Difference between translation and interpretation

Read in

10 min

We’ve learned a lot over the past 7 years of helping clients translate their ideas from one language to another, and now we are ready to share. If there is one common thing among 110 countries we’ve noticed in all multilingual events of Interactio is that people frequently confuse two terms - interpretation and translation.



And don’t be skeptical here. We suspect what you might be thinking right now. Another boring article on the difference between translation and interpretation. Why should I even care?

Well, the words carry meaning.

When we use the words precisely, we can communicate effectively with service providers and attendees. And ultimately, we can do what’s best for our audience and speaker, saving the time and resources wasted on miscommunication.

Today we’ll tackle the two most frequently received questions:

  1. What’s the difference between translation and interpretation?
  2. What’s better, interpreting or translation?

The origins of interpretation and translation

Interpretation and translation are two different terms that people sometimes use as if they are the same. However, it's easy to spot the difference between the two once we look at the way these words were born.

What is translation?

Translatio is a Latin word that means "carrying across" or "bringing across". As if you’re bringing a text from the source language (or native language) to another! Oxford Dictionary defines translation as the process of changing something that is written or spoken into the target language. Since the origin and the modern definition of translation are quite similar, people generally don’t have a hard time understanding the scope of the translator's work.

What does a translator do?

Professional translators can either communicate written content in their mother tongue or different languages they have expert knowledge in. Usually, a translator specializes in one subject area and possesses thorough knowledge in the industry of their choice, which allows them to convey culturally specific references in the written material in multiple languages using translation memory.

Translation memory is a helpful tool for professional translators that simplifies the translation process. It reminds of a database with reference materials, sentences, and phrases in the source language and target language based on the translators' work in the past.

When do you need translation services?

Translation services are convenient in niche situations, user manuals, instructions, and places where every word matters. In comparison to interpreters, translators have an opportunity to access dictionaries and do linguistic research as they go through the document. Interpreters, however, have to rely on their preliminary notes, adjusting to the speech with minimum delays and refraining from using dictionaries during the assignments.

What is interpretation?

On the other hand, interpretation is a vague term with a meaning that can change depending on the context. So what does interpret mean? As a broad term, it defines a particular way in which we explain or understand something. This comes from a Latin word interpretati - “to explain, expound, or understand.”

However, the meaning that language service providers intend to deliver is quite different. It is closely connected to another Latin word, interpres - an agent or translator.

Interpreting is not just providing an explanation of the spoken content in a native language. Interpreting services are better viewed as the art of paraphrasing a subject matter into target languages. ISO precisely combines the way this word originated with a modern meaning to define interpreting.

So if we can provide a concise definition, interpretation can be defined as a way to deliver spoken or signed information from a source language to a target language. The interpreter has to convey both the register and meaning of the source language content.

What does an interpreter do?

Most interpreters navigate between simultaneous interpreting and consecutive interpreting, demonstrating an amazing linguistic ability to communicate in foreign languages and tailor the speaker's speech to the target audience. Interpreters work either face-to-face or remotely and support the communication process in the public and private sectors.

When do you need interpretation services?

Interpreting is appealing in conferences, business meetings, and governmental sessions. You can also use it successfully in press conferences, educational meetings, and even church services. Introducing interpretation to any of these gatherings promotes inclusion and diversity among your audience. Considering the multilingualism among event attendees is important: hearing the speaker talk in multiple languages (including sign language) is the first step toward recognizing the cultural value of languages.

Don’t be surprised with the variety of the use-cases presented above. Professional interpreters work hard to deliver the message in virtually any context regardless of the differences in the subject matter.

Key differences between interpretation and translation

After understanding the main difference between interpretation and translation, there are some key differences that you can observe in the industry:

Interpretation takes a bit less time for the audience

Regardless of the interpreting mode, interpreters deliver the message in real-time. With multiple spoken language interpretation modes available for new customers, interpreting can happen with slight pauses (in consecutive interpreting) or minimal delays (in simultaneous interpretation). While interpreting experts usually deliver interpretation live, they dedicate hours before the event to careful preparation - something that is often left unnoticed by the public.

Interpreting is speech-based, and translation is text-based

For example, Language Scientific explains that call centers and customer service could use interpreting. However, they still have written information that needs translation services for their customers.  Interpreters help people who need to deliver their messages orally. They sometimes name it as oral translation. Translators, however, help people who need to deliver their written word, such as documents or manuals, into target languages.

Interpreting relies on non-verbal cues that are absent in traditional translation

Whether the interpreter interprets a live setting or pre-recorded speech, they have an opportunity to recognize the speaker’s nonverbal cues. Think of how voice tone and face mimics can change the perception of the speech in multicultural meetings. Interpreters can grasp individuals’ jokes, metaphors, intonation. This way, they can build a closer relationship and create a more intimate connection between the speaker and the audience. Otherwise, they would be separated by a language barrier.

The accuracy between translation and interpretation is not the same

Interpreters strive for perfection, but in a real situation, it's quite difficult. Some professional interpreters can leave parts of the original speech out of the target language.  Translators, on the other hand, can use their time to look for precise, specific words, and synonyms to increase accuracy. In short - interpreting requires slightly lower precision than translation.

Differences in the delivery process in interpretation and translation

An interpreter can do the interpreting on location, by telephone, or online by means of video, and it happens immediately. Translation could happen soon after the original text has been created when in need of a translation on short notice.

If you decide that your event needs interpretation, head to our next blog post - My event needs interpretation. What should I do?

So what does Interactio do?

Interactio is a multilingual meeting solution, providing remote simultaneous interpreting services. We empower verbal communication in your preferred or native language, connecting your target audience across borders.

How does remote simultaneous interpretation work?

Remote simultaneous interpreters interpret the speech in their heads and deliver it in the target language instantly. It means that they do it with a minimum delay in a matter of milliseconds. Remote simultaneous interpreting requires immediate comprehension as the original speech continues with no interruptions.

Every meeting is different, and remote simultaneous interpreting is just one of the interpretation modes to get your message across.

You can find out if remote simultaneous interpreting is a match for your event by reading more in our Complete guide to remote simultaneous interpretation.

Does Interactio provide any translation services?

No, we do not translate written text at the moment. However, if you need help preparing communication materials in the target language for your multilingual event, we’ll be happy to assist you in the translating process by turning to our large network of professional linguists.

Bottom line: What’s better interpreting or translation?

There’s no right answer! Though quite different in execution, both interpreting and translation follow the same goal - helping people understand the meaning of the written or spoken word in their target language.

Instead of dwelling on the differences between interpretation and translation, we kindly suggest you think about what could be a better fit in your unique situation.


No items found.

Published on

Aug 19, 2021

Share to

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Related articles