Faithfulness in Translation

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Table of Contents

Faithfulness in translation defines how a translated document follows the source and how much it keeps the original message. However, this doesn’t mean the original text must remain as close to the original as it can be. In the past, experimented translators elaborated theories to help define how faithfully should the translation follow the initial document to keep the message intact.

In this post we will take a look at the main translation theories to help you achieve faithfulness in translation. We will tackle the benefits of using each theory, and we will try to explain them as clear as possible. After, it is your turn to choose one or another wisely depending on your needs.

Faithfulness is most common criterion when evaluating a translation

How to Approach a Faithful Translation

The goal of any translator is to transmit the translated text to an audience in a faithful way that reflects its style. For some documents it is not an easy job. Particularly when the translation or interpretation of a text involves interpreting many references and specific terms in a certain culture.

Translators must understand terms very deeply so that they can present documents in a suitable way for the target audience. They need to be able to not over-simplify or translate terms literally, because they could loose the original meaning.

Throughout history, many linguistic influences gave rise to the main challenges in a successful translation.

Translation is not a Scientific discipline. No universal rule applies to every problem in translation entirely. Translators may approach one problem from two very different perspectives and still be able to solve it accurately and precisely. However, you can make use of the main translation theories.

Translation theories are basic rules that translators must apply them when trying to achieve faithfulness in translation. One of the most important ones is the Dynamic and formal equivalence theory, conveyed by Eugene Nida, a linguist who developed the dynamic-equivalence Bible-translation theory.

The Dynamic and Formal Equivalence Theory

The truth is there is no real answer to the “How to achieve a faithful translation” question. When translating a text you must consider the main translation theories, like the dynamic and formal equivalence theory, and use one or another regarding your needs. Sometimes you might even need to use both within the same text.

Let’s dig into the Eugene Nida’s theories for translation and try to explain the benefits of using each approach:

1. Formal Equivalece Approach: Closer to the original meaning

Formal equivalence translation, commonly refered as literal translation or word to word translation, manages to stay extremely close to the original meaning, trying to achieve equivalence between the original text and the translated text.

The translated text should reflect, as faithfully as possible, the main linguistical features: Vocabulary, grammar, syntax and structure of the original language.

2. Dynamic Equivalence Approach: Adapt the text for the target audience

Dynamic equivalence translation, also known as functional translation, creative translation or free translation, consists of translating a text in a more natural way to the target language. Single words might turn into sentences, or even entire sentences might turn into single words. The purpose is to always preserve a natural approach. This approach is good when readability of a translation is more important than the preservation of the original grammatical structure.

Most professional translators will often use this option because it allows people to read texts that are easily understandable. As shocking as it may seem, when hiring a professional translation company you are seeking for a better creative translation. However, good translators will often combine both approaches, as it will led to a more authentic and unblemished translation.

What are the benefits of using Formal or Dynamic equivalence to obtain a faithful translation?

1. Benefits of following Formal Equivalece Translation

Translating following formal equivalence principles will focus more on representing the original linguistical features as faithfully as possible. This brings some benefits, like bringing the target audience as close as possible to the original author’s message. There is less risk in obtaining a translation that is too influenced by the translator. It also brings a more authentic experience, allowing the reader to understand the original intent of the author.

Formal equivalence will allow readers to interpret the text by themselves. Those who are familiar with both source language and target language can understand deeply how meaning was expressed in the original text.

In some of the most translated books in the world, like the Christian Bible or the Hebrew Bible, reserving untranslated idioms, rhetorical devices and diction can help in order to preserve original information.

2. Benefits of following Dynamic Equivalence Translation

People will always expect professional translators to deliver a text that is understandable in the target language. For this reason, translators must always consider the audience for which they are translating. Oftentimes, references or idioms written in the original language have no sense in the target language, or mean different things. These structures need must be adapted to retain the essence of the text.

Professional translator must study and analyze the style and nuances of the original document before starting a translation project. This is why it is important to choose the best translation company for your specific needs.

For certain audiences, there might not be a point on reading a text if it remains too faithful to the original. If the target audience doesen’t understand the nuances of the original document it can lead to a bad experience. Ultimately, the success of a text can only be measured by the impression it leaves on the reader.


Basic Rules to get a Faithful Translation

As you can see, there isn’t a definitive rule that you can apply to all translations. It all depends on the intent of the original document, the type of text you are translating and who you are translating to.

However, there are always some common translation mistakes to avoid.

For example, when translating the Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes, it could be interesting for the reader to read something as close as the original. They´ll want to have an authentic experience as possible when they are reading the book, appreciate the various references made in 17th century Spanish literature and make sense of what it is said in the text. The same principle applies to religious texts, like the Hebrew Bible, the Quoran or the Christian Bible.

However, when it comes to daily translations, like an instruction manual or a press release, it could be beneficial to adapt it to the target audience, because it is more understandable to the reader. Keeping the authenticity of the original document is not that important. The target audience and the intent of the message must drive the translation.

A similar logic can be applied to adverts, for example. It has no sense translating word by word from English to Spanish, because the references made in the English version will not have the same effect on a Spanish public and it could be necessary and interesting to adapt it as the translator considers.



To sum up, a translator’s job is to find the sweet spot between these two approaches. Always take into consideration what the intent of the document is, who is the target audience and try to improve the readability of the translation.

There is no definitive right or wrong answers to achieve faithfulness in translation, only the experience and knowledge of the translation theories will help when choosing the right approach.

Here at TranslateDay we have that experience in abundance, with more than 70000 documents translated, and a full team of native translators at your service. We are able to assist you with any translation problems you might have and we will always be driven by faithfulness and professionalism.

Get your document translated now!

Our expert professional translators are at your service for just $23.00 per page
Certified Professional Translation

Our translation service is always available. Fast delivery within 24 hours for 1-2 document pages

See our 125 reviews on Trustpilot
Print the article
Share on Whatsapp
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on LinkedIn