Interpretation and translation are close cousins in the language service field, but they play different roles. It is important to understand the distinction between these two practices and in which scenarios to use them, based on purpose, audience and environmental factors.
To clear up any potential confusion, this article explains the key roles of interpretation and translation while looking at the key differences that will help you choose the right language service for your needs.
Before we get into the key differences between translation and interpretation, let’s start by providing a quick definition for each language service:
- Translation: Converts content from one language into another or multiple targets.
- Interpretation: The real-time translation of speech performed live by professional interpreters.
Interpretation is a specialised form of translation that deals with speech and communication rather than content. We should also note that interpretation also plays an important role in non-verbal communication, such as interpreting sign language or the spoken word for deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences.
Now, let’s look at the seven key differences between interpretation and translation.
Translated content is delivered to clients in the relevant document and file type, e.g. Word doc, PDF, tax return, subtitle file, etc. Interpretation, on the other hand, is performed orally on the spot, translating the speech of a speaker in real time. Common scenarios include court cases or medical consultations with foreign-speaking witnesses or patients.
While interpretation takes place live, translators have more time to think about their choice of words, consider alternatives and review their work to make sure the completed translations are as accurate as possible. Interpreters don’t have the same privilege because they are expected to listen to the speaker and translate their speech instantaneously.
Translation projects can involve a wide variety of input language formats (TV ads, scripts, speeches, instruction manuals, podcasts, E-learning material, etc.). Many of these formats require specialist translators with skill sets beyond languages, such as medical translation or legal translation.
With interpretation, the input format is almost always spoken words, but the live setting makes translation challenging. Speakers pause, use the wrong words, correct themselves and talk in broken speech, not the carefully worded and edited text of a novel – and interpreters can’t reread the text or rewind a tape.
Given the time scales and live environments where interpretation takes place in, it is difficult to achieve the same level of accuracy as more traditional translation services. Interpreters strive for perfection, but they work with imperfect material to begin with. As a result, interpreters will often leave certain phrases out of their instant translation and, in some cases, choose alternative wording to deliver meaning faster.
With most translation projects, content is translated in one direction: from the source language to the target language(s). However, interpreters may be required to translate speech in both directions, such as in a business meeting where the interpreter is translating both sides of the conversation.
As a result, interpreters may need a stronger ability in both languages than regular translators.
Interpretation may require the support of certain technologies like a video conferencing system to allow speakers or interpreters in other locations to engage in the session. However, interpreters themselves don’t use any kind of translation technology; they have to perform the full interpretation themselves.
Translation is different, allowing language professionals to use a range of technology to speed up the process and deliver results faster, including automatic translation, translation memory, terminology management and other useful tools.
As a standalone service, interpretation doesn’t require any project management. Interpreters perform their job on the spot, during an event or meeting, ensuring everyone can say and understand what they need to – and that’s where the service pretty much ends.
Translation, on the other hand, can require sophisticated project management systems to ensure all content is delivered as required. Likewise, if interpretation is part of a larger project involving other language services (e.g. transcriptions, translated transcriptions, etc.), then the project itself will also require a comprehensive translation management strategy.
If you need translation or interpretation services, or you want more information on their differences, our team of language professionals can help you. Call us on +44 (0)20 7324 0950 or fill out the form on our contact page to book a meeting with us about your next project.