What Is The Difference Between Translation and Interpreting?

Published on November 14th, 2022

translation and interpreting

Translation and interpreting may seem like similar language services but, the closer you look, the more obvious their differences become. Both aim to convert messages from one language into another but this is, more or less, where the similarities end.

The two language services are designed to solve different problems and they take significantly different approaches to handling messages. In this article, we take a closer look at the use cases and differences of translation and interpreting, so you know exactly which language service you need.

Translation and interpreting: key definitions

Translation and interpreting share many things in common but these are two very different language services. A quick Google Search for “translation definition” and “interpretation definition” provides the following dictionary results as a starting point:

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

While translation is specific to converting content from one language into another, interpretation has a broader range of meaning. However, the definition above is still an accurate description of interpretation as a language service, even if it is a little vague.

In the language service industry, interpreting is the act of listening to a speaker (or signer) in one language and converting their message into another; usually in a live setting. This requires the presence of interpreters (either physically or remotely) to interpret messages in real time.

Translation, on the other hand, involves professional translators converting a piece of content (web page, video, user manual, contract) from one language to another. Translators can perform this service from any location and deliver the translated content in the original file type or convert it to the required one (e.g. Word doc, subtitle file, HTML file, etc.).

Translation vs interpreting: the practical differences

Now that we have covered the key difference between translation and interpreting services, let’s explore the practical differences you will experience in this type of projects. We have discussed these differences in more detail on our blog before, but here is a quick summary:

  1. Delivery: Translated content is delivered to clients in the relevant document and file type while interpretation is usually performed in a live setting.
  2. Time scale: While interpretation usually takes place in real time, translation can take hours, days, weeks or months – depending on the type of content and length of project.
  3. Input format: Translation can involve a wide variety of content types but interpretation normally deals with the spoken word or sign languages.
  4. Accuracy demands: Given the live setting and time constraints of interpretation, the accuracy demands are generally lower than professional translation.
  5. Direction of translation: Translation generally converts content from the source language into target languages (single direction) but interpretation often translates in two directions.
  6. Technology & tools: Interpretation may rely on video conferencing or calling systems but, generally, fewer tools than translation services that use a variety of translation technologies.
  7. Project management: Translation tends to require a more sophisticated project management system and process than interpretation.

These are the practical differences you will experience between translation and interpreting projects. It is important to understand these characteristics because they determine how you will need to prepare for each service, which tools need to be in place and how projects will be managed.

Two different purposes, two different skill sets

Translation is a strategic language service that prioritises accuracy in the output content/message. This can involve a lot of planning and careful project management, especially when dealing with large, ongoing or complex input content. For example, we might be talking about a website translation project that incorporates code localisation, multilingual SEO and a variety of other actions into the translation process including content review processes.

With interpreting, accuracy is still important but the priority is keeping communication flowing and ensuring everyone understands the intended meaning of each message instantly. Interpreters may shorten sentences to improve clarity and often leave out unnecessary elements of speech, such as repetition or self-corrections.

Interpreters may also swap long or complex words for something shorter or simpler if this improves the clarity of the message and (like translators) they might use non-direct translations when a slightly different word in the target language is closer to the intended meaning of the speaker.

As a result, translators are far more meticulous and put the time into making sure their output is 100% accurate. They will also use a variety of translation technologies to speed up the translation process while maintaining accuracy and improving consistency.

Interpreters, on the other hand, have to perform in real time and this involves a certain amount of improvisation. They don’t have the opportunity to revise and correct their translations; they have to maintain a level of accuracy and clarity while making decisions on the spot with regards to what they need to include, leave out and substitute.

Do you need translation or interpreting services?

If you are still unsure whether you need translation or interpretation services (or both), our team can help. Call us on +44 (0)20 7324 0950 or fill out the form on our contact page to speak with one of our language experts.

Posted on: November 14th, 2022