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What’s the Difference Between Translation and Interpretation?

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Translation and interpretation may both involve changing one language into another, but this is pretty much where their similarities end.  

While both translators and interpreters require knowledge of multiple languages, they also need a sound understanding of the subject matter they are working with; for translators this will usually be from a written perspective, whereas interpreters deal with the spoken word. 

Translation vs Interpretation 

Interpretation is essentially a spoken, real-time form of translation, but this means it requires a completely different approach and a very different skillset.  

At Language Connect, we work with a global network of native linguists with sector-specific expertise, and experience across both translation and interpretation. We can help you to identify which type of language service is best suited to your unique business needs, taking into account the following: 

Written vs Spoken  

Translation is primarily written, as it typically involves translating documents from one language to another. This means that translators don’t need to be conversationally fluent in multiple languages, but they need to have excellent written skills – they will often be better writers in their second or third languages than native speakers of those tongues. 

Interpreters work with speech, translating spoken word either face-to-face, over the phone or via video, which means that good written skills aren’t a requirement. However, fast reactions, an ability to quickly paraphrase and an understanding of the importance of body language are all necessary. In contrast, translators don’t need any of these skills in order to perform their jobs at a high level. 

Translation Has Some Limitations

Not all languages can be translated, but all can be interpreted; take sign language for example – while there is no direct translation for sign language in the written form, it can be interpreted into speech, in multiple languages if necessary.  

As interpreters need to watch or listen, grasp the meaning of what’s being said and paraphrase it into another language or form of communication, these steps can be applied to any language. 

Meaning Is Everything

Neither translation nor interpretation is simply replacing one word with another. Translators must take care to convey the entire meaning of a document when translating, while interpreters need to think about the potentially different syntax structure of the languages they are working with. 

A good understanding of linguistic nuances is important for both translators and interpreters, with interpreters also requiring a sound grasp of body language and other unspoken cues, as they are often working on-the-spot, without any source material to draw from. 

This is yet another difference between the two types of language service – translators need to have a thorough understanding of the sources they are working from, including the cultural influences behind them, so it can help to have good knowledge of the social and political history of a country too. 

Pace Yourself

The paces that translators and interpreters need to work at couldn’t be much more different. Translators have a time-consuming job that requires a great deal of accuracy, so they may translate around 2,000 words a day. 

However, that could be the number of words that an interpreter translates in just 15 minutes or so. Interpreting is much more fast-paced, requiring quick thinking and actions, and can involve a greater volume of vocabulary needing to be drawn on in a much shorter space of time. 

Translating vs Interpreting Skills

While translators need an element of perfectionism, an eye for accuracy and strong grammatical skills, these factors aren’t necessarily important to interpreters. A person’s speech is rarely grammatically correct, so interpreters can get away with paraphrasing a lot more. 

There are some skills that are more specific to interpreters than translators, such as: 

  • Good stamina 
  • A quick memory 
  • Public speaking skills 
  • The ability to listen 
  • Quick note-taking 
  • Good general knowledge 
  • An understanding of idioms and colloquialisms across multiple languages 

Ultimately, experience and expertise are the most important factors of all when working with a translator or interpreter. At Language Connect, we work with language experts across the globe to connect you with the best language services for your business needs. Find out more about our translation and interpreting services today. 



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