Translation vs. Interpretation: What’s The Difference?

Written by Mo Stone

Within the translation industry, you will hear both the terms “translation” and “interpretation” used. While both of these have to do with deciphering languages from one into another, the work of a translator and the work of an interpreter are very different. Read on to hear more about these roles, and examples of some of the types of work available for both translators and interpreters. 

Translation: Working With The Written Word

Translation work involves rendering information from one language into another, focussing on written work. When most people think of translation, they probably imagine translators who work in the subfield of literary translation, who translate written texts like novels, stories, poems and plays. The job of a literary translator is certainly interesting, as these people work with a wide variety of subjects, but it’s also quite challenging, as these kinds of translators need to not only pay attention to the words, but also the context and feeling of the words and the cultural differences between the original language and the target language.

However, there is an abundance of tasks to be done within the translation field, and not just with literary works. In contrast, let’s look at technical translation. Technical translators work with documents such as training materials, user’s manuals, and product specifications. Rather than an abundance of creativity, these translators need to have a high attention to detail and accuracy in their translations. This sector of the industry is huge, and continues to grow as more and more companies go global and require their printed materials to be available in local languages. 

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Interpretation: Spelling Out The Spoken Word

By contrast, interpretation involves dealing with spoken language. There are two main types of interpretation: simultaneous interpretation and consecutive. With simultaneous interpretation, the interpreter interprets at the same time as the speaker, usually with only a few seconds delay. If you’ve seen interpretation at a live event, this was probably simultaneous interpretation, as it would be too long and boring for participants to wait for every line to be translated after it was said. To assist them, simultaneous interpreters may have prepared notes and speeches that they use in their work. This type of interpretation can be very demanding, and requires a high language fluency. Typically simultaneous interpreters listen in their second language and interpret in their first. 

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The other type of interpretation is consecutive interpretation. Here, the interpreter listens for the speaker to finish speaking before translating. This type of interpretation works best in small group meetings, where there are natural pauses in conversation that allow for interpretation. As well as having great language skills, consecutive interpreters must have good note taking skills in order to remember what was said and to interpret it with clarity. 

Further Reading On Translation Specializations

Besides literary and technical translation, there are a lot of other unique positions within the translation field. Check out our article on translation specializations to discover more!

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