The translation vs. interpretation question often crops up when a company gains a new client:

They might be on a different continent to you. They might come from a dramatically different culture. They might eat different food, run on a different clock and speak a language that doesn’t even share roots with your native tongue…

When you’re trying to do business across a language barrier, there are two types of professionals who can help you:

Translators and interpreters.

Understanding the basic differences between these two professions is the first step to succeeding in international business communication…

Do I need a translator or an interpreter? Aren’t they the same thing?

Translation and interpretation are not precisely synonymous.

Interpreting and translating are certainly closely-related disciplines in linguistics. But there are distinct differences in what the two skills require from those performing them at a professional level.

In terms of simple distinctions, the biggest difference is the presentation:

  • An interpreter translates orally.
  • A translator interprets written text.

More differences are easy to see when you look at both roles in detail:

What skills does an interpreter need?

Interpreters must be able to translate between two languages on the spot and paraphrase verbally.

In order to paraphrase properly, it is crucial that an interpreter has a deep understanding and knowledge of both the source and target cultures involved as well as the subject matter.

Highly qualified interpreters are often difficult to find. This is because interpreting must happen live and essentially impromptu, meaning the linguist must also have good presentation and clear communication skills.

Different types of interpreting

It’s important to be aware that there are several different types of interpreting.

In addition to the various modalities which are available – these include on-site, telephone and video – the three most important modes of interpretation are:

1) Simultaneous interpreting

This is the kind of interpretation you’ll see at international conferences and summits, such as on the floor of the UN. It’s also sometimes called conference interpreting.

The linguists sit in isolated booths and constantly orally translate what a speaker has said, usually around twenty seconds or so after they have said it. Listeners listen in on the interpretation via headsets.

Obviously, listening to what someone is saying currently and remembering it while verbally translating what they said a few seconds ago is a serious challenge!

Simultaneous interpreting is most useful for: conferences, presentations, large less-interactive business meetings, trade shows and speeches.

2) Consecutive interpreting

This kind of interpreting might be familiar from police or legal drama shows on TV.

Picture a suspect who speaks a different language being questioned by a detective. An interpreter is present. The detective asks a question. The interpreter verbally translates. The suspect answers. The interpreter verbally translates the answer.

Each time, the conversation participants must wait for the linguist to orally translate what has been said.

This might sound like a disadvantage, but it is in fact highly useful in all sorts of interactive situations.

Consecutive interpreting is most useful for: business meetings, interviews, market research, medical appointments, small conferences, group discussions and court proceedings.

3) Whispered interpreting

Also known as chuchotage, whispered interpreting is much what it sounds like:

The interpreter leans in close to speak the translation of what is being said quietly into the ears of one – or at most two – participants in a conversation.

Whispered interpreting is most useful for: any situation where only one or two individuals in a group do not speak the main floor language.

What do translators do?

Translators work with written text. This requires an understanding of both target and source languages and cultures, of course. But above all, a translator must be able to write well in the target language and understand how it will read to a native eye.

For this reason, the industry best practice is to use translators who are native speakers of the target language.

There are several key differences between translation and interpretation:

  1. Much more time: translators have the benefit of having much more available time. They won’t ever need to perform their job live like an interpreter will.
  2. Reference materials are available: translators can (and should) reference alternate materials to verify their translation is accurate. They also have access to technologies like Translation Memories (an automatically-accessed database of suggestions of already-translated text segments) to assist them.
  3. Review, editing and proofreading: translators have ample to review the content they are working on to ensure accuracy. They can also call in extra pairs of eyes in the form of highly experienced editors and proofreaders to perform additional Quality Assurance steps.

Translation vs interpretation – which is right for my project?

Knowing the differences between translating and interpreting will help you decide who to look for when planning your next language project.

Of course, no matter whether your next project will be spoken or written, you’ll still need to select the kind of expert you can count on to deliver the accuracy and fluency any translation – textual or verbal – requires.

Do you still need to know more about translation vs. interpretation?

At Asian Absolute, we regularly support first-time users of language services as well as our large international clients.

Get a free, no-obligation quote now or leave a comment below to learn more.