Foreignization and Domestication in Translation

Foreignization and domestication are two completely different approaches to translation. However, depending on the context, both have their time to shine.

Mónica Cabral • May 22, 2020
Mónica Cabral • May 22, 2020
Several rolled world maps standing

There are countless approaches when it comes to translating, all of them different among themselves. Some focus on the fidelity to the source text, others are more concerned with the style and terminology, and there are also some that focus on the understanding of the target audience.

In this post, I will focus on the latter. Translation is, without a doubt, an interchange of languages, but also of cultures. It is safe to say that, if you a translate the message of a text literally, with all the due alterations regarding language, the translation will be absolutely correct when it comes to grammar, terminology, etc. However, if the target audience is not able to understand it, is it really a good translation?

Foreignization and domestication are two polar approaches to translation. While foreignization defends that the target text should be loyal to the source text’s author, and keep the original tone and references, domestication focuses on the adaptation of the target text, to facilitate the reader’s understanding.

Culture in Translation

Broadly speaking, culture is the whole of customs, beliefs and characteristics of a local. Food, religion, sayings, traditions, clothes, all of it constitutes a culture, and makes it unique.

Throughout the years, culture has become more and more of an important factor in translation. Translation is not only a transfer of languages, but also a transfer of cultures. Language and culture go hand in hand in translation. Language is not only used to describe facts, events, or ideas, but also to characterize people’s way of living, beliefs, customs, etc.

To understand a language is essential to also learn its cultural aspects, so to translate a text is essential to know well the target language and culture.

Foreignization and Domestication

The concepts of foreignization and domestication were first put forward in 1995 by Lawrence Venuti, an American scholar. Venuti describes foreignization as a translation strategy that prioritizes the source text and the source culture, whereas domestication is a target-culture-oriented strategy. Moreover, Venuti shows a clear preference for adopting the foreignization strategy, claiming that its goal is to assure a distinction between the original and the translation. (Venuti, 1995)

On the other hand, Eugene Nida, another well-known translation scholar, defends the adoption of the domestication strategy, since it is best to produce a translation that sounds natural and is relatable and easy to understand to the target audience.

It is clear that foreignization and domestication are two polar translation strategies. The main aspects that differentiate them are:

  • Proximity to the author vs. the reader.
  • Visibility vs. invisibility of the translator.
  • Literal vs. free translation.
  • Loyalty to the source text’s style and form.
  • Minimization of the strangeness.

Proximity to the Author VS. the Reader

Foreignization defends that the translator should leave the author “resting”. In other words, the translator should move the reader towards the author. This implies a very high level of loyalty to the source text. The translator should avoid any concessions when a literal translation is not feasible. Also, this strategy doesn’t try to make it easy for the reader to understand the text, since there are little to no adaptations.

On the other hand, domestication defends the opposite. The author should be moved towards the reader, leaving the latter “resting”. That being said, the translator proceeds to make all the necessary adaptations in order to eliminate strangeness and lead to a more natural and fluent reading. Ultimately, the main goal of the translation is for it to have the same effect as the original on the reader.

Visibility VS. Invisibility of the Translator

When it comes to this aspect, foreignization defends that the target text should keep the translator visible. In other words, the translation should maintain the foreignness of the source text and ignore the essence of the target language and culture.

In contrast, domestication is all for the invisibility of the translator. Its goal is to produce a text that the audience doesn’t realize was translated, as if it was written originally in their native language. It does so by creating a text that is fluent and natural sounding, getting rid of all the strange and foreign words.

Literal VS. Free Translation

These two concepts, much like the two strategies, are polar opposites. Literal translation consists of keeping the form of the source language, not only when it comes to its formal elements, but also its content. Foreignization defends that translators should adopt this method, even if that means compromising the target text’s elements and the audience’s understanding.

Contrary to this, domestication argues that the translator’s priority when translating should always be the target text and the target audience. That means making all the necessary adaptations regarding form, cultural connotations and references, to assure comprehensibility, even if that means going against the source text’s form.

Loyalty to the Source Text's Style and Form

As I said before, foreignization believes that the translator should be as loyal as possible to the source text’s style and form. This means that the translation will be identical to the original, just in a different language. The translator should reproduce as closely as possible the source text’s structure, tone, word choice, sentence structure, etc., even if that means that the text will make no sense or will be hard to understand for the target audience.

On the other hand, domestication prioritizes the target language and culture. This implies making all the necessary adaptations, regarding structure, form, vocabulary, verb tenses, tone of voice, amongst others. The main goal is to assure that the target text is fluid, makes sense, and is understood by the audience, even if that requires creating a text that looks nothing like the original.

Minimization of the Strangeness

Probably the biggest difference between foreignization and domestication is the fact that one defends minimizing and eliminating all the strange and unknown words from the source text, while the other doesn’t. Foreignization states that the translator should keep all the original cultural references, like street names, historical figures, names of institutions, popular sayings, etc., creating a feeling of strangeness and foreignness on the reader.

Domestication, in turn, argues that the translator should replace all unknown and strange words with others known to the audience and characteristic of that specific culture. This will make the reader understand and relate better to the text, as they feel it was written by a native.


We live in an era of globalization, where people are becoming more and more aware of the huge diversity of cultures there are all over the world. This globalization has an impact not only on the way we communicate with each other, but also on translation.

None of these strategies is better or more adequate. Translators always have to make choices, and those choices depend on several factors, such as the text type, the skopos of the target text, the target audience expectations, among others. And the translators’ preference will also sometimes influence their choice.

People can argue that domestication is better, because it takes into account the target audience, and this is great when dealing with text types such as app and website localization, marketing, and other texts meant to appeal to the reader. However, foreignization also has its upsides, and can be adopted in literary texts, for example, in order to respect the style of the original author. Nevertheless, sometimes the ideal can be a mixture of both strategies. There are no right or wrong choices, it will always depend on many variables.


Venuti, L. (1995). The Translator’s Invisibility, London, New York: Routledge.

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Mónica Cabral
Mónica Cabral

English and Spanish to Portuguese translator and co-founder of Alumiar Elísio. Currently attending a master's degree in Specialized Translation.

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