What does "target language" mean?

Definition of target language
1: a language into which another language is to be translated — compare source language
2: a language other than one’s native language that is being learned
—Merriam Webster—

I noticed that “target language” have two meanings. Is the first meaning usually used by translators? And is the second meaning used by learners of foreign languages?

Do you know synonyms of “target” that is used to signify the second meaning? I suppose that “foreign” languages are not necessarily foreign nowadays.

If you happen to be a translator, what will you call the language you are learning?

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Regardless of what Merriam Webster says, I think of ‘target language’ as the foreign language you are wanting to acquire.
I think political correctness has gotten us away from saying ‘foreign language,’ so other terms have come along to replace it: target language, non-native language. It all means the same thing: the language that is not the language you learned naturally as a child, which you are now putting a lot of effort into learning because you want to learn it. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s all the term means to me.

Synonyms for target would be: objective, goal, aim
It is my objective, goal or aim to learn this language.


Do you think that the second meaning did not exit a while ago?

In another dictionary, only one meaning is described.
“a language that you are changing spoken or written words into”

I really have no idea. Maybe the first sense existed in other circles. In the translating community. But I have no frame of reference for that, so I couldn’t say. ‘Target language’ seems to be a relatively new term in comparison to ‘foreign language.’

I looked it up.

Oxford definitely gives the sense as we have been using it in the language learning community as the subsense: a foreign language which a person intends to learn.

The definition ‘the language into which a text, document or speech is translated’ is given as the core sense. But I have been completely ignorant of this terminology my entire life. And it seems just as unimportant to me now.

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I think you are over-thinking it. I am a translator (not interpreter) and I handle documents. My “target” languages, ie those I’m shooting at, are either Spanish or English (my native language). When translating, it’s the language I’m translating “into.” Spanish INTO English or English INTO Spanish. I don’t really use that phrase “target” language because I’m really only dealing with one language pair (English and Spanish). In the context of my language learning, Spanish is my target language.

Is “source language” also unfamiliar to you?

You are proficient in English and Spanish, and both languages can be a source language or a target language in translation.