Tag Archive for: Translation and Interpretation

What is The Difference Between Translation and Interpreting?

It is a commonly known fact that there are approximately 7139 languages spoken in the world today. But a lesser-known fact is that about 40% of these languages are endangered, with less than 1000 speakers left to speak them. With such a constantly changing dynamic of languages spoken by communities whose lives are changing with the languages, it comes as no surprise that communication is a vital aspect of survival. Translation and interpretation make this communication possible between communities, persons, and businesses. Both are required for making communication easier and both have their own challenges and benefits, which distinguish them from one another. This is why professional translation agencies are needed if one wants to avail these services. 

While these two terms ‘translation’ and ‘interpretation’ are used interchangeably, there are some clear differences between the two. Here we take a look at what is denoted by translation and interpretation and what are the features that make them differ from each other.

Translation and Interpretation – A Spotlight


The translation is defined as “an act, process, or instance of rendering from one language to another” by Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Simply put, translation is the transfer of written text from one language (called the source language) to another (called the target language) while ensuring that the core meaning of the text remains the same.

Translators use software and other tools to convert one language to another. Some of these tools are translation memory and glossaries, which facilitate the translation process and fill the missing gaps. This is the reason why these translators can easily go through the text and can refer to other written material in order to ensure accurate translation. And herein lies the main difference between translation and interpretation – translators work with written material such as print and websites, while interpreters work on live translation, legal proceedings, live TV broadcasts, medical examinations, and sign language. 


Interpretation is defined as the oral reproduction of spoken language and is basically what you call “rephrasing”. An interpreter, therefore, is a person who repeats the message in a different language and deals with live conversation. Since it is delivered live, either simultaneously (in unison) or consecutively (immediately after), no help is taken from written material, scripts, dictionaries, or other helping material. Interpreters need to transpose the source language within its context, by taking care to preserve its original meaning. The only exception is that an interpreter rephrases idioms, colloquialisms, and other cultural-related references. 

Key Differences Between Translation and Interpretation


As explained above, translation is the transfer of one language to another. It is also a fact that different texts require different translation processes.

  • Technical Translation

Involve translation of guides, booklets, manuals, technical standards, and patents.

  • Financial Translation

Involve precise and accurate translation of annual financial reports, bank records, accounting statements, and invoices.

  • Legal Translation

Involve translation of business agreements, legislation, employment documents, and merger and acquisition documents. 

  • Medical Translation

Involve translation that abides by the medical standards of the target country. This involves the translation of clinical trials, manuals of medicine usage, pharmaceutical, and patient reports.

  • Website Translation / localization

Localization involves the adaptation of the text to local conventions. A website translation involves the translation of websites, user guides, mobile apps localization, and software localization.


These are the types of interpretation:

  • Simultaneous Interpretation

Referred to as live interpreting, spoken language is interpreted from one language to another without any delay. For simultaneous interpretation, specialized equipment is a must. It is used in conferences, state visits, congress sessions, lectures, and training sessions.

  • Consecutive Interpretation

Known as gradual interpretation, this type of interpretation involves the interpretation of spoken word into the target language in parts of sentences. It is mostly used for lectures, seminars, business meetings, press conferences, public lectures, state visits, and audits.

Differences in Language Skills

One common thing that both translator and interpreter have in common is the command of their native and target language. But certain differences lie in this skill too.

A translator must possess a thorough and deep knowledge of grammar and stylistics. This is because his/her main task is to translate texts from the source language to the target language. In addition to this, they must also be capable of using and translating the words in a way that attracts the attention of the target audience. While it is true that most translators translate exclusively into their mother tongue, only some translators are adept at translating their mother tongue to a foreign language. 

On the other hand, an interpreter must have proficiency in both the source and target language. This is due to the reason that they are required to interpret simultaneously from one language to another without any delay. They must also speak clearly with the proper articulation and must have a flawless command of spoken language

Differences in Personality Traits

There are certain personality traits that must be present in translators and interpreters. A translator must be detail-oriented and a perfectionist. This means he should never settle on the first option. He must also be analytical and have an observing attitude. Above all, a translator must be patient as researching and finding suitable words in the target language can be an arduous and time-consuming task.

On the other hand, an interpreter must possess excellent communication skills and should be capable of working under pressure. During work, they must be focused solely on interpreting and should be able to handle multiple tasks at one time. When interpreting, they must pay attention. This is because they have to listen to the speaker first, then process it, remember it, and then reproduce it in another language while keeping the original meaning intact. This is particularly required during simultaneous interpretation where the interpreter needs to be particularly sharp – it pays off to be a good listener too!

Differences in Work Tools

Since translation is a difficult task, many translators need particular tools which might assist them in the course of translation. Some commonly used translation tools used by translators are CAT tools (Computer Assisted Tools) and Microsoft Word. In order to achieve the required quality, translators must also utilize the reference material and should be skilled at building and maintaining glossaries.

On the contrary, such “assistance” is not available to interpreters. Although they can use reading material beforehand, it is not usually available at the time of interpretation. This is the reason why interpreters should be highly alert and attentive during interpretation sessions since even a minor mistake can have serious consequences.

Difference in Accuracy

Preciseness and accuracy are more required during translation as compared to interpretation. This is because even though interpreters aim for perfection, live interpretation is difficult and something is bound to be left out. On the other hand, translators have enough time to translate, test and check their work before delivering it, which is why it should be more accurate.

Getting Professional Interpretation and Translation Services

Now that you know the differences between translation and interpretation, you should also have knowledge of how to access professional translation and interpretation services. 

When choosing a translator, you must first have a clear idea of your business goals. For instance, if your goal is to rank high on search engines, it is important to choose a translation service that offers SEO optimization. If localization is your goal, you should choose an agency, which has skilled translators who are native to your target language.

When choosing an interpreter, the first thing you should check is the agency’s experience with terminology industry. For instance, some agencies are specialized in the medical industry while others are skilled at delivering interpretation for business deals. Make sure that you are choosing a service, which is expert in your industry and also offers different ways of interpretation. This may include live interpretation, over-the-phone interpretation, and simultaneous interpretation.

Translation and Interpretation – What is Common?

There is one thing that is common in both a translator and an interpreter – the love for languages. Irrespective of whether they work with written or spoken content, both translators and interpreters are required to reproduce the information correctly and accurately. They must also be culturally aware and should possess a deep understanding of the cultural nuances. This will make their tasks easy for them, along with lending professionalism and accuracy.

The Last Word

Interpretation and translation are two closely related linguistic disciplines, but they are rarely undertaken and performed by the same people. This is because certain differences lie between translation and interpretation. In addition, the skills set, aptitude, training, and approach of the two processes are so different that it is quite impossible for a person to be a master of both.

Nevertheless, despite the differences, translation, and interpretation both are needed by companies, individuals, and businesses across the world. This makes these two processes highly demanded in this digital and fast-paced age. This is the reason why you should carefully seek out professional translation agencies, which not only have skilled translators but interpreters as well, if you wish to take your projects on the global front.