Understanding the Difference Between Translation and Interpretation


Translation and interpretation are two distinct terms that often confuse people. However, there is nothing to be confused about. Translation and interpretation are considered two essential practices in the language industry. Although both practices involve the conversion of words from one language to another, still they remain distinct in the purpose they serve and the unique skill set they involve. 

In this blog, we will discuss the key differences between translation and interpretation to help you understand which language service better suits your needs. 

Translation vs Interpretation: Understanding the Literal Terms

In literal terms, translation refers to the conversion of written text (contract, user manual, website, audio/video clip, etc.) from one language to another. The sole purpose is to retain the original meaning, style, and context of the source text. In contrast, interpretation refers to the verbal execution of the spoken language in real-time. Its purpose is to get the message interpreted in real time therefore facilitating communication between multilingual speakers. 

Two terms can be differentiated based on the involvement of content. Translation involves written material while interpretation involves spoken content. 

Translation: The Art of Connecting Written Worlds

Translation is the art of converting written text from source to target language while remaining loyal to the original content. Professional translators thoroughly understand the source content before starting the process. They precisely understand the text format, tone, and cultural nuances to ensure that the meaning is accurately and fluently conveyed in the target language. Translators with high levels of linguistic proficiency navigate terminological complexities, and idiomatic expressions to ensure the natural tone of the translation is maintained in the target language. 

Furthermore, the translation industry is considered very vast as it involves multiple domains and genres, including literature, legal, medical, technical, and educational. Translators working in each field face multiple challenges and require unique skills, linguistic expertise, and cultural knowledge to perform the role efficiently. 

Interpretation: The Practice of Organizing Real-Time Dialogue

In contrast to translation, interpretation refers to the live rendering of spoken content from source to target language. It facilitates communication among speakers and listeners with different linguistic backgrounds. Interpreters work in multiple formal and informal settings including courtrooms, hospitals, business meetings, conferences, etc. Interpreters, contrary to translators, are often required to process the information simultaneously between the source and the target language for the ease of speakers and listeners. For example, a Chinese interpreter might have to facilitate the conversation at a business conference where speakers don’t understand English. 

Linguistic proficiency, cognitive agility, and cultural understanding are some basic but necessary skills that help interpreters efficiently render the content in real time. Skilled interpreters often slightly improvise the content to avoid repetition and improve the clarity of the message. During the process, they listen to the speaker attentively, process the information quickly, and convey the interpretation precisely and accurately in the target language. Be it any form of interpretation (simultaneous or consecutive) the mission of interpreters is to ensure that the communication flows smoothly regardless of the linguistic hindrances. 

You might also like to read: 17 Fascinating Facts About Translation and Languages

Key Differences Between Translation and Interpreting Services 

The key differences between the two services lie in their delivery practices, timelines, input formats, and tools and technologies that their professionals employ to execute the task. 

Professional translators often get enough time to research, reflect, and revise the content. This margin enables them to refine their work and ensure linguistic proficiency and stylistic coherence in the final output. On the other hand, interpretation requires instinctive abilities, flexibility, and quick decision-making skills as they are supposed to convey the information on the spot in real-time settings without having the leverage of scheduled timeframes. 

Furthermore, translation being a form of written art allows the translator to consult professional databases and dictionaries for linguistic guidance. It helps them improve the accuracy and quality of the final translated product. However, interpretation occurs instantaneously in oral communication and interpreters do not get a chance to double-check the information. They solely have to rely on their cognitive abilities and linguistic proficiency. 

Additionally, professional translators and interpreters differ in the skill set they possess. Translators are generally detail-oriented, meticulous, analytical, and patient while interpreters are mostly active listeners, can multitask, can work under pressure, and possess exceptional communication skills.

Moreover, translation involves multiple content types (written, audio, video, etc.) and technologies (Neural Machine Translation, CAT tools) to handle the content. Whereas interpretation deals significantly with spoken and signed languages while utilizing mainly video conferencing systems.  

Choosing Between Translation and Interpretation: Making an informed decision

Choosing the right set of language services that match your specific requirements is essential for your business’s growth. While deciding whether to go for translation or interpretation, first analyze the settings and understand the requirements before final decision. For example, if you want to distribute technical manuals, brochures, and other advertising materials in non-popular regions then you can avail of professional translation services. In contrast, if you want language assistance in face-to-face situations, conferences, business meetings, or in a hospital setting, you can use interpretation services to accomplish your goal. 

To successfully achieve the desired outcome, understand the situation and then make an informed decision regarding the use of language services. Ultimately, making the right choice in language services can create new ways for an organization’s success and prosperity in the future. 

Are you in need of translation or interpreting services?

If you need clarification about whether to avail of translation or interpretation services, then our team is here to guide you. Email us at translate@agato.net, or call us at +971 4 269 9996. You can also contact us through our quote form and get connected to our team of language experts.