Translation and Interpretation are often used interchangeable but they are not synonyms. A translation is a rendering of the meaning of a source language into a target language text versus interpretation is the facilitation of an oral or sign language communication between people of different languages.


Usually, for someone entering the field of Translation study, there is a moment where the educational path separates and the student makes a decision to become a translator or become an interpreter. Many decide to go with both branches, yet usually one dominates.


That is mostly due to the nature of the profession, the professional him/herself, the demographic circumstances and the personal life circumstances.


The work of a translator is rather introverted. One sits in front of a computer and types the translation, interrupted by intense searches online or within other references. The translator is a tedious type of person, very detail-oriented and picky to bring a word, phrase or whole text perfectly to the point. A translator’s work allows more time to consider the translation (well, except the deadline was “yesterday” but that’s for a different post).


An interpreter’s work, on the other hand, is more extroverted, always present with the surrounding and the people they interact, the colleagues, the clients, the environment. Time for research is tight; they should come prepared to the assignment. They, too, work with tools but have to be quick to decide and to interpret the communication in real-time. There is no room for errors, the result has to be correct but perfection is not the goal. Well, of course, it is, but if an interpreter doesn’t find the perfect word, he or she can render the meaning in describing it so the continuation of the conversation doesn’t get missed.


So, imagine your own business and when you have a sales conversation and how you are present and outward with your prospect versus writing a proposal where you have to form your sentences, collect the data and calculate with focus and fair estimation… you are going inward your mind, correct?

In both situations, you are utilizing different parts of your brain, and it takes some time to switch between both (aka receiving that sudden client call when focusing on your proposal), and often you tend to prefer one over the other. Or you enjoy switching between, like me.


Why then, is that clear differentiation between translation and interpretation so unknown and often confused by translation/interpretation consumers and everything is simply called translation? The field of Translation study comprises the systematic study of the theory, description and application of translation, interpretation and – nowadays with the web – localization. With that, when consumers are speaking about “Translation”, they speak about the language transformation in general. It’s when someone enters the trade; the distinctions become an important one.


“[T]ranslation… is in fact an art both estimable and very difficult, and therefore is not the labor and portion of common minds; [it] should be [practiced] by those who are themselves capable of being actors, when they see greater use in translating the works of others than in their own works, and hold higher than their own glory the service that they render their country.” Ignacy Krasicki



The conclusion is a hint: For some reason, those translation and interpretation professionals are very sensitive about that differentiation of Translation vs. Interpretation. With that, stand out in knowing the difference and using some trade lingo. 🙂