Translation and interpretation careers are two of the professions most commonly chosen by language and language learning lovers. However, outside of the professional sphere or even before opting for one of the two paths, not everyone knows how the two differ.
To begin to unravel the singularities between translators and interpreters, let’s first see what they have in common. To begin with, both professions bring linguistic and cultural knowledge into play, both require a good command of grammar and languages, and the social ability to communicate clearly and efficiently. However, the main difference between translation and interpretation careers is the medium through which the service is provided: while professional translators take care of translating written texts, interpreters specialize in orally translating the spoken language.
Next, we present the 4 basic differences between text translation and interpretation to facilitate the choice of your university career or to know what type of service you need:
1. Oral language vs. written language
As we have seen in the introduction, translating a text is to convey its meaning in a written form in another language. Instead, interpretation involves orally explaining the meaning of something said, also in another language.
Beyond the difference in terms of one or another language, another very important distinction is temporality: while the translation is performed after the text was written in its original language, the interpretation is performed simultaneously with the oral transmission of content. Thus, an interpreter can work in person, by telephone or through live video, at the exact moment that both the broadcast and the interpretation service take place. Some of the most common jobs for an interpreter are academic or cultural conferences, medical consultations, transnational labour meetings and judicial instances, among others.
Therefore, professional translators have more time and can use reference materials to refine their work and obtain the best results in their written translations (journalistic or academic articles, books, web pages, subtitles, etc.).
2. Detail and precision
As we saw in our article “5 tips to be a professional translator” the work of a translator will have better results and will be more valued the more invisible their passage through the text. After all, what we are always looking for is the most faithful transmission of content in a new language.
For different reasons – especially simultaneity – interpretation can never be as exact as translation. While professional interpreters always strive for perfection in their work, it is extremely challenging to be 100% true to meaning and expression with so little time to process information and immediately transmit it in another language. The most valuable tools for an interpreter are experience and a good memory, two invaluable attributes for practicing this profession.
In this sense, time again tips the balance in favour of translators, who can review their work and modify it as many times as they want to achieve the most accurate version of it.
3. Directionality of communication
In general, professional translators translate texts both from another language into their mother tongue and vice versa: from their mother tongue to the language in which they specialize. However, this work is not usually done simultaneously.
On the other hand, for interpreters it is much more usual to have to translate instantly in both directions; for example, during a presentation on a certain topic between a Spanish and an English person that must be translated and reproduced instantly so that both participants of the conversation can understand each other, add information about it and respond to each other.
4, The challenges of both professions
As we have seen in the various articles on this blog, knowing how to communicate in a certain language is not enough to be able to translate a text or interpret a conversation.
The fake cognates that confuse beginners so much, the idioms of each language, the metaphors and analogies, the words with no exact equivalent in another language, and those that have more than one meaning, make the task of professional interpreters and translators more complex.
However, in the work of the interpreters another challenge is added: they must be able to transmit in a new language the tone and intention given by a speaker to their speech. This is a real challenge for those who practice the profession, since it implies fully grasping the verbal and non-vernal communication of the person in question.