Best Practices

Pivot language approach and how can it be used for localization.

When we talk about translation techniques, there are many methods that can be used to achieve a goal - that is, successfully translating something.
Rodrigo Demetrio
2 min
Table of Contents

When we talk about translation techniques, there are many methods that can be used to achieve a goal - that is, successfully translating something.

One of the most famous ones is the pivot language approach. Although famous, many people do not really know what this approach really represents and how you can use it in the best way possible when translating something.

What is the pivot language approach?

The pivot language approach is a method when a professional uses a third language as a “bridge” that fills the gap between two languages. For example, if a document is in Spanish and has to be translated to Danish, but there is an English translation available, it can either be translated from the original document or from its English version. Similarly, when you watch foreign shows or play video games, its subtitles are most likely to have been translated from the English one. As you may know, this is not always the best solution. That is because the cultural aspect of the translation is sometimes overlooked when people use the pivot approach. Another concern when using this method of translation is the quality of the final product. Since expressions and jargons are not objectively translated, there is a chance that the usage of an intermediate language causes errors or mistakenly used words.

When should the pivot language approach be used?

Even though there are concerns when this approach is used, it is one of the best ways to translate a document under certain circumstances. Those are usually related to when there are scarce resources between two languages. Let’s take Korean and Persian for example. Most of the time, a bridge language, such as English, must be used in order to translate a document from one language to another. This approach is also used when there are many translations occurring simultaneously or they have to be done fast, like in the EU Parlament or at a UN Conference. In this case, usually, the English translation is used to generate the other translations.

Don’t forget localization

Localizing your content is the best way to guarantee a translation is done right. As a process that comprehends non-textual and cultural elements of a translation, localization can be used in any translation approach. To do so when using a bridge language is a challenge, but is something that can be done!The best way to localize content when using the pivot language approach is working with languages that are from the same family three. That is because, this way, the chances that some linguistic markers are different or not present in one of them are smaller. The same thing happens with phrase constructions and the usage of jargon. Thus, this will enhance the chances that the translation is done right. Ideally, the languages involved in the process - or at least the source and the pivot languages - should also share some common ground in terms of culture. This will reduce the chances of erroneous interpretations. Another way to use localization as a tool for the pivot language approach is by knowing the cultures involved in the translation. This means that, even if you are translating from a third language, you should have some knowledge of the original culture in which the text was written. Finally, you must also be familiarized with the content you are translating. For example, if it is a game or a TV show, an informal version of the target language can be used. However, if you are translating an event such as a conference, it requires a formal usage of the language.

How to take the pivot language approach right?

While there are some drawbacks to the usage of the pivot language approach, as we have seen above, it is the right method to choose in some situations. And when they are shown, how to use this technique right? Here we give you some tips on that matter!

Do your research

Following the lines of the topic above, it is really important to do complete research into it, therefore, you should take your time to know the basics of the original source of the document - that way, there is less room available for mistranslations.

Keep notes of your work

Many professional translators use spreadsheets to document their translations. This can come to hand when you are not sure about a specific term and is a particularly time-saving technique for those who are using a third language to translate a document.

Use the same rules as any other translation

The pivot language approach should be used in a similar way to other translation methods available. That means that the things used as a general rule for translations should also be followed when using a pivot language. Here, we are talking about tips such as keeping your sentences short, avoiding ambiguity, not changing the tone of voice during the translation and preferably using the active voice. If possible, try to avoid using jargon and keep things as literal as possible. It is also recommended to not use acronyms, as it may mean different things in different countries. It is also important to proofread and review your translation in order to ensure its quality. Remember that we are humans and humans can fail. Therefore, the only way to guarantee you are delivering your best work is by translating, reading and re-reading what you just produced. If you feel like it, you can ask someone to review the translation for you.


The pivot language approach is a largely used method for translation. Due to its fast-paced nature, it is a practical, time-saving and cost-effective way to translate in a variety of situations. However, there are some drawbacks to this technique - that revolve around instances in which the translation can be done wrong. The best way to make sure the content will be rightfully translated is to ally the pivot language technique with localization. This way, more than only roughly translated, content will be adapted to its target audience.

Rodrigo Demetrio
Steering the marketing ship at Bureau Works with 17+ years of MarTech under my belt, I transform mere ideas into tangible realities. Passionate about languages and their power to build bridges, let's build a new one?
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