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Difference between Translation and Interpretation

Interpreters are not translators and translators are not interpreters. The two are not interchangeable. Specifically, a translator reads documents in one language and translates them as a new document written in a second language. An interpreter listens to spoken words in one language and speaks the equivalent of what was just heard into a second language.

A Deeper Look at Interpreting

Since an interpreter must come up with spoken interpretations on the fly, this does mean that an interpreter can never be quite as accurate as a translator, who has time to sit down with a document and rework it over the course of several hours or days.

On the other hand, this ‘on the fly’ pressure is part of the fun of interpreting and ignites creativity and resourcefulness on the interpreter’s part. Interpreters often find that they have to reconstruct what the speaker is saying and don’t find it necessary or even possible to go through each sentence word by word in order to get the message across.

Interpreters might also sometimes find themselves adding in cultural background information that the speaker might have left out because they assume everyone understands their culture.

There are two main kinds of interpretation:

Simultaneous Interpretation

Simultaneous interpretation is what people do during a debate, conference, or meeting. While the speaker continues speaking, an interpreter immediately interprets the previous sentence at the same rate as the speaker with perhaps only a couple seconds of lag time.

Consecutive Interpretation

Consecutive interpretation is when someone speaks for a few minutes while the interpreter takes notes. When the speaker stops, the interpreter gives their interpretation of what was said based on their notes. This process is repeated as many times as necessary until the speaker gets all of his or her points across to the target audience. The downside of consecutive interpretation, of course, is it is much slower than simultaneous interpreting.


A Deeper Look at Translation

Translation is a different skill set than interpretation altogether. While the two seem similar enough, they use different skills and certainly different parts of the brain. A translator might be more successful if he or she has excellent grammar and spelling in both languages as well as a personality that thrives on the meticulous nature of translating documents sentence by sentence. Unlike interpreters, translators have the time to look up words or to think of just the right word to accurately translate the original document.


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