Language Services – The Difference Interpretation and Translation

Interpretation and translation. People often confuse them. While both services involve adapting from one language to another, there are five key differences.

1. Spoken versus written

Interpretation is the transference of meaning between spoken languages, while translation is the transference of meaning between written languages.

2. Real time versus delayed

Interpreting occurs in real time. It happens in person, on the phone, or through a television/video service. Because translation involves the written word, it typically takes place long after a text is created, which gives the translator time to access resources (dictionaries, glossaries, subject matter experts, etc.) to produce an accurate and effective end document (or website, help file, etc.).

3. Level of accuracy

Interpretation and translation demand different levels of accuracy. Interpreting requires excellent memory skills to ensure a high level of accuracy, which can be challenging to achieve in a live conversation. Conversely, translators have time to evaluate and revise each word and sentence before delivering their product, so they can achieve a greater level of accuracy and greater fidelity to the original.

4. Direction and fluency

An interpreter must be fluent enough in both the original language and the target language to be able to interpret in both directions, on the spot. Interpreters are highly qualified people, and the work is quite demanding! In an ideal setting, interpreters work in pairs and switch off every 20 minutes or so to prevent mental fatigue.

Typically, professional translators only work in one direction-translating into their native language. As such, translators do not have to be as fluent in the source language as an interpreter must be. The key skills of a translator are to understand the source language and to use their knowledge of the target country’s cultural and language norms to create an effective translated product.

5. Intangibles

Both translators and interpreters are faced with the challenge of making metaphors, analogies, and idioms understandable to the audience in the target language. However, interpreters must also capture tone, inflection, voice quality, and the other intangible elements of the spoken word and convey those meaningfully to the audience.

Despite the differences in the skills of translators and interpreters, both are bilingual professionals who share a passion for conveying meaning to people who would otherwise be unable to understand the information at hand.

Read the full FAQ: “What is the difference between Interpretation and Translation?

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