Differences between Translation and Interpretation

A lot of people often confuse translation and interpretation as the same thing. They often interchange both terms for tasks related to changing languages so that they will be understood by low English proficiency (LEP) clients and business partners. However, those two are totally different from one another, and should be used accordingly so that you know what to look for when contacting a language and translation agency.


Translation is about working with documents to be converted from one language to another, and one of best ways to get good written translation is to get a translator who is excellent in writing for the target language.

The most important note to consider is that translators work in one direction, working from the source (your document) to target (translated document). For example: you have a document with you in English (source), and you need to get it translated into German (target). The best translators to work with will be the one who has command of their native language as well as another linguistic expertise. More often than not, translators work best writing into their native language due to their exposure as well as grasp of linguistics in that area. Rarely will you find a translator who is comfortable in doing writing in other different languages, so you may find yourself looking for another translator if you wish to have your document written in another language.


Interpretation, on the other hand, deals with spoken languages. Unlike translators, interpreters can do this in both directions: from English to Spanish, and from Spanish to English so that both parties will be able to understand each other though him.

Interpretation can be done in several ways, the most common ones being:

  • Consecutive interpreting: the interpreter waits for the speaker to finish, often times taking notes, before proceeding with the interpretation.
  • Simultaneous interpreting: the interpreter speaks after a lag of two or more words to give him time to correctly interpret a phrase or sentence.
  • Sight interpreting: the translator is given a written document and reads it according to the target language (as with the case of court proceedings).

To put it simply: you need translators for written documents, and interpreters for spoken languages. Different people have different areas of specialties; one person can be good at both, while there are people who wish to concentrate on perfecting their skills to just one.

Knowing the difference between translation and interpretation will help you know who exactly to look for: do you need a translator, or an interpreter? Rare are those who can do both, and seeking just the right one for your project will certainly help give you the best experience in language interpreting and translating service that you will have.