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What is the Difference Between Translation and Interpretation

Michael Gallagher
Michael Gallagher
Posted in Zoom Oct 25 · 27 Oct, 2021
What is the Difference Between Translation and Interpretation

Translation and interpretation are essential linguistic skills in today's global marketplace. Though most people use the two terms interchangeably, it is essential to understand their distinction to choose the service that fits your project. 

This guide will answer the question of what is the difference between translation and interpretation. 

Notable Differences Between Translation and Interpretation

Generally, interpretation is more subjective than translation. Interpreters must decide what each speaker meant rather than simply translating every sentence literally. Here are some quick facts for comparison:      

  • An interpreter does not typically charge extra fees for additional services. A translator, on the other hand, may ask for payment after completing a job.
  • Interpreters generally speak only their native tongue, while translators need to be fluent in both languages. 
  • Interpretations are typically live, while translations happen after the fact.
  • Interpreters are usually part of a team. They work alongside translators who take care of writing the text down. In contrast, translators typically work alone. 
  • When interpreting, the speaker speaks directly to the listener. Translators have no direct contact with the audience.   

Of course, the primary difference between interpretation and translation is the communication medium itself. Below is a detailed analysis of each service. 

Interpretation Services

Interpretation involves converting verbally spoken words from one language to another. Usually, professionals who speak both languages fluently provide this service.    

Trained interpreters decipher conversations between individuals speaking different languages. These specialists must know how to listen carefully to each speaker while simultaneously interpreting the words. Additionally, they should be able to read lips and facial expressions. Often, mood and meaning are conveyed through non-verbal cues as much as what is said.   

A common use of interpreters is helping communicate effectively with clients from other regions. Another benefit would be to learn about a foreign culture through conversation with locals. In fast-paced environments, it is often more efficient to communicate verbally than through written text.   

Translation Services

Some communications, such as a letter or contract, must be in written form, where translation services come in. This task can involve changing the tone or adding emphasis to certain parts of the original message to convey the message accurately.    

Translation requires skilled linguists who have experience writing text in multiple languages. They usually specialize in specific fields such as law, medicine, science, and education. 

What sets translation apart is that one uses an intermediary medium to convert the source material into the target language. In many cases, the final product changes from its original form. For example, when translating English into Spanish, the goal is not simply a word-for-word conversion but to ensure accurate communication of the author's intent. A translator might change some of the wording to fit the context of the new audience better. 

What Are Interpreting and Translation Services

There are multiple interpreting and translation services. It's important to seek out and hire the appropriate specialists for the services you require. 

Interpretation services

Interpreting services usually service these categories;  

  • Transcribing audio or video recordings of meetings, lectures, interviews, and depositions
  • Writing articles that summarize an event
  • Producing subtitles for movies, television shows, and videos
  • Providing online chat support
  • Interpreting phone calls
  • Clarifying ambiguous language 

Translation services

Translating services typically specialize in these fields;  

  • Legal Translations. Lawyers usually provide this kind of service because they're familiar with the intricacies of the law.
  • Medical Translations. Doctors sometimes perform medical translations to ensure patients receive accurate diagnoses and treatment plans.
  • Technical Translations. Engineers and scientists frequently require technical translations to create software programs, scientific papers, and user manuals.   

Human Translators Are Still the Best

The most common forms of translation are machine-based and human-assisted. Machine-based translations use computers to analyze the content of the document. The computer then creates a word-for-word translation. As we have seen, however, word-for-word translations are not always optimal. Humans are, therefore, essential in verifying the context, cues, and overall meaning of the message.    

Software applications allow you to translate your files quickly, but they should never be solely relied upon for accuracy. Although these tools will automatically convert simple text, the nuances of the original will typically be lost in the translation.    

While automatic translators continue to improve, there is still a noticeable quality gap between a robotic translator and a human one. The complexity and elegance of language are still a mystery to machines. 


When choosing between translation and interpretation, it is vital to understand your content, message, and goals. 

Proper communication is the key to building rapport with your audience, whether business or personal. Translation and Interpretation services provide the crucial bridge upon which quality relationships can flow.