What's The Difference Between A Translation And An Interpretation?

What's the difference between a translation and an interpretation?

Most people get translator and interpreter confused.  It is important to know the difference.


Because they are two completely separate services.

Each service has its own peculiarities.

In order for you to get what you want, you must first understand what you need.

In this blog, we will help answer the following:
  • Do you need a translation or interpretation?
  • If it's a translation you need, What type of translation do you need?
  • If it's an interpretation you need, What type and mode of interpretation do you need?


A translator works with the written word.

"The translator must also convey the style, tone, and intent of the text, while taking into account differences of culture and dialect.  The finished document should read as if it had originally been written in the target language for the target audience." [1]

"A successful translation is one that conveys the explicit and implicit meaning of the source language into the target language as fully and accurately as possible." [2]

Each translation is a long, complex, and even profound series of choices which a translator must make; of not just how to render a given word, but most often a phrase or paragraph. 

A translator must be very skilled because a single source text has dozens, hundreds perhaps thousands of possible translations.  Finally they must revise, edit and proofread their translation. 

There are different types of translations:

  • Abstract is a summary of the source text translated.
  • Localization or Transcreation is customizing the translation to a particular market and culture suitable and familiar to the target audience.
  • Transcription or Audio/Video Translation is the rendering of live or recorded (audio or video) speech in the source language to a written text in the target language.
  • Translation is the communication of the meaning of a source language text to an equivalent target language text.


An interpreter works with the spoken word.

Interpreters convey the meaning faithfully, accurately and impartially from one language into another.
A successful interpretation is one in which the target language fully and accurately reflects the style, register and cultural content of the source language, without additions, omissions and embellishments. [3]

Similarly to translation, there are different types of interpretations:

  • In-Person (whisper/booth)
  • Via Video/Online
  • Via Telephone
There are three types of interpretation modes.  All three modes are highly complex.

Consecutive interpreting is when the speaker talks clearly and pauses every phrase or so to give the interpreter time to render the interpretation.  The interpreter listens to a segment of speech, the speaker stops to allow the interpreter to speak, and so on.   Interpreters sometimes take short notes to help recall key words or numbers.

Simultaneous interpreting is interpreting at the same time others are speaking.  This is an extremely complex mental task, requiring concentration far beyond what most people usually experience.  Just to give you an idea of the difficulty, interpreting has been compared to working as an air traffic controller. 

Sight Translation is when the interpreter gives the rendering of a source text directly into a target language for informational purposes, not for a translation.

So the next question now is...

Do you really need a professional translator or interpreter, or can any bilingual person do your job?

If you wish to know the implications then read our blog Is Just Being Bilingual Enough to Translate or Interpret?

So, how do you find that perfect translator or interpreter who will communicate your message correctly? eLingual.Net is a great place to start! We will help connect you with interpreters who match your needs.

Feel free to connect or email me, Carmen Arismendy.  I'm a professional Spanish interpreter-translator and founder of eLingual.Net.  I started the eLingual Network because I could not find a fair, no middleman, no job bidding, ethical, and transparent meeting place for translators, interpreters, and clients online.  The website is in beta phase and by no means perfect but it's a step in the right direction.
eLingual.Net's mission is to spread happiness worldwide through happy translators, interpreters, and clients.
For the professional translator and interpreter, this means no middleman, no job bidding, the freedom of setting their own fees, having control over their services, and who they choose to work with.
For the clients, this means working directly with ethical and professional translators and interpreters committed to quality and value.
Join our happy community, let's work together!

2. Interagency Language Roundtable, ILR Skill Level Descriptions for Translation Performance http://www.govtilr.org/Skills/AdoptedILRTranslationGuidelines.htm

3. Interagency Language Roundtable, ILR Skill Level Descriptions for Translation Performance http://www.govtilr.org/Skills/interpretationSLDapproved.htm

Updated 12.1.16


Popular posts from this blog

Quotes On Translation And Interpretation

Marketing For Translators And Interpreters, Part 2 of 3: Offline & Online