For some reason, most laymen regard both translation and interpreting as “translation.” Actually, they are two separate processes, although translation and interpreting share the common goal of taking information that is available in one language and converting it to another. So what is the difference between translation and interpreting?

Differences of definition

Any information that needs to be converted to a textual form falls into the category of translation. While, information that needs to be converted into an oral or verbal form of communication is classified as interpreting. Both translation and interpreting are related to the art of conversion but the former masters the skills of reading or writing and the latter of listening and speaking.

So you can see that the main difference is in how the information is presented, to put it simply, translation is written, interpretation is oral.

Differences of requirement

Both translators and interpreters have a deep linguistic and cultural knowledge of their working languages, as well as the ability to communicate clearly and succinctly. However, it is important to point out the different requirement of these two professions.

As translators, what they need to do is to translate the source language into target language, and they must have excellent analyzing abilities and strong roots in grammar. Basically, translators should do their translation work with faithfulness, expressiveness and elegance. Good translators should be perfectionists by nature, owning excellent written skills and paying particular attention to the style of the source documents, as well as the accuracy and significance of the terms used within their translations.

As interpreter, what they need to do is speaking. Interpreters do not provide a word-for-word translation; instead, they transpose spoken messages from one language into another, instantly and accurately. Good interpreters are endowed with very quick reflexes, as well as a good memory and speaking voice. They have little time but they need to have a good memory. They rely primarily on their linguistic expertise acquired through training and experience.

Level of accuracy

Generally speaking, translation requires a higher level of accuracy then interpretation. Translator needs to provide a word-for-word translation, because translators have time to repeatedly evaluate and revise each word and sentence before delivering their final version.

While for interpreter, it is hard to achieve a complete accuracy in a live conversation without any reference material, even sometimes they may omit some not so important details of the original speech as they interpret into the target language.

Differences of working occasion

Translators generally work from their home or office computers, and tend to specialize in a particular field. They need to work in a quiet environment, and they need to keep a patient, serious and responsible attitude toward translation.

Interpreters work in real-time situations, in direct contact with both the speaker and the audience. Interpretation is a complex but instant thinking process and interpreter works under high pressure.

Types of Languages

Translators, however, may work with living, dead, and extinct languages. Such as classical Chinese which are rarely used in modern society today, translators are expected to translate the ancient prose into living language for modern people to learn, understand and inherit the traditional history and culture.

Interpreters deal solely with living languages that are spoken by groups of people in the world today. There are also interpreters that communicate in signed languages, and they may be required to use a combination of speech and sign.

Number of people

Note that another major difference lies in the fact that translators work alone to produce a written document, whereas due to enormous work pressure, interpreters need to work with two or more people alternately to provide an interpretation on the spot during meeting, negotiations, sports events, seminars, phone conversations, etc.

Differences of workload

Given the speed of the spoken language, one hour of simultaneous interpretation amounts to approximately 9,000 words. It is interesting to compare this figure of 20,000 words with the amount handled in written translation. The daily work load for translator is calculated on the basis of 2,000 words for ordinary texts and 1,000 words for technical texts. Thus, in one day, the interpreter processes 10 times as many words as the translator.

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