Five Major Differences Between Interpretation and Translation

InterpretationIn order to thrive, your global business needs to communicate with international audiences, which requires both interpretation services and translations of your content. But, how do you know which process is the best option for certain situations? Understanding the core differences between interpretation and translation is critical to the success of your multinational organization.


What Is Interpretation?

Contrary to popular belief, interpretation is not a word-for-word translation of spoken words. If this were true, then the final result of an interpretation would be a mess of jumbled up words that would make absolutely no sense to the target audience. Instead, interpreters rephrase words as needed, so that concepts and ideas will make sense in the target language. On top of all that, they have to do this in real time with no script in front of them and no help from any glossaries or dictionaries.

Think it sounds pretty easy? Try it for yourself! Paraphrase someone’s speech with a half-sentence delay, while making sure that you make sense of and are able to paraphrase the subsequent sentence. It’s not as simple as it seems!


How Does Translation Work?

Today, most translators use a combination of a computer plus a variety of translation tools and language translation services to achieve the best results. They begin by converting the piece to be translated into a file type that is easy to work with – typically RTF. Next, the translator applies a translation memory to the source text, which automatically identifies and fills in sections of the text that have previously been translated. These translations are then reviewed by the translator before they translate the remaining text from scratch. This translating is completed by reading each section in the source language, referring to a glossary or style guide, and then translating the material into the target language.

Once the translation is finished, a different linguist edits and proofreads the translation to ensure the accuracy and quality is high. Lastly, the reviewed translations are transferred back into their original format. Any additional desktop publishing or engineering outsourcing may be applied so that the translated version matches the original one as closely as possible


Five Major DifferencesInterpretation

  1. Spoken vs. written – Interpretation involves converting the meaning between spoken languages. On the other hand, translation is the transferring of meaning between written languages.
  2. Real-time vs. delayed – Interpreting is a process that takes place live in real-time. It can occur in person, as over the phone interpretation, or through a television/video device. Translation is a procedure that happens long after the source text is created because of the nature of the process. This gives translators ample time to utilize resources like dictionaries and glossaries, allowing them to produce an accurate and appropriate final translation.
  3. Level of accuracy – Different levels of accuracy are required by interpretations, compared to translations. Interpreters aim for perfection, but it’s challenging to achieve these results in a live setting, and some of the original speech may be left out while interpreting into the target language. Contrary to this, translators have time to assess and edit each word and sentence before providing the finished product. This enables translators to achieve a higher level of accuracy and a final translation that is as close to the original as possible.
  4. Direction and fluency – Being fluent in both the source and target language is a necessity for an interpreter, as they must be able to translate in both directions in real time without the aid of any reference materials. Professional translators typically only work in one direction – translating source content into their native language. As a result, they are not required to be as fluent in the source language as interpreters must be.
  5. Intangibles – Making metaphors, analogies, and idioms understandable to the target audience is a challenge that both interpreters and translators are faced with in their line of work. In addition to this, interpreters are also responsible for capturing tone, inflection, voice quality and other unique elements of the spoken word and then conveying these verbal cues to the audience.


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