Translation vs. Interpretation – Unraveling the Differences

Have you ever heard the terms “translation” and “interpretation“, but weren’t sure of the difference? Well, you’re not alone. If you work in a field that requires transnational communication or use language services regularly, it’s important to understand which tool works best in any given situation.

The translation is the process of rendering written or recorded text from one language into another, while interpretation refers to the oral translation (or signing) of spoken language from one language to another.

So, let’s take a few minutes to untangle the tricky topic of translation vs interpretation and get to the bottom of this common confusion.

What Is the Difference Between Translation and Interpretation?

Translations and interpretations are both forms of language transfer, but they are two distinct processes with different goals.

Translating is all about converting one language into another. The purpose of translation is to create a written version of the text that accurately conveys the original message.

Interpretation, on the other hand, is more focused on helping people communicate across languages in real-time situations.

To better understand the difference between translation and interpretation, look at how each process is used in practice. Then you can easily decide if you need translation or interpretation.


Translation services involve producing written documents (PDF, Word Doc, subtitles, etc.). This can range from basic translations to more sophisticated projects, such as translating business documents, legal documents, and medical records.

Translating texts into a different language involves careful editing and proofreading to ensure that all nuances of the original meaning are accurately conveyed in the target language. A translator has the luxury of time to research and consult resources.


Interpretation involves converting the spoken word from one language to another in real-time or near real-time. This requires constant attention to the speaker’s language, tone, and voice inflection.

For example, a conversation between two business associates speaking different languages can be translated by an interpreter, so that both parties can understand each other. Interpretation services can also include telephone interpreting and video conference interpreting.

Why Is Translation Important?

what is translation

What does translation do, and why is it so important?

Well, it allows you to bridge cultural divides, connecting different parts of the world through literature, music, and dialog.

Translation helps with global business operations by making sure that contracts, product descriptions, and other marketing materials are translated accurately, so everyone is on the same page. It also facilitates better understanding among people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to communicate with each other due to language barriers.

The Main Types of Translation Services

The definition of translation is “the process of changing something that is written or spoken into another language.”

You probably know that there are different types of translation services available, but you don’t know more about them. This section will help you understand some of the most common translation services and when you should use them:

  • Transcription: The process of turning an audio or video recording into a written document is known as transcription. This type of service is often used to produce transcripts for legal purposes or to transcribe interviews for research purposes;
  • Literal Translation: Literal translation involves transferring words from one language to another using a direct word-for-word conversion. When there is a high degree of similarity between two languages, this type of translation is appropriate;
  • Adaptive Translation: Adaptive translation goes beyond direct literal translations by taking into account context, grammar, syntax, and other factors to convey both meaning and tone in a new language. This type of translation also allows for cultural references to be replaced with similar ones that make sense in the target language, thus ensuring that readers have an accurate understanding of the source material.

When it comes to professional translation, there is a wide variety of services out there. However, they can be divided into several groups, based on the type of text that needs translating.

  •  Document & Certificate Translation: Document and certificate translation involves translating legal and official documents, such as birth certificates, diplomas, contracts, and other government-issued IDs. This type of work requires attention to detail to provide accurate translations;
  • Manual Translation: Manual translation can involve translating large quantities of technical documents for use in business or educational settings. Manuals require specialized knowledge of the subject matter being translated in order to ensure accuracy and readability;
  • Patent Translation: Patent translation is focused on the specific terminology used in patent applications, as well as any accompanying files or drawings that need to be translated. This type of work requires expertise in patent law, as well as knowledge of the specific language being translated;
  • Business Translation: Business translation covers corporate and financial documents, including annual reports, business plans, presentations, and marketing materials. Business translations require knowledge of industry-specific terms and concepts in order to be accurate and effective;
  • Website Translation: Website translations are done when a company needs to have its website translated into other languages to reach global audiences. This type of work requires an understanding of cultural nuances that should be taken into account for the website to be effective in its intended market;
  • Technical Translation: Technical translation is any type of written work where the translator needs a deep understanding of the subject matter. For example, if you need to translate a website about computer software from English to German, then you would use a technical translator who is well-versed in computer science and software terminology;
  • Certified Translation: This type of service involves translating documents for use in legal or government-related matters. The translator must certify their accuracy in the final document and may need additional certification from an official body, such as an embassy or court of law;
  • Literary Translation: Literary translation is used to convey complex and abstract ideas within books, articles, poems, editorial reviews, and other texts. This type of work requires the translator to capture creative nuances while still being faithful to the original text’s style and tone.

What is Interpretation?

what is interpretation

Interpretation vs translation? Although they are not the same thing, both deserve your attention.

