Interpretation vs. Translation – What’s the Difference?

Interpretation vs. Translation – What’s the Difference?

What’s the difference between translation and interpretation? What makes a good interpreter versus a good translator? Let’s find out. 

Often, the terms translation and interpretation are used interchangeably. After all, they both deal with communicating words from one language to another. But there are key differences between translation and interpretation. Not all interpreters make good translators, and vice versa. The strengths that make a great interpreter don’t always lend themselves to a great translator. 

What’s the difference between Interpretation and Translation?

The fundamental difference between interpretation and translation lies in the medium of communication.

Interpretation focuses on oral, cross-language communication. When someone is speaking in one language and needs their words communicated in another, you hire an interpreter. Whether they’re interpreting simultaneously with another speaker, consecutively in a speaker’s pauses, or after the fact – all oral translation is interpretation.

Translation itself is written word-for-word translation. Documents, white pages, transcriptions, websites, video subtitles, software – all belong to translators. 

Although both practices require expertise in a chosen language, industry experience, and certification for medical and legal use – they also necessitate different skill sets.

What makes a good translator?

Translators translate written material, using industry and cultural context to help paint the clearest translation.

An added benefit for translators? They have the gift of time.

Where interpreters are required to translate on the spot, translators have time to sift through dictionaries and resource material. Many work with computer-aided translation (CAT) software that categorizes previously-used translations for quicker recall. CAT technology helps translators create industry-specific translations with greater precision and speed.

Slang, cultural trends, iconic figures, idioms – translators have time to do the research to make sure everything is a reliable translation of the source document.  

Although helpful for both interpreters and translators, it’s best to find a translator with direct experience and knowledge in your chosen industry. Direct industry knowledge enables them to quickly parse through cultural versus industry-related keywords with ease and familiarity.

What makes a good interpreter?

Interpreters necessitate a whole other skill set. Where translators have time to reference outside materials to ensure the highest degree of accuracy. Interpreters operate orally, interpreting words from a speaker on the spot. 

Regardless of whether you’re working with a simultaneous interpreter (translates in unison with the speaker) or consecutive interpreter (translates in speakers’ pauses) – interpreters need to be fluent in both the source language and target interpretation language. 

In the case of consecutive interpretation, interpreters need to be highly skilled at quick note-taking so they can capture as much of the speaker’s intent as possible. Simultaneous interpreters require industry and cultural knowledge on hand, so they can quickly contextualize phrases and idioms.

Learn more about simultaneous vs. consecutive interpretation.

Interpreters need a higher degree of fluency than translators because they don’t have the benefit of time to research. They need to come up with the most accurate reflection of the speakers’ words now. 

This means already having a great deal of cultural knowledge including slang, cultural icons, and idioms before sitting down to start interpreting. This way interpreters can quickly contextualize as phrases come up.

The best interpreters also bring compassion to often stressful situations. Helping those who speak another language feel more comfortable encourages more specific and accurate responses for translation, which is critical in medical and legal work.

The final element separating translators and interpreters is an interpreter’s ability to mirror the intention of the source speaker to their audience. Tone can be essential when interpreting a speaker’s intent. Tone indicates the energy and intention behind the original speaker’s words, and can completely change how something is received. An interpreter who can quickly pick up on a speaker’s tone helps convey the impact behind the direct translation of the words. 

So, to quickly sum up the differences between translators and interpreters:

The key similarities between a good translator and good interpreter are their language proficiency, industry expertise, and passion for what they do. Their passion is why interpreters and translators love diving into other cultures and keeping up with evolving trends in language.

the difference between translation and interpretation graphic

Whatever your needs, we at Arriva Translations are here for you. At Arriva Translations, we personally vet all our interpreters to ensure across-the-board quality. With a network of over 5,000 interpreters and translators qualified in 200+ unique languages and dialects, we love providing industry-experienced, certified, and passionate interpreters to help you communicate your goals and vision with ease and professionalism.

So give us a call – we’re happy to help.

Leave a comment