This Glossary contains terms commonly associated with language and communication assistance. It is not exhaustive but does broaden the scope beyond what is covered in the printed Toolkit. Familiarisation with these terms could prove helpful in your interactions with language professionals.




The language which an interpreter or translator speaks with the most fluency. Also known as First Language or Mother Tongue.

A standardised method to formally certify the abilities of a professional translator or interpreter. This could include periodic additional training and examinations.

Ad hoc interpretation
Interpreting performed by a non-professional interpreter in an informal setting. For example, a child interpreting for her mother at a bank, or a neighbour helping to make an appointment with a doctor over the telephone.

Alternative Formats
Alternative to written translations targeted specifically for blind and visually-impaired people. Examples of alternative formats are Audio Tape, Braille, Disc Transcription, Large Print, and Moon Transcription.

Audio Tape
An alternative format of translation for blind or visually impaired people in which text is transcribed onto cassette tape or CD. Transcriptions of graphics, pictures and diagrams are also included.


Back Translation
See Literal Translation.

A language other than the interpreter’s native language and into which s/he works from one or more of her or his other languages.

When a translator or interpreter can use two languages with equal fluency.

A system of reading, writing and printing for blind or visually impaired people. Varied arrangements of raised dots representing letters and numerals are embossed by hand or machine onto thick paper, then identified or read by touch. Braille characters take up to three times more space to print than traditional typesetting. Moon Transcription is another type of embossed type similar to Braille.


Colloquial Language
This is the slight adaptation of a language by its native speakers. Although understood by all speakers of the language, it would not be appropriate in formal situations. See also Slang.

Consecutive Interpreting
The interpreter is seated at a table along with delegates and takes notes of what the speaker is saying. The speaker pauses every few minutes to allow the interpreter to repeat what was said in the target language. This type of interpreting is usually better suited for smaller groups.

Culture-Sensitive Translation
This is translating in a style to reflect cultural differences. It is the adaptation of a translated document to suit the cultural sensibilities of a specific group of people. Intercultural skills and general tact help translators demonstrate the meaning with no loss in translation.



Dialects are the regional variations of pronunciation in a major language. Dialects can be used to write or communicate with a targeted audience. However official documents such as financial statements must be written in the official language of the country.

Disc Transcription
A type of transcription for visually impaired people who use special text-enlarging software with their computers. Documents are formatted to be compatible with various types of software, and then transferred to a disc.


Escort Interpreter
An interpreter who travels alongside a person to provide immediate communication aid. This type of interpreter could, for example, accompany an elderly person who is being transported from one hospital to another to meet with a specialist consultant. Also known as a Guide Interpreter.
Words or phrases, used to avoid saying unpleasant or offensive words or phrases.


Face-to-Face Interpreting
This is interpreting, performed by an interpreter who is in the direct company of speakers and clients, unlike telecommunication interviews. Also known as On-site Interpreting or Liaison Interpreting.

First Language
See Mother Tongue.


Guide Interpreter
See Escort Interpreter.


Induction Loop

Special equipment installed in large public venues so that deaf or hearing-impaired people can hear more easily. A special cable (or “loop”) encircling a designated area creates a magnetic field. This magnetic field can be picked up by anyone within the area of the loop when their hearing aid is switched to the "T" setting. Receivers can also be supplied to people who do not have a suitable hearing aid. Infrared Systems work in a similar way but use invisible infrared light to carry sound to receivers worn by listeners. These systems are often used in theatres, cinemas, places of worship, meeting rooms, conference halls, lecture rooms, airports, shopping centres and bus and train stations.

A person who orally translates one language into another. A person who works between two different people who do not speak the same language, acting as the interpreter for each party.


This is the technical language that is used by people who all work in a similar profession, such as within legal or medical areas, who share the same specialist terms and phrases. These terms could seem to general members of the public difficult to understand without appropriate help.


Language Pair

These are the two languages that a translator or interpreter translates from (known as the source language) and into (known as the target language).

Language Service Provider

This person is not an interpreter, but instead, acts as a middle man, placing connections between both interpreters and clients. Also known as a Translation and Interpretation Broker.

Large Print

An alternative format in which a document is translated into a format that is easier for visually impaired readers to read. In addition to larger font sizes, other considerations such as colours, line spacing and alignment are taken into consideration.

Literal Translation

A type of exact word for word translation of a text, without any changes being implemented to the text, to make it easier for the readers of the translated text to understand. Generally, this type of translation is not used when assisting people with communication, and is more often used for analysis of source texts. Literal Translating is also known as Verbatim Translation or Back Translation.

Loan Word

A word that is taken from one language, and put into use in another. For example, “déjà vu” has been taken from French and used in the English language.

