Interpretation and translation. What is the difference?

Interpreting New Zealand

As a company that specialises in both translation and interpreting we often get asked what the difference between interpretation and translation is. While both services involve adapting one language to another there are a number of important differences between the disciplines.

1. Spoken vs written – the key difference is that interpreting involves the transfer of meaning via spoken language while translations are the transfer of meaning through the written word.

2. Real time vs delay – Interpreting happens in real time and can take place over the phone, in a meeting, in person, through video service and so on. As translation is about the written word, the process generally takes place some time after the original text was created, giving the translator time to access supporting resources such as dictionaries, glossaries and so on. This helps the translator produce an accurate end text in the target language that is true to the original.

Interpreting New Zealand

3. Level of accuracy – with both processes there are varying levels of accuracy. Interpreters aim to achieve complete accuracy but this is difficult to achieve with a live conversation. Interpreters are given a margin of artistic licence in order to overcome some of the major concerns in dealing with spoken language – a significant one being the time factor. With translation the translator has the time to evaluate and revise the text before delivering the end product so they can achieve a much higher level of accuracy. Briefing interpreters prior to assignments enables better preparation, and it can ensure a greater level of accuracy.

4. Direction and fluency – With interpreting, the interpreter must be fluent in both the language of the speaker (source language) and the target language of the audience. They need to be able to interpret in both directions, immediately, and without any supporting documents. The work is very demanding and interpreters need to be highly qualified and experienced. Interpreters sometimes work in pairs to prevent the risk of mental fatigue. Pair work is necessary in simultaneous interpreting, when interpretation is only a word or two behind the original source language speaker.

Interpreting New Zealand

Professional translators generally only work in one direction and that is translating into their native language so they don’t need the same level of comprehension of the source language as is the case with interpreting. The key skills for translators are to understand the source language and use their knowledge of the cultural norms to create an accurate equivalent in the target language.

1. Intangibles – Some issues are common with both interpreting and translating. For instance conveying things like metaphors, analogies and idioms can be extremely difficult as they often don’t have a direct translation. Interpreters must also capture tone, inflection, voice quality and other intangible elements of the spoken word to help convey accurate meaning. Spoken language is often a lot more colloquial and imprecise than written language.

While there are vast differences between both interpreting and translation, an understanding of the subject matter is crucial to both disciplines. Accurately conveying the message is key. Rather than merely substituting each individual words for another, the process involves understanding the thoughts expressed in one language and explaining these using the appropriate resources and nuances of another language.

NZTC recently opened a new office in Hawkes Bay, specialising in interpreting. NZTC International can provide professional, certified interpreters that are selected to meet your specific requirements.

For more information on our interpreting service please get in touch with a member of the team by emailing -

#interpreting #translation

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square