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Transcription vs Translation in Language: What Are the Differences?

Andrew Russo
Andrew Russo
Posted in Zoom Jan 9 · 9 Jan, 2022
Transcription vs Translation in Language: What Are the Differences?

Transcription and translation are two terms that are often confused with each other. Some people even go as far as to use these two words interchangeably. They both refer to processes that focus on language. However, other than their phonetic similarity, they are not as closely related as one may think. In fact, after reading this article, you'll realize how drastically these two language processes differ. 

What Is the Difference Between Transcription and Translation?  

The main cause for the confusion between transcription and translation is that not many people comprehend the true meaning of a transcription process. Even though the overwhelming majority can easily define translation right off the bat, only a few people can say what transcription is just as simply and accurately. Therefore, before delving into the differences between these two terms, it is imperative to discuss and interpret their definition in detail. 

What Are Transcription and Translation?  

Translation, as is well known, is the process by which a translator converts a text from one language to another. Translation focuses on the meaning of the words that are translated more than their syntax and grammar. Thus, idioms and metaphors aren't translated in their exact form in order to preserve the meaning of the sentence being interpreted. For instance, the phrase "it is raining cats and dogs" will be translated as "it is raining chair legs" in Greek so that the idiom's meaning stays the same.

On the other hand, transcription involves the process by which speech in video or audio content is converted to text. Transcription preserves the syntax of the speech in its pure form since no change occurs in the language itself but only in the form of the language. 

7 Key Differences Between Transcription and Translation

Both of these words have three syllables, "trans" at the beginning, and "ion" at the end. That's pretty much where their similarities end.  

  • Required knowledge 

Since transcription involves a change from speech to text, it only demands knowledge of the spoken language being transcribed. However, translation requires excellent knowledge of both the source and target languages to be successful and accurate.

Also, a transcriber does not need to be perfectly fluent in the language they are transcribing, while a translator must have achieved fluency in both languages. This is because a translator must handle the meaning of the text they are translating in addition to the information they're reading. Hence, the best translators are native in the target language they are translating.  

  • Required skills 

Another difference is that transcriptionists need to be outstanding listeners that pick up the tiniest details, as medical or legal transcripts often leave no room for errors. On the other hand, translators only deal with text, so they need to be quick readers and writers rather than listeners.  

  • Time investment 

Furthermore, translation is much more time-consuming than transcription because translators often need to think about or even research the meaning of a word or a phrase to give the most accurate translation to their clients. Besides this, since transcribers have to turn over work in less time than translators, they also have to be quicker typists to meet their clients' deadlines in time.  

  • Experience and focus 

Translation is also a more complex process because translators have to always keep in mind the meaning of the whole sentence they are translating and the context of the text. On the contrary, transcribers simply need to write down precisely what they hear from the footage provided by the client, so they do not concern themselves about whether the speech they are transcribing makes perfect sense. Therefore, a translator must be highly creative and experienced to realize when they should translate the text literally and when metaphorically to deliver the most meaning to the target audience.  

  • Accuracy 

Transcription is a very specific process with stricter guidelines. To be more precise, transcribers need to provide an accurate transcript that matches exactly with the source content. Accuracy is vital because a transcript may be used as evidence in court or a formal academic paper. Translation focuses more on the text's overall meaning, which means that there is more room for error without a significant drop in quality.  

  • Competition 

Due to the increase in globalization and multiculturalism, more researchers, businessmen, and movie producers want to make their content available to the whole world to make higher profits. Thus, they employ more translators to make their content available in many languages. Additionally, there are currently more employment opportunities for translators. On the other hand, transcribers have seen a relative decline in job opportunities during the past couple of decades.  

  • Profitability 

Translators are paid higher on average than transcriptionists, as translation is more time-consuming and more complex. This is mainly because a translator must be an expert bilingual to succeed, which requires plenty of time and effort. Conversely, a transcriber needs to merely handle one language and be aware of some specific transcription guidelines, which makes their job relatively simpler. 

Finding Some Common Ground

After analyzing multiple differences between transcription and translation, it is time to look into some similarities. 

  • Transcribers and translators can both work remotely, as the client and the transcriber or the translator do not necessarily require face-to-face contact. This makes transcription and translation very attractive as job opportunities in the pandemic era. Many highly skilled linguists also contemplate quitting their jobs to work permanently as translators or transcribers from the comfort of their homes following their schedule. In other words, translation and transcription are some of the best choices for freelancers with top language skills who are looking for independence from the routine of a 9-to-5 office job.          
  • Another common element between these two services is that both transcribers and translators are usually expert language users with very proficient knowledge of English. In fact, those who have attained university degrees in linguistics or literature are often quickly promoted and get the highest-paying jobs from demanding clients.       
  • Companies and individuals worldwide utilize both translation and transcription to make their information accessible to a broader audience. For instance, a researcher may choose to translate his paper from English to Chinese so that it can be read by Chinese students, while a business may want to transcribe meetings, interviews, and other content for legal compliance, more convenient navigation, content repurposing, SEO optimization, or accessibility.  

Transcription and Translation Working Together  

The purpose of translation and transcription is to facilitate communication, so you can find companies that specialize in both disciplines. For instance, GoTranscript offers both transcription and translation services to its clients. A client may send a video in a foreign language asking for English subtitles. A transcriber will then transcribe the video to produce a text in the foreign language, which then gets converted to English by a translator. Finally, an expert in both languages thoroughly inspects the end result to ensure everything is in place. 

Final Thoughts

Transcription and translation are different in more ways than one can imagine. However, you can combine them to make content available to billions of people and improve communication. These services are more crucial in today's society than ever before. People need facts and information so much that we see a lot of automated and machine-learning solutions constantly popping up to meet these needs.

However, these solutions don't provide anywhere near the accuracy that a seasoned human translator or transcriber can produce. As a result, there is still a bright future ahead for both translation and transcription with a human touch.