Interpreting vs. Translation:  What’s the difference?

The world is rapidly becoming a global village. Different nations and cultures often must interact with each other to exchange ideas, trade, commerce, and education. Developments in technology, travel and now widely available internet only solidified this transformation.

In 2022, language differences can still be a bit of a barrier, but they don’t have to be.

With the help of a global interpreting and translation services company you can interact almost seamlessly on a transnational level with multilingual clients and international agencies. As a result, your business’s audience can be just about anywhere in the world, instead of just your doorstep.

You can speak directly to clients with an interpreter or handle essential documents through a translator. In this article, we’ll talk about them both in detail.

Although they might appear quite similar at first glance, there are significant differences between interpreting and translating. So, let’s look at these critical differences.

Difference Between Translating and Interpreting

Although the goal of both is to enable understanding of different languages, their execution is quite different.

Translating involves written mediums such as documents, brochures, reports, and certificates. Interpreting deals with real-time interpreting of the spoken word.

Translating doesn’t have to be done on the spot. Instead, the translator can take the client’s documents and work on them, taking their time. Of course, there will be deadlines, but they may be measured in hours, days, or even weeks.

On the other hand, interpreting must be done on the spot. The interpreter may speak simultaneously with the speaker on the fly and without breaks. Or the interpreter may wait for the speaker to finish before speaking, taking turns saying phrases consecutively.

Interpretation is less about precision and more about conveying the gist of the words while keeping the spirit intact.

In general, both translators and interpreters need to be fluent in the language they are translating from. However, both require quite a different set of skills. 

More About Translation Services

Translating can further be divided into two parts:

  • One is intended for an industry-specific audience, such as technical or marketing
  • The other one is geared towards a broader, more general translation

Translating technical or legal documents requires more profound knowledge required by the translator. The translator should know the ins and outs of the industry or field. In the case of an industry-specific project, an additional proof-reader may also be assigned to further ensure the accuracy.

Specifically, they should know the technical terms and jargon necessary for their work to be meaningful.

On the other hand, translators writing for a more general translation still have the same goal in mind. They must make sure that their choice of words doesn’t come off as too flat or too bland, and as always accuracy is key.

Moreover, their writing should be captivating enough and shouldn’t give an impression of being too dense.

What Skills Should Translators Have?

Translators require a good grasp of the language and the culture of the people speaking that language.

They must render the material into the target language clearly and concisely, which is why they must be degree qualified. Some also gain further qualifications, especially when dealing with legal translations and may opt to become certified translators.

People can rarely express themselves as fully as they can in their native language, and translators are usually no different. Ideally, translators should be able to express themselves with almost equal ease in both languages.

Having said this, translators will stick with translating foreign material into their native language. For instance, a native Spanish translator will translate from English into Spanish as this is their native language. A translation from Spanish into English will be assigned to a native English linguist. This is the industry standard approach to assigning translations which allows for the most accuracy.

Most translators have expertise in just one language aside from their native one. Indeed, even one language may require a lifetime of knowledge.

Aside from proficiency in writing a language, they also require other skills. They need to know their audience and use words accordingly.

What might work for laymen might not work for industry experts.

They also need excellent reading and comprehension skills. Not only do they have to read in the source language, but they must refer to material in the target language too.

What Skills Should Interpreters Have?

On the other hand, interpreters need to have quite different skills. They can’t go online and refer to dictionaries and source material while working. Interpreters need excellent listening skills and short-term solid memory.

They have to work on several fronts at the same time. These include:

  • Remembering what the speaker said a few seconds ago
  • Listening while interpreting their words from moments ago
  • Having enough knowledge of dialects, informal expressions, and phrases. They need to accurately render them in the target language without losing much meaning.

In addition, they need to have excellent public speaking skills. Many legal interpreters often become members of bodies such as the NRPSI, a regulator of professional interpreters specialising in public service interpreting. Finally, they need to have quick mental reflexes and a strong presence of mind.

Can You Get Both Services from One Provider?

As you’ve seen, translating and interpreting are quite different, requiring different skills. Therefore, on most occasions, people who need both translation and interpreting services may have to employ various services for their work.

However, this depends on the types of agencies you go to.

Linguists typically specialise in either translating or interpreting. If you need both services, you will often need to employ different ones for each service.

For example, if you attend a business meeting, you’ll require an interpreter. Then, after the meeting is over, you will need a translator to take care of any written documents.

You’ll run into more challenges when several languages are involved. For one, you will require multiple interpreters for one meeting. After that, translators specialising in each language and field will carry on the work after the interpreters complete their job.

It can also be challenging to find suitable translators who can handle technical terms specific to your business. Therefore relying on a professional translation company such as Language Reach is vital. We have a database of certified linguists with the right expertise in line with your needs in the legal, financial, technical, or marketing sectors.

Here at Language Reach, we have a roster of translators and interpreters ready to assist you with your needs. We offer our services in numerous languages and can cover technical terms related to your business.


As more and more businesses and organisations are going multinational, translating services and interpreting services are becoming increasingly relevant. If you utilise them properly, your brand will gain international recognition.

Just have a clear goal of what you want to achieve. Choose the type of service which covers your requirements and go with a translation agency with the relevant expertise.

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