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Translation vs interpretation: How are they different & which do I need?

Published on January 10th, 2022

Translation and interpretation are two very different language services designed to solve two different problems. That said, they do share some characteristics in common, which can cause some confusion for companies unsure about which language service they need.

In this article, we explain the difference between translation and interpretation, as well as the similarities, so you know which service to choose for any given circumstance.

Definitions: Translation vs interpretation

The easiest way to separate these two language services is with a quick definition of them both. A quick Google search for “translation definition” and “interpretation definition” provide the following dictionary results:

  • Translation: “The process of translating words or text from one language into another.”
  • Interpretation: “The action of explaining the meaning of something.”

Of course, the phrase “interpretation” is much broader than translation and the definition above isn’t exclusive to the language service called interpretation – but it does accurately describe its role.

As a language service, interpretation is the action of listening to a speaker in one language and delivering their message to an audience in another, normally in a live setting. Interpretation services are most commonly used in scenarios where speakers and audiences use different native languages or instances where deaf or hearing-impaired audiences require signed interpretation.

Interpretation includes a form of translation but the emphasis is placed on helping speakers and audiences communicate orally in a live setting. Meanwhile, translation as a standalone service typically involves the translation of text from one language to another.

Translation vs interpretation: Two very different skill sets

As language professionals, translators are normally handed a text document, a spreadsheet or another type of file and are required to translate it into another language. They could be translating a novel, an instruction manual, subtitles for a video, a medical report or a range of other content types, but they are working with written words in a controlled environment for the vast majority of projects. Some types of translation require niche skill sets, such as technical translation, legal translation or medical translation, but – once again – they are working in the same kind of controlled environment.

Interpreters, on the other hand, are generally working in a live environment where they have to facilitate communication between multiple parties in real-time. Unlike translators, interpreters cannot crack out the dictionary or revise a first draft of their work; they have to interpret information with 100% accuracy.

With translation, there is a review and editorial process, which can review content, check for mistakes and ensure material is fit for delivery. With interpretation, this is not always possible and any mistakes made can result in life-changing outcomes if we are talking about interpretation in a courtroom or medical setting, for example.

Know which service you need

If you are still unsure of the difference between translation and interpretation or which language service your business needs, feel free to speak to one of our language advisors today.

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Posted on: January 10th, 2022