Terminology related to Translation and Interpreting

Source Language

The language of the original text/speech, the language out of which the text/speech is to be translated/interpreted.

Target Language (TL)

The language into which the text/speech is to be translated/interpreted.

Passive Language

The languages out of which the interpreter is capable of interpreting professionally (i.e. the interpreter’s C languages). It may also refer to the Source Language of an interpreting event.

Active Language

Active language is the language into which the interpreter is capable of providing professional interpretation (the interpreter’s A and B languages). It may also refer to the Target Language of an interpreting event.

Working Languages

The sum of the interpreter’s active and passive languages.


An exercise where the interpreter repeats in the SL while listening to the speaker, what s/he has said, at a distance about 1-3 words behind him/her. Shadowing is not a mode of interpreting, but an exercise for the cultivation of divided attention and for the skill to listen and speak at the same time – an exercise in preparation for Simultaneous Interpretation.

A Language

The interpreter’s native language/mother tongue (or another language strictly equivalent to a native language); usually the interpreter’s TL, i.e. into which the interpreter works from all her or his other languages.

B Language

An active foreign language, of which the interpreter has a perfect command; usually the interpreter’s SL and sometimes a TL.

C Language

The language(s) of which the interpreter has a complete understanding and from which she or he works; a language the interpreter uses as an SL, but never as a TL. An interpreter may have several C languages.


A French term, which means “return”, and refers to interpretation in both directions using two languages. When retour interpreting is used, the interpreter not only interprets into his/her mother tongue but also into another language whenever his/her mother tongue is spoken during the meeting.

Relay interpreting

Relay refers to double or indirect interpretation into the target language of the audience. The speech is first interpreted into one language, which is then interpreted by another interpreter into another language. Relay interpreting can be conducted simultaneously or consecutively.


A soundproof and ventilated enclosed space where two or more simultaneous conference interpreters sit, listening to the speaker through headphones and providing interpretation over a microphone.

Booth mates

Interpreters working together in the same booth.


Anyone participating in a meeting, either as a speaker or as a listener.


A person who re-expresses, orally or by signing (as with sign language interpreting), in the Target Language a message uttered/signed in the Source Language.

Interpreting / Interpretation

The re-expression of a spoken/signed message from the Source Language into the Target Language, orally or by signing.

Direct speech in interpreting

As a usual practice, interpreters are expected to interpret in the first person (or in the same grammatical person) and not to change a direct speech into a reported speech.

Sign Language Interpreting

Sign language interpreting refers to interpretation between a spoken language and a sign language, usually conducted in the simultaneous mode, with two interpreters replacing each other at regular intervals like interpreters working at conferences. In other settings such as courts and hospitals, a sign language interpreter usually works alone in the consecutive mode.

Sight/At-sight Translation (ST)

Sight/At-sight translation, sometimes called sight interpreting, is a hybrid type of interpreting/translating whereby the interpreter reads a document written in the Source Language (SL) while translating it orally into the Target Language (TL).


Also known as whispering or whispered interpreting, refers to simultaneous interpretation provided in a whisper with the interpreter sitting or standing next to one or two people who need interpretation, usually without the use of electronic equipment.



Association internationale des interprètes de conférence (AIIC) 國際會議口譯員協會- AIIC Glossary

Colin, Joan, and Ruth Morris. 1996. Interpreters and the legal process. Winchester: Waterside.

Dollerup, Cay, and Anne Lindegaard. (eds). 1994. Teaching Translation and Interpreting 2. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Co.

Gile, Daniel. 1995. Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator Training. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Co.


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Dr Ester Leung,
Associate Professor, Translation Programme, Hong Kong Baptist University

This is an excellent resource for practitioners, students, educators and researchers of Interpreting. I am very happy to endorse it and to recommend it.

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Professor Sandra Hale, University of New South Wales

Resources for Interpreting is the product of years of experience and expertise.  It is useful not only to professionals, but also researchers and all students of Chinese and English...

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