Translation or interpretation: What is the difference?

Do you need a translation or an interpretation? There is quite a bit of confusion about these two fields, including how they differ. Both require outstanding ability to use and understand at least two languages. Translators and interpreters must have the unique ability to correctly state information into a target language. Translating or interpreting word for word fails to adequately express the meaning of the text in the target language. A good translator knows this and will express the text in the target language in such a way that it sounds natural.

Translators and interpreters have to be familiar with understand the cultures of the source language as well as the target language. It is true that the two share a common goal of taking information in one language and converting it to a second language. They are really two different processes. Just exactly what is the difference? It is not too difficult to explain.

  • Translation is written:  a written document in one language is simply rewritten into the target language.
  • Interpretation is oral:  it involves listening to something spoken (like a speech) and interpreting it orally into the target language.

The main difference is how the information is delivered, orally in interpretation or written in translation. Another difference is seen in the process itself. A translator works alone to do a translation while an interpreter works with live people and interprets what is spoken during a speech or perhaps while negotiating a contract.

A good translator or interpreter will be extremely well versed in trends of the day. They need to know what is being done in the world so they will be prepared with the latest information that will help them make the translation more fluent in the target language. There are many translators today who specialize in a certain area (such as financial, technical, literary, scientific, medical, or legal) and they stay abreast of events in that area.

There are also different types of translations available:

  • Machine translation:  Known as automatic translation. Using software or possibly hand held translators; translation is done without human assistance. This type of translation is limited. The quality is lacking and it is not extremely useful.
  • Machine assisted translation:  Translation that involves using a machine and a human. This is much better than using strictly a machine.
  • Screen translation:  Translations of movies and television programs, which have the words going along the bottom of the screen or the voices, are dubbed in using the target language.
  • Sight translation:  A document is explained orally in the target language. This is usually done when a source document is distributed without a translation.
  • Localization:  This is the process of changing software or other products and adapting these to a different culture to make them applicable to the target country.

There are two types of interpretation:  Consecutive interpretation is the method whereby an interpreter listens, takes notes and interprets into the target language at pauses and simultaneous interpretation in which the interpreter translates into the target language as the speaker is speaking.


SETranslations offering both a translation service and interpretation service on an international level.

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