Translation and interpretation

Translation and interpretation

Although translation and interpretation are two concepts that are often confused, the truth is that they are two different tasks, despite some similarities, and each has its own characteristics. Translation and interpretation are similar activities in the sense that both require the translator or interpreter to have a thorough knowledge of at least two languages.

As for the differences, the greatest difference between translation and interpretation is that translators translate written texts, websites, manuals, different documentation, etc. Interpreters, however, translate orally.


Main differences between translation and interpretation

Written texts and spoken language

As we have mentioned, the primary difference between translation and interpretation is that translation consists of a transforming the content of a written text from one language to another, while interpreting consists of communicating a spoken message from one language into another.

Translation is made up of different specialisations, such as sworn translation, legal, or technical translation, among others. The translator reproduces the content of a text written in the source language in the target language. During this process, the translator is responsible for investigating the specific terminology and finding appropriate words and phrases to ensure that the translated text is true to its original version and also fulfils its function.

Interpretation, however, includes many different subcategories. The most common type of interpretation is simultaneous interpretation (which you might have seen in congresses, for example, where the interpreter works from their own cabin). Another type is consecutive interpreting, where the message is communicated once the speaker has finished talking. This is frequently used for speeches, meetings or witness statements. In bilateral interpretation, the interpreter serves as a link to communication between two people who do not use the same language. In this case, the interpreter translates bilaterally, as the name might indicate, meaning that they continuously switch between one language and another. This type of interpreting is typically used in meetings with few participants.

Interpretation has two key methods: on-site and remote. In-person or on-site interpreting is that with which we are most familiar, where the interpreter physically attends the meeting or event. In recent times, on-site interpreting is being used less and we are seeing much more use of remote interpreting, which can be used in parallel with any of the types of interpreting listed above.

Translation and interpretation require different professionals

Although the translator and the interpreter are two different figures in many ways, there is some overlap between the two professions. In fact, the two roles are often confused.

Alongside a mastery of languages and extensive training there are some further skills, whether innate or acquired, that are important in order to shine in this profession:

  • Good written skills: It is extremely important to write well and be able to express oneself in different styles and registers.
  • Curiosity: Any professional linguist must possess curiosity for their subject matter. The translator must also harness a certain "linguistic intuition" to help them to resolve any difficulties regarding language or terminology.
  • Accuracy: To ensure the quality of the translation, a translator should always carry out a thorough review of their work.
  • Good organisation: Organisation and punctuality are vital in this profession. A translator knows their own rhythm and how long it will take them to complete a new translation.

Finally, a translator must also be skilled with technology in order to use software and translation tools.

An interpreter, on the other hand, requires a series of skills that are not necessarily the same as those of the translator.

  • Improvisation: Often, an interpreter needs to make a translation decision with little time to think, while working on site in the midst of a meeting or conference. Therefore, they must have a great capacity for analysis and the ability to reflect to help them resolve difficult and unexpected situations in the space of just a few seconds.
  • Summary: An interpreter often receives a lot of information in a short period of time. Therefore, they must be able to detect the key concepts within the message and separate them from the superfluous content.
  • Memory: This is no easy task, and it requires a lot of training, but this is a vital skill for a good interpreter, who must remember every sentence that has been said in order to interpret it accurately.
  • Concentration: The interpreter listens, understands, analyses, summarises, communicates and takes notes. All at once! Any distraction could be serious. All five senses must be fully focused on the dialogue or speech. This is why concentration is of the utmost importance in this profession.


In short, if we were playing "Spot the Difference," we would say that could say that its spoken nature, immediacy and working style are what distinguish interpretation from translation. It should also be noted that there are different types of translation and interpretation, each of which has its own specific characteristics. At AT Language Solutions, we work with translators and interpreters who specialise in all areas. Shall we have a chat?

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