Translation v/s Transliteration –  Know Your Facts

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Translation vs Transliteration

Imagine you go to a Chinese restaurant, you look at the menu and read ‘Chow Mein Soup’. If ‘Chow Mein’ were written in Mandarin, you would not know what it meant. However, if the same thing is written below in English, you will understand. Is it translation or transliteration? 

For many, this is a translation. But that’s incorrect. This is actually transliteration. Are you still confused about the two? Well, you are not alone. We have experienced the same situation because we have received many queries from customers looking for our translation API and transliteration API solutions.  Even if both these solutions look like a great way to communicate with your customers, there’s a difference between the two. 

Let’s break them down in simple terms, understanding both services and how it’s beneficial for your business. 

Understanding the Terms: Translation vs Transliteration

Translation is the process of converting text from the source language into the text of the target language. This translated content should match the meaning of the source content – using a different native tongue.

Source word: Shoes

Translation:  जूते

In the above example, the source word is in English and the translated word is in Hindi.

For instance, the Hindi translation of the word ‘shoes’ is जूते. Here the source language is English and the target language is Hindi. 

Unlike translation which helps a customer to get the meaning of the word, transliteration gives them an idea of how it is pronounced. It’s the process of converting words or letters into the characters of an alphabet of another language. It helps users pronounce the words of an unknown language using their native tongue.

Let’s take the same example, the Hindi transliteration of the word ‘shoes’ is शूज. Here the meaning of ‘shoes’ is not provided to the user in their native tongue but he or she can read it phonetically using their native language. 



Translation: जूते

Transliteration: शूज 

Interesting transliteration fact: 

German auto company BMW used transliteration API and changed its name to 宝马 (bǎomǎ) for its Chinese market. It shows that they are serious about the market and not just tossing a product or service around. 

Translation vs Transliteration API – Key Differences 

Both translation and transliteration solutions involve converting the written text into another language. But let’s dig deeper into understanding their key differences.

Translation  Transliteration
Carries the contextual meaning of the word from one language to another.  Carries the pronunciation of the word from one language to another but not the meaning. 
Requires a deep understanding of the target language’s grammar, syntax, and cultural context  More focused on pronunciation of the word from one language to another without much understanding of the cultural context  
Used in literature like fiction and non-fiction books and formal documents like memos and business emails where conveying the message with accuracy is crucial. Used in technical fields like engineering and computer programming where maintaining the original script’s pronunciation is essential. 
Use case: A publishing house translates a novel to sell it in a country to expand its reach and increase sales.  Use case: A restauranter uses transliteration of the names of Chinese dishes on the menu so that the target audience can read the names of foreign dishes in their native language 

Translation and Transliteration: In One Document

Integrating both translation and transliteration in a single document can be a strategic approach and can cater to a diverse audience. This combination ensures not only cultural accuracy for those seeking the meaning of the content but also maintains the original script’s integrity for those more comfortable with its pronunciation.

There are certain pointers we need to consider before performing both translation and transliteration together. 

  1. Italicizing and capitalization: Whenever you are translating or transliterating, make sure it stands out of the text. This can be done by capitalizing and italicizing the texts accordingly. 

Source text: Hello. How are you?

Translation: नमस्ते, आप कैसे हैं?

  1. Formatting: There are two formats. One where the translation comes first succeeded by transliteration and vice versa. A business can choose either of the formats in the same document but stick to the same format throughout the conversion.

Source text: “Hello. How are you?”

Format 1: नमस्ते. हाउ आर यू?

Format 2:हेलो. आप कैसे हैं?”

In the first format, the translation is provided before the transliteration, offering the audience immediate access to the meaning in the target language. Conversely, in the second format, transliteration is presented first, allowing those familiar with the original script to connect with the content before delving into the translated version.

  1. Frequency: Based on the target audience, determine how frequently you need to use both for conversions. If your target audience is familiar with the original script then you can increase the frequency of transliteration. On the other hand, if your audience is less familiar with the source language, using more translation can enrich the understanding of the cultural context for the audience.

Translation vs Transliteration. What Does Your Business Need? 

The choice between the translation API and the transliteration API comes down to the purpose of the input and your target audience. There are many benefits of translation API. If you want to convert your content into a specific native language while preserving localization for your business needs, translation API should be your choice. If pronunciation is your concern then go with transliteration API. For example, if you’re planning to do business in a country where your customers will have difficulty reading your company name, using transliteration can ensure that native speakers can pronounce your company name correctly, helping you connect with them more effectively. 

Often, a combination of both techniques can be a powerful approach, providing comprehensive understanding and accurate representation for a diverse audience. 

Reverie’s Translation and Transliteration Solutions 

Reverie is a localization giant catering to India’s localization needs and requirements. Our experts use both translation API and transliteration API to ensure that your website and applications stay ahead of the curve. 

We seamlessly translate your content and applications using machine translation and unify your brand’s identity by maintaining consistent pronunciation of multiple scripts.

With Reverie, drive meaningful conversations and propel growth in a thriving marketplace. 

Check out our text-to-speech and speech-to-text API here:

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