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Transcription vs Translation – What’s the difference? - Absolute Interpreting and Translations Ltd

February 23, 2021by Annie Werner

At first glance, the words “Transcription” and “Translation” sound very similar. While the two practices share some similarities, it is important to understand that they are different types of language services. The following article aims to give an introduction into both services and show the differences between the two.

Let’s dive into the topic of transcription first.

So What is Transcription?

According to Collins Dictionary, “a transcription of a conversation or speech is a written text of it, based on a recording or notes”. This simply means that transcription is the process of transcribing some form of recorded audio and/or video into a written version. This media could include, for example:

  • Interviews
  • Lectures
  • Consultations
  • Court Hearings
  • Video of a BSL session

A transcription is usually done word by word and is meant to exactly transcribe what has been said or can be heard in the recording. This is also called “Verbatim Transcription”. A verbatim transcription writes out exactly what is being said, including filler words, stutters or pauses. Another form of transcription is the “Edited” or “Clean Transcription”. This is cleaned up version of the spoken version, were pauses, interruptions and filler words can be excluded. It is important to note that a transcription focuses only on the words, not the meaning of what is being said. That means that a transcriber does not need to know about subtle connotations or ambiguous meanings of the language they are transcribing. Transcriptions usually only involve one language, making it necessary for the transcriber to have a deep and thorough knowledge of it.

What can Transcription be used for?

Transcriptions can be used to:

  • Provide a written transcription of audio files for deaf/hard of hearing clients
  • Convert spoken language into subtitles or closed captions
  • Be kept on record as reference of a meeting
  • Translate an audio recording into other languages

As you can see, transcriptions can be used as a basis to translate an audio/video recording into other languages. So what exactly differentiates Translation from Transcription?


Collins Dictionary describes translation as “[…] a piece of writing or speech that has been translated from a different language”. This means that translating something is the process of transporting information/text/etc. from one language (the “source language”) to another (the “target language”). Contrary to transcription, the most important part in translation is to make sure that the intended message of the text is correctly delivered and not “lost in translation”.

Translations are usually done from written format into another written format. Translations play a vital role in the distribution of information, as they ensure that people have access to information in their own native language. Examples of translations are e.g.:

  • Website translations
  • Game and Software Translations
  • Advertising and Marketing Translations
  • Personal Documents like Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificates, Insurance Policies etc.
  • Translations of Legal Documents
  • Translation of Medical Documents
  • Translations for Councils and Housing Associations

To be able to deliver a high quality translation, a translator must speak at least two languages fluently and have a deep understanding of the culture of the intended target language. This knowledge is important to make sure that the message of the text can be transported across language and cultural borders.

So, to conclude: Transcription does not require the transcriber to be fluent in more than one language, contrary to translation. In translation, the translator needs to make sure they have an appropriate understanding of the culture of the target language, to ensure that the intended message of the source text can be accurately transported. To translate a text, it might be necessary to have the source transcribed first.

Absolute has more than 21,000 registered linguists world-wide, to fulfil every client’s need for certified, quality translations. We offer free, no obligations quotes for our services. Contact us today!

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