Language translation vs. interpretation: What’s the real difference and why does it matter?

translator vs interpreter difference“Can you translate at a meeting I’m holding?” “Do we need our company’s webpage interpreted?”

Language translation . . . or is it language interpretation? What does it all mean? And which service do you need? You don’t want to have to spend hours researching vendors to find out.

While the terms are often used interchangeably in general, there are actually distinct differences in the meaning within the language services industry. Language translation and interpretation are two separate professional language disciplines that share the common goal of taking information in one language and converting it to another. Both require a deep knowledge of the working languages as well as the ability to comprehend the source and target languages. Vendors may tell you they specialize in both services, but how do you really know which one has the best and most relevant qualifications?

Understanding the differences will help you look for (and find) exactly which service provider you need while ensuring that you hire the most qualified resources to address your particular language needs.

You say “poe-tay-toe.” I say “poe-tot-toh.”

Okay – so there is a bit more difference than how one says “potato” – so let us clear it up.

Simply put, language translation is a form of communication that takes a message from the source language and converts it to a target language without throwing in additional commentary. It includes but is not limited to books, essays, legal documents, medical records, websites, user manuals and subtitles. Oftentimes translations are done on a computer with additional resources such as a style guide, glossary and other translation tools to provide clarification and guidance.

On the other hand, interpretation is on-the-spot and involves direct contact with the speaker and audience. The interpreter speaks both the source and target languages and can provide support to help carry out a conversation. This language professional serves as a live communication link between people speaking different languages by listening to the source language and verbally communicating the intended message in the target language, instantly and accurately without the use of dictionaries or reference materials. Interpretation services may be required when two or more people speak different languages and need to have a conversation at business meetings, medical appointments, legal proceedings and large community events, among other settings.

Skillsets of a translator

Language translation encompasses a variety of industries, content types, file formats and project types; therefore the translators typically specialize in a particular field and are extremely knowledgeable in that area. At Indopak, we draw from a pool of highly experienced translators who specialize in certain fields or industries—and we match up the right translator with the client’s specific project needs. These individuals are exceptional writers who pay particular attention to detail and accuracy. They reside in the target country, are native speakers of the target language and are immensely familiar with the cultures associated with both languages. All of this gives linguists the ability to successfully render translated material while retaining the original meaning, intent and tone of the message.

Skillsets of an interpreter

An interpreter must have the ability to communicate the message both ways while keeping the tone of voice, body language and facial expression consistent. Because interpreters translate from speaker to audience and back without the use of dictionaries or reference materials, they must possess strong listening skills, quick thinking, excellent public speaking and the ability to effectively understand and communicate verbally in both languages from either direction.

What it means for your business

Whether your business model requires language translation or interpretation, or maybe some of both, it is important to understand the different skillsets involved so you can be sure you’re hiring the right resource—and not squandering time by researching the wrong kind of service provider.

Finding a translator or interpreter who is qualified can certainly be a daunting task. The simple fact of speaking two or more languages alone just doesn’t cut it. For instance, using non-qualified translators leads to poor-quality work with mistakes ranging from poor grammar to awkward phrasing to completely inaccurate information.

If you’re in the market for language translation and/or interpretation services, make sure the language service provider you’re considering has quality methodology and accreditation, such as ISO certifications, expertise in your subject matter and a proven process for lining up the right resources.

Now that you understand the difference, the only part left is figuring out which resources are best suited for your language needs. Visit our website or send us an email if you’d like to chat more about our language services! And of course, you’re always welcome to drop us a note right here.

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