Interpreting is defined as the process of “rendering a spoken or signed message into another spoken or signed language, preserving the register and meaning of the source language content” by ISO 13611:2014. Interpretation is typically used in situations where translations can’t be used, such as during conversations, video or audio conferences, or at live events like speeches, lectures, or seminars.

It requires a high level of language proficiency, cultural sensitivity, and excellent listening and speaking skills. The importance of interpretation cannot be overstated. Accurate interpretation can lead to clearer communication, increased understanding, and better relationships.

Types of Interpretation Services

Interpretation services have become increasingly important in today’s world, where businesses and individuals often interact with people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

Whether you are attending a business conference, a legal deposition, or a medical appointment, interpretation services can help you communicate effectively with people who do not speak your language. However, not all interpretation services are created equal, and it’s important to understand the differences between them to choose the right one for your needs.

Consecutive interpretation

There is a pause for the interpreter to translate each phrase or sentence in consecutive interpretation. It’s kind of like a game of telephone that goes in two directions—the speaker speaks in their language, the interpreter translates into another language, and then the listener responds again.

Simultaneous interpretation

Simultaneous interpretation happens in real time, meaning the interpreter has to think and listen quickly. It’s typically done with headsets and technology like radio microphones or video conferencing. They often work with a team of interpreters who switch off every twenty minutes or so for maximum accuracy and efficiency.

Whispered Interpreting

Whispered interpreting works similarly to simultaneous interpreting, but the interpreter whispers their interpretation into their client’s ear rather than speaking out loud. Timing is still important here, but since only one person can hear the interpretation, it’s perfect for small group settings where confidentiality is needed or if a speaker does not want their remarks shared with a larger audience.

Tools and Techniques Used in Translation and Interpretation

Interpreting and translating may seem pretty similar, but they actually involve different tools and techniques. Let’s break it down.

When it comes to translation, specialized software can be used to convert written text from one language to another. The technology takes into account grammar, syntax, and cultural references so that final translations are not only accurate but also read naturally in the target language. This in no way devalues the work done by a person, but rather helps it.

For speakers or interpreters in other locations to participate in the live session, the use of particular technologies, such as a video conferencing system, must be necessary. For the interpretation itself, the professionals rely on their mental agility, language skills, and deep knowledge of both cultures. This requires a mastery of the spoken word, special techniques for memorization, and rapid-fire comprehension—skills you won’t get from a machine!

Quality Assurance for Translation and Interpretation Services

You already know that translation and interpretation are very different, but what you might not know is that these services require different—but equally important—quality assurance processes.

Both interpretation and translation services need to be of exceptional quality to allow for accuracy—from medical conversations all the way up to international business negotiations.

Translation Quality Assurance

Quality assurance for translations usually involves a process called “back-translation”; this is when someone with no prior knowledge of the source text translates the translated text back into its original language, allowing for comparison of the two versions. This process can help to root out any mistakes.

Linguists can also run their translations through automated checks to look for potential mistakes.

In this regard, you can safely rely on our team of expert linguists at We provide top-notch language services for a variety of industries, including healthcare, legal, and finance.

Professional Translation Services

Get accurate and consistent translation of your text content into 150+ languages at as low as $0.07 per source word. No subject matter is ever too intricate for our experienced linguists with area-specific expertise.

Interpretation Quality Assurance

Interpretation quality assurance is more about ensuring that the interpretation reflects the context of both the target language and culture, as well as the source language and culture. It also involves making sure that interpreting edits or omissions have been made to ensure effective communication between the speaker and the audience.

Final Words

Translation vs interpretation? In the end, it all depends on your particular requirements and objectives. By understanding the differences between these two services, you can make informed decisions about what to choose for your particular project.

No matter the situation, professional translation and interpretation help you make the most of global opportunities.

Wordspath can help

Translation vs interpretation? In the end, it all depends on your particular requirements and objectives. By understanding the differences between these two services, you can make informed decisions about what to choose for your particular project.

No matter the situation, professional translation and interpretation help you make the most of global opportunities.

Wordspath provides highly reliable human translation and state-of-the-art machine translation services for content related to diverse subject matters with accuracy and consistency. 

We take pride in our quality-driven workflow that combines the excellent work of our linguists, desktop publishers, project managers, customer service, and technical team. Their endless support allows Wordspath to provide first-rate language solutions in 150+ languages for thousands of customers who need to connect with the world.

Wordspath also offers machine translation post-editing services translating the content with our proprietary MT engine and having our in-house/contracted linguists review,  edit, polish, and proofread the results.

Meanwhile, we are highly experienced in delivering tailor-made localization-related solutions such as desktop publishing, transcription, subtitling, and voiceover. Our ability to quickly handle a wide range of content types between nearly all language combinations sets us apart from our competitors. Should you need to consult on your best-fit language solution, you can contact us through live chat or email to Or simply request a free quote.

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