A target language can either be a language that a non-native speaker is striving to learn or a language that a translator is striving to translate into another language. In the first instance, the non-native speaker may be trying to learn a majority language in which his or her language is the minority language, or the motive may be for other purposes. In some instances, a person's native language may be lost or replaced with the target language. This often happens when the person speaking the target language moves to another country at a very young age.
The native language can also be called the mother tongue or the first language, while the target language may also be referred to as an auxiliary language. The first language of any individual is the first language that the person learns from childhood and the language that such a person is most comfortable speaking. For instance, a Spanish person in an English-speaking country may learn the English language; however, such a person may be most comfortable speaking Spanish since that is the language of his or her childhood.
An individual may forget the native language of his or her birth and early childhood in favor of the new language through a process known as language attrition. In this sense, the native language may be replaced by the target language since the individual has attained native-like proficiency in the target language to the detriment of the native language. Some people find it hard to achieve the kind of proficiency in their target language as manifested by the native speakers when they learn the language as adults. This may be observed in the form of errors in intonation, fluency and the misplacement of emphasis during pronunciation.
In the case of translation, the native language or the language from which a translation is to be made is known as the source language. The language to which the translation is to be made is the target language. Translating a language from its source to a target can be a little tricky due to the propensity to carry over some personal interpretation or personal idiosyncrasies that may not be generally acceptable. For instance, a person translating a proverb from a source language to a target language may translate the proverb in a manner in which he or she understands it, not necessarily the faithful translation. The ability to maintain faithfulness in translation is known as transparency or faithfulness.