Lifting the Lid on Translation and Interpreting

It is likely that you have heard of the terms ‘translation’ and ‘interpreting’. They are fairly common terms and are used frequently in everyday speech.

However, do you know that they actually refer to different services?

Yes, that’s correct. Despite the media often using them interchangeably, translation and interpreting are not the same thing.

It is true that both have the shared goal of conveying meaning from one language into another. However, there is a fundamental difference between them:

Translation involves written language, while interpretation involves spoken language.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the differences!

Image to represent translation and interpreting.

The Medium:

TRANSLATION is a written form which sees the translator convert a source text from one language into another language, usually their mother tongue.

INTERPRETATION is a spoken practice which sees the interpreter verbally convert a speaker’s message into another language, often working between their mother tongue and another language.

The Speed:

TRANSLATION is a practice in which the translator can work at their own pace, thinking carefully about each word before writing.

INTERPRETATION is a practice in which the interpreter must think imminently, often speaking at the same time as the speaker. Given the fast-pace nature of the practice, it is much more about paraphrasing than word-for-word conveyance. Short-term memory is essential.

The Specialism:

TRANSLATORS need to be specialists in the field they translate in, but they can always rely on dictionaries and search engines to help them find fiddly terms during the translation process.

INTERPRETERS need to be specialists in their field too, but they cannot rely on reference material when working. If they do not know the exact meaning of a term in their own language, they must think on their feet and describe or summarise the term.

The Location:

TRANSLATORS often work at home, using their computers and dictionaries as their only work tools.

INTERPRETERS are at the location of the event, either in specific booths like at the European Commission or perhaps stood behind the speaker, whispering the translation into their ear. Regardless of the medium, they attend the event live!

The Direction:

TRANSLATORS translate into their mother tongue from their second language.

INTERPRETERS may need to interpret from their second language into their mother tongue, and then interpret from their mother tongue into their second language. And yes – this is as difficult as it sounds!!!


We hope this blog can clear up any confusion once and for all. Get in touch via our contact page or social media if you have any comments or queries that you’d like to share!

Fancy learning more about the world of translation? Why not check out our blog lifting the lid on Proofreading?

By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies. For more information, read our Privacy Policy

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close