Translation vs Interpretation: What’s the Difference?
Updated: Jan 6
With today’s need for global reach, language services are indispensable. For that reason, professional linguists, like translators and interpreters are in high demand. Sometimes, it is hard to know which of these language experts you are looking for, and even though it is a common mistake, it is not one the reader of this article will make.
The main difference between translation and interpretation is the process. To keep it simple, translation is the process of transferring written text from one language to another, while interpretation is a verbal, on the spot translation.
Similarities of Translating and Interpreting
There are several distinctions between the two, but there are also some similarities, which include:
Native or near-native level use and understanding of at least two languages
Ability to paraphrase while still capturing the meaning of the source message
Appropriate training and experience are crucial requirements, as these professionals perform complex tasks to ensure clear and concise communication in a global setting
Translators vs Interpreters – Differences and required skills
Both linguistic fields require a vast number of skills. And, let us face it, being fluent on at least two languages is important, but not enough. Below, you can find the core difference between translation and interpretation:
Translators deal with the written word; therefore, they must possess excellent writing skills. We must keep in mind that texts are not translated word for word. There is a lot of thought put into the translation of just a sentence, or an idea, so that the meaning remains the same, even in a completely different cultural context. This is also why understanding the culture they are translating into is key. For this reason, most translators translate into their native language only.
When compared to the interpreter’s job, a translator has the advantage of time. Because it is not required to be delivered instantly, a translation can be reviewed, corrected, and improved. The translator also has access to unlimited resources, such as dictionaries, CAT tools (Computer-Aided Tools), and online research to provide knowledge about a given topic.
Typically, a translator can work from anywhere in the world, provided that they have access to wi-fi and a computer.
Types of Translations
There are several types of translation services and, in some cases, it might be essential for the translator to be specialized in one (or more) of them in order to qualify.
Technical translation – Demands knowledge of the subject and its terminology. (ex: scientific articles, technical manuals, etc.)
Legal translation – Official, law and legislation related documents. (ex: policies, contracts, etc.)
Certified translation – The translator certifies the accuracy of these documents, usually used for formal procedures. (ex: diplomas, certificates, etc.)
Literary translation – Surprisingly (or not), it is probably one of the most difficult types of translation, for it must transmit not only words and ideas, but also feelings. (ex: novels, poems, etc.)
Website/Software translation and localization – Requires linguistic and cultural adaptation to the target region/country. (ex: web applications, websites, etc.)
Interpreters are “the ultimate multi-taskers”, being able to make use of exceptional communication and listening skills combined, in order to interpret, instantly, specific cultural references and colloquialisms, taking into account the register and style of the original message. One of the many skills of an interpreter is being able to adapt accordingly to different settings, as their services are required from first-responders’, government agencies or attorneys, to name a few.
Unlike translators, interpreters perform real-time interpretations, and can only resort to their own memory, the knowledge of the subject matter they possess, and since there is no time to do research in the middle of a sentence, they must prepare beforehand.
An interpreter can perform audio or video calls but may also be required to be present during the process of interpretation.
Types of Interpretations
There are two main types of interpretations:
Simultaneous interpretation – Real-time interpretation from the source language and into the target language. This type of interpretation can be used in interviews, medical appointments, or court depositions.
Consecutive interpretation – The interpreter listens to the source message and then reproduces the sentences or speech in the target language. This type of interpretation is frequently used in conferences, business meetings, or lectures.
Conclusion: Translation Versus Interpretation
The general idea is interpreters deal with the verbal transferring of meaning from a language to another, in real-time, with no assistance, while translators deal with the written word, have a deadline and are able to acquire knowledge during the translation process.
Therefore, if you need your website translated, or a legal document, a translator is who you are looking for. If, on the other hand, you need someone to verbally communicate what your business client from France is saying, it is time to call an interpreter.
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