What is the difference between translation and interpretation?

A common misconception is the idea that translators and interpreters do the same thing. In fact, translation and interpretation are very different.

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Translation revolves around the written word: if you have a document such as an international contract, marketing brochure, book, manual, or survey that needs to be communicated in another language, you need a translator.

Some examples of translation projects in 2011:

  • A market research company in Florida needed a customer satisfaction survey translated into Russian, Portuguese, German, and Spanish
  • A green engineering firm needed petroleum reports translated Korean into English  edited and reviewed
  • Arabic translation of birth and death certificates and review of authenticity for a legal client in Washington DC

Interpretation involves oral communication. If you have an investor visiting from Japan, a diplomat from Brazil, or a Korean immigrant in a court trial, you need an interpreter to interpret the spoken word.

There are two types of interpretation: simultaneous and consecutive. Simultaneous interpreters anticipate what the speaker is going to say, and interpret at the same time as the speaker is speaking. Less taxing is consecutive interpretation, when an interpreter waits until the speaker has finished a sentence or phrase before conveying that message to the audience’s target language.

Some examples of interpretation projects in 2011:

  • A local employee association used a Spanish interpreter to present a sexual harassment training and interactive workshop to a group of Hispanic employees in Philadelphia.
  • A national technical standards organization used teams of simultaneous Russian interpreters for training sessions in Washington, DC and Philadelphia.
  • Consecutive telephonic interpretation of 40 interviews on trade shows over two days in Germany (German), France (French), and Brazil (Portuguese) for an international market research company.