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Key Differences Between Translation and Interpreting

In this article, we outline the core difference between Translation and Interpretation, their similarities, and best case usage scenarios for your industry and business.

Author: Andreea Balaoiu

Key Differences Between Translation and Interpreting and How to Apply Them Best to Your Business

In the ever-so-competitive business landscape, getting the words of your corporate ethos across effectively is always top of mind, hence the importance of employing the right approaches to Translation and Interpreting to speak globally to other markets.

In Barry Lydgate’s words, communicating well in a language that is not one’s own “takes more than knowledge of words and structures; it takes a grasp of their relationship to the underlying culture”. With that in mind, this article explores the nuances, cultural implications, and distinctions between Translation and Interpreting and how they can truly prove beneficial for your business.

Definition: Translation and Interpreting

  • Translation - The literal word-for-word transformation of a source text into the target language.

  • Interpreting - Oral or sign-language communication, performed either simultaneously or consecutively, between language users belonging to different linguistic and cultural backgrounds.


Translation can be defined as the literal word-for-word transformation of a source text into a target language, the first stepping stone on any content’s road towards a new audience, as it provides this new audience with the ability to understand the source text in their native language.

The linguist working on the content has to be a native speaker of the target language with previous experience in the subject they are working on. With the help of various Computer-Aided Translation (CAT) tools, Glossaries and Translation Memories (TMs), the source text is translated into the target language with a focus on terminology, grammar, wording, consistency, country-specific language conventions and style, as well as other project-specific or client-specific instructions or guidelines, such as regulatory requirements.

A typical application scenario for translation is exact texts. Examples include technical and medical documentation, where the focus is on specific terminology that has to be converted from language A to language B.

However, translation alone is not sufficient due to its word-for-word approach, in cases where the main focus is to deliver a message from language A to language B, hence the inextricable correlation with Localization and the need to linguistically adapt the content for the target region, its languages and cultural particularities in order to make it appropriate, easily understandable and comfortable to use for native speakers of the local language.


Interpreting represents a process in which an accredited interpreter, knowledgeable in both the source and target languages of the communication actively repeats out loud what the source speaker has said, rendering it in the distinct language targeted in various forms, depending on the contextual framework and needs of the respective scenario, such as:

  • Simultaneous interpreting

  • Consecutive interpreting

  • Travel/community interpreting

  • Whispered interpreting/chuchotage

  • Scheduled/on-demand phone or online interpreting

Key Differences between Translation and Interpreting

Now that we have explored the context and insights of executing a Translation and Interpreting, let’s look at the key differences.

  • 1. Discourse structure and format

    Translation is heavily dependent on the source text, Translation Memories, glossaries, formatting guidelines and language/cultural specific requirements, being rendered textually, whereas Interpreting involves an active, verbal engagement of the source speaker and interpreter, relying on the capacity to render from memory the messaging into the target language, having no other auxiliary format or linguistic aid.

  • 2. Technical implications

    The process of translating, especially exact texts, involves the use of CAT tools, Translation Memories and glossary databases input into the respective CAT tools, as well as Linguistic Quality Assurance processes, executing spelling and terminology cross-checks in order to generate technical reports based on which translation output can be optimized.

    Depending on the type of interpreting, the process can rely on technical elements, such as the interpreting booth, headphones, sound system, etc., however, the actual linguistic process of interpreting relies solely on the hindsight and linguistic adaptation performed by the interpreter to overcome any terminology blocks and convey the core message as well as possible.

  • 3. Accuracy and rendition

    More often than not, Translation requires high levels of accuracy, especially in the case of exact texts, endowed with specific and complex medical, technical or legal terminology, as the end result should reflect specific, non-debatable or interpretable terminology.

    In the live setting of a linguistic interpreting process, the accuracy can be approximated, based on the specific case scenario, as the underlying aim is to get a message across effectively, and not in as high detail as a technical or medical translation.

  • 4. Audience rapport

    Consequently, the audience rapport also differs between Translation and Interpreting, with Translation implying an indirect interaction with an audience as the message is conveyed textually and subject to cultural guidelines, whereas the process of Interpreting requires an active and emotional engagement with the audience, employing discourse and oratorical methods of conveying the underlying message, clearly and persuasively.

    Although implying a similar process of replicating and transposing a message across a set of distinct languages, Interpreting is a more visceral process of linguistic rendition, implying real-time cross-linguistic communication and relying heavily on emotional involvement, empathy, great memory and quick reflexes and capacity to react.

  • 5. Delivery

    Last, but certainly not least, one of the main differences between Translation and Interpreting touches on the intangibles in delivering the respective linguistic discourse. When delivering a pertinent translation, the main objective is to render the message across linguistically as correctly and accurately as possible, aligned with the specific guidelines and cultural conventions of the target audience and topic.

    More often than not, Translation is as straightforward as it can be, focusing on employing the right terminology equivalences, not dwelling too much on tonal or inflectional aspects (with the exception of artistic or literary translations, of course).

    Here is where the process of Interpreting ticks all of the boxes, as in addition to a pertinent rendition of the core message, the challenge is to also grasp the undertones and subtleties through voice quality and other verbal metaphors, analogies or innuendos that truly elevate the end discourse of the interpreter, resonating with the target audience on a highly emotional level.

The Bottom Line

Having explored the key differences between Translation and Interpreting and the value of these services employed together, as well as separately, it is vital for any emerging business seeking to gain a global voice.

At AD VERBUM, we make it our mission to always deliver ways in which your business can fully benefit from a full range of professional interpreting services in every market sector, such as government, healthcare, industrial and legal sectors, together with high-quality Translation and Localization processes.

So be always one step and one message ahead of the game with the help of our professional certified interpreters, ready to assist you with any service, regardless of the industry you operate in.

Speak Globally with AD VERBUM and let us help translate and interpret for your business needs.

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