This is the process of developing products or texts so that they can be used and understood locally. Products and texts developed in this way are usually culturally neutral, so as they can easily be used around a community. For example, the police produce a leaflet on crime prevention to distribute to several communities, and decide to change certain parts of the leaflet to suit certain events that have taken place within the community or the changing of the language used or the cultural information supplied. This could also be known as Globalisation.


Mother Tongue

The language that a person speaks or reads with the most ease, and is most often the first language they learned. Also known as an 
A-Language, Dominant Language, First Language or Native Language.

Used to describe a person who has a high to fluent level in three or more languages.


Native language

This is the first language somebody picks up as a child. It is the language that they are born into and is often the primary language of a community.

This is the creation of new words in languages. Neologisms are common in technological fields, for example, "Internet" and "DVD". Qualified and specialist interpreters and translators must keep up to date as much as possible with neologisms.


Plain Language

These are documents written in straight and accessible language. This type of document is normally targeted at an audience who are not expected to have any prior knowledge to what the document is about, for example, a teacher could give a class a text book written in Plain Language explaining a new topic on their course.

A language which evolves as groups of people who speak different languages meet regularly and need a means of communication with each other. Pidgin is a mix of several languages, often with limited vocabulary.


A process of interpreting which involves two people trying to have a conversation through two interpreters. Each of these interpreters only speaks one of the two languages required and a common third language. This type of interpreting is highly stressful and requires a high level of interpretational skill.

Remote Interpreting
Interpreting performed while the interpreter is not in the presence of the speakers whom they are interpreting for. For example, interpreting via telephone (Telephone Interpreting) or by video conference (Video Interpreting).


Service User

An all purpose term to describe a member of the public who contacts an organisation as a customer, patient or client for the purpose of obtaining information or services.


This is the use of hand gestures to communicate with deaf people or hearing-impaired people. There are many different types of sign language in the world, such as British Sign Language, French Sign Language and Indian Sign Language. The act of performing in sign-language is called signing.

Sight Translation

During an interpreting appointment, an interpreter may be asked to provide a spoken version of written text (such as instructions on medications, an information leaflet, or short letters). If the text exceeds approximately 300-400 words, the text should be given to a professional translator.

Simultaneous Interpreting

An interpreter sits in a soundproof booth listening to a speech through headphones in the source language, while at the same time interpreting into the Target Language for an audience wearing headphones. The speaker does not pause, so the interpreter must listen and interpret simultaneously. This type of interpreting is used, for example, within the United Nations and requires a high level of skill. This is also known as Unidirectional Interpreting and is one of two types of Conference Interpreting. See also Consecutive Interpreting.


This is the use of language at a very informal level. Slang speech uses expressions that are, generally speaking, grammatically incorrect, and often rude. Slang is normally used between small social groups where its purpose is to keep the group together. Examples of slang could be for example, “cool” meaning “great”, or “skint” meaning to have no money. See also Colloquial Language.

Source Language
The language from which a translation or interpretation originates. The source language makes up the first-half of a Language Pair (and the Target Language comprises the second-half).


Target Audience

This is the person or group of people to whom an interpreter or translator is addressing.

Target Language

The language into which an original language (the source language) is being translated or interpreted. The Target Language is one-half of a Language Pair.

Telephone Interpreting

This is interpreting which is not carried out "on-site". An interpreter is connected by telephone to the participating parties, generally through a speaker-phone, headsets or a 2-handset phone.


This is the transformation of written text from the source language into the target language.

This is the idea that all things that are said in a group of people in an interpreted conversation, should be said by an interpreter in every language that is spoken in the group. This is so that the information can be heard and understood by all people present.


Verbatim Translation
See Literal Translation.

Video Interpreting
Interpreting which takes place using video cameras in two different locations (most often the interpreter is alone in a remote location). For example, a doctor and patient who are together in the doctor's surgery are assisted by an interpreter who interprets the conversation by a video camera link. See also, Remote Interpreting.


Whisper Interpreting
This is a form of simultaneous interpreting, where an interpreter sits close to a listener and provides constant, whispered interpretation of a speaker's source language into the listener’s target language. Also known as Chuchotage Interpreting (French for "whisper").


The irrational fear of foreign people and/or foreign things.


Yes/No Questions
A type of closed question which an interpreter may ask or be asked,  which requires a straight yes or no answer, and cannot be answered in any other way.

We’re very impressed with the Happy to Translate initiative and looking forward to working with the supporting tools and processes. The training session was an excellent introduction and all staff feel confident that they will achieve positive outcomes with tenants whose first language is other than English, as a result of implementing Happy to Translate.

Carolyn Hughes, Deputy Director, Manor Estates Housing Association

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