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What is the Difference between Interpreting and Translating?

September 25, 2020by Emily Thomson

As the world becomes more connected in the 21st century it is important to ensure we can communicate effectively and not see language barriers as a barrier. Both interpreting and translation services are needed for personal and professional use in order to communicate effectively with people who speak different languages. For international businesses these services allow trade to happen globally. Being able to provide contracts and documents to a business partner in their native language can result in better business relationships and more trade.

But how do you know which service you need and what is the difference between interpreting and translating?

The Difference between Interpreting and Translating

These two terms are frequently confused and misunderstood.

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It is important to know the difference between interpreting and translating to ensure you get the right help to meet your translating and interpreting needs. Although they are closely related as they both change the language of text from one language into another there is a key difference between interpreting and translating: the medium of the text.

But if they both translate one language into another how is interpreting different to translating? The difference is that translating translates written words and interpreting interprets spoken words. Interpretation is normally done live whereas translating is done over a longer time period.

Interpreters and Translators are highly skilled and must attain qualifications to become accredited and it is necessary for them to keep updating their translating and interpreting training throughout their career. As there is a difference between interpreting and translating, linguists normally only offer services for either translating or interpreting. Both services are equally important and are in growing demand.

What is a Translator?

Business woman working and translating on laptopTranslators are very skilled and often speak more than one language. They translate written text from one language into another language- normally their native language. Translations are normally done in an office away from the client which is less stressful and means translators have longer time periods to complete their work than interpreters. Translators also need time to ensure that the translation has accurate grammar and when translating legal documents the document must fully accredited and certified. Another difference between interpreting and translating is that translators have access to resources such as translating technology and language dictionaries.

Translators must have excellent communication, writing skills, cultural awareness, technical expertise as well as common sense.

Translation Localisation

Translation localisation is another service that translators can provide. It is an advanced translation and is completed by translators who are fluent in more than two languages. Translation is most commonly used for medical documents, user manuals, recipes, literature, legal documents, and housing papers. These documents need to be accurately translated but there are some documents which need the translation to be more appropriate for the local area.  English is spoken in many counties around the world but each area has their own dialects therefore localisation will ensure the text is translated using the correct terminology and grammar for that area.

Localisation is not just converting one language into another; the translator fully translates the emotion of the text and expresses its meaning by using terms and phrases which reflect the culture of the target language.  Global companies may require website localisation to ensure that their website does more than just make sense in every language but that it shows cultural understanding as well.

What is an Interpreter?

Interpreting is a verbal form of translating. Interpreters have a harder job than translators as they must be able to multitask. Interpreting requires an interpreter to be able to listen to speech in one language whilst interpreting and relaying it into another language.  Unlike translating, interpreting is normally done in real time therefore interpreters have a lot more pressure than translators.  Due to this interpreters do not have access to any dictionaries or other assistance.

There are different types of interpreting but they all require and interpreter to understand a verbal speech, and be able to accurately paraphrase and interpret the speech into the target language.  Sometimes the interpreting is only in one direction but it is possible for interpreters to need to converse in both directions.

Interpreters must be very flexible and adaptable as they could be required to interpret speech in any location such as a small meeting e.g. interpreting in a medical appointment,  or large event. In recent years remote interpreting has become more popular, this requires interpreters to be able to do interpreting services either over the phone or through video. Interpreters are also needed to assist members of the deaf community by providing British Sign Language interpretation services either face-to-face or BSL video interpreting.

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Our Interpreters and Translators

Now you know the difference between interpreting and translating you should know which service you require to meet your needs. It is import to use a qualified and accredited linguist rather than a friend or family member. Absolute Interpreting and Translations Ltd provide a range of translating and interpreting services  and we have linguists who are specialised to different sectors to ensure we provide the highest quality service.


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Emily Thomson

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