are translating from (usually the language the text was originally written in) and the target language is the language it is being translated into. In a French to English translation, French is the source language and English is the target language. These terms are often shortened to SL and TL.

CAT Tools

Not to be mistaken for the popular pet, in the translation industry, CAT is the acronym for Computer Assisted Translation. CAT supports and facilitates the translation process. Actually, like an actual feline, it has proven to be a great companion… for translators.

CAT accelerates the translation process by transforming source text into smaller translatable segments and organizing them to make the translation process easier for the human translator. As a result, the entire process of translating becomes more time-efficient. These computer systems aid translators with the ability to edit and manage their translations — a collaboration between human and computer that results in more efficient translation process. However, CAT it is not to be confused with machine translation.

MT (Machine Translation)

Machine translation differs from CAT. It performs the simple substitution of words from one language to another, without the ability to recognize whole phrases, like idioms, that may translate to something entirely different. On this blog, we frequently keep up with stories about advances and problems of MT — it is a promising field that has made great progress over the years, but many argue that MT will never be able to replace professional human translators.

TM (Translation Memory)

A translation memory, or TM, is a database where “segments” are stored. These segments may be sentences, paragraphs, headings, titles or just about anything that has been translated previously. Translation memories are used in conjunction with CAT tools.

A translation memory is a bilingual file that stores all translations. You can analyze new texts sent by customers against the TM to ensure consistency and even provide discounts for repeated segments of text.

New Words

“New words” are words, sentences or segments that are identified by the CAT tool as not having been repeated in the text, and they’re present in the translation memory. Sometimes, these “new words” are the ones that are taken into account and priced accordingly.


As the name implies, repetitions are words, segments or sentences that repeat themselves in the text and that generally do not need to be translated again. However, even in cases of 100% matches, it is important for a human translator to check for changes in context that may require a change in the translation.


Fuzzies are segments or sentences that exist in the translation memory, as a whole or partially, and are not considered as new translation or new words. Fuzzies can also be names or numbers. These might qualify for discounts. Fuzzy matching is a technique that helps speed up the translation process by finding matches that are near perfect between text segments and other entries. This applies to sentences and phrases. Fuzzy matches are saved in the TM database, and translators will typically perform a search for segments that are between 70 and 99% similar to the phrase or sentence they wish to translate.


Localization goes beyond translation. Where translation can be defined as the process of converting written content in one language to another, localization is concerned with adapting that content for the new target audience. It considers local traditions, beliefs, and customs and is applied, not only to the written word, but to colors, layout, numbers, and all manner of components which make up content such as websites, advertising, or video games. Localization can be the difference between a perfectly accurate translation of an American ad campaign from English into Spanish intended for various Spanish speaking countries, for example, and an ad that is tailored for each of those individual countries and truly connects with its target audience.


In terms of customizing content for a target audience, transcreation goes one step further than localization. Where localization adapts, transcreation pretty much starts from scratch, taking the ideas that need to be expressed and reforming them for the new reader.

Back translation

This is the process of translating a previously translated text back into its source language. It is typically used as a quality control method to check for inaccuracies and ambiguities and is performed by an independent translator (i.e. not the translator who did the original translation). Back translation is certainly not employed for every translation project as it is costly and not always appropriate, but it is often used in cases where accuracy is of the utmost importance such as legal documents or technical instructions.

Style guide

A style guide is a handy document which outlines the stylistic instructions and norms for documents translated or written for that specific company, publication, or organization. It covers areas such as grammar, punctuation, spelling, and numeric formats and ensures consistency and quality. It’s always a good idea to check if a style guide exists before beginning your translation, as it can save time and frustration later in the editing process.


In a similar vein to style guides, glossaries help maintain consistency and are a wonderful time saver for the translator. Essentially a glossary is a personalized bilingual dictionary, which lists commonly used terms in your translation field in both the source and target languages. Some companies will have their own glossaries, which means that these important terms will always be translated in the same way, no matter which translator they are working with, but it’s also a good idea for translators to create them for themselves. They take a little work to make, but once they are up and running, you’ll thank yourself as it makes translation much faster!


This acronym stands for price per word, meaning the per word rate a translator charges for their services. Make sure when setting this rate you are explicit as to whether you are basing it on the number of words in the source or target text.


Transcription is the process of converting oral utterances into the written form. This text may, or may not, then be translated into another language.


TEP stands for the three most common steps of a translation project: translation, editing, and proofreading. Without all three steps being completed, the quality of a translation cannot be assured.

Desktop publishing

Frequently abbreviated to DTP, desktop publishing refers to the use of software such as Adobe FrameMaker, QuarkXPress, Microsoft Publisher, and Adobe InDesign to rearrange text and images to create the desired layout. DTP is used in numerous types of texts such as brochures, web pages, and manuals. Layouts of these types of texts usually have to be altered post-translation as the length and reading direction of target texts can differ from source texts.


This acronym stands for do not translate and is often used for words and phrases including brand names and trademarks.


A project manager, or PM, oversees and supervises translation projects for the client and translation agency. Among other things, they assign the most appropriate translator, or translators, to a project; keep the client updated about the status of the translation and make sure the project runs smoothly and is delivered on time and to the highest quality.

We hope this quick overview of some translation industry terms and acronyms helped explain a few things. Are there any other terms that you’re unclear about? Let us know!

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