The Major Difference Between Interpretation and Translation

Access2Interpreters has been serving the Columbus area for over 13 years. We have staff trained in interpretive services for over 250 languages and dialects, and translation services for over 90 languages. While many people use the words interpretation and translation interchangeably, there is one major difference between them: interpretation is performed verbally while a translation is written.

When you look beneath this simple difference, you will find that the skills and knowledge for each are vastly different. It’s important to have the right person when you need to transform words and ideas clearly from one language into another.


Translation is done via the written word and makes use of reference guides and dictionaries to ensure accuracy. Translation is usually a one-way system, with the translator typically translating from a source text into their primary language.

Although a translator does not need to have spoken fluency in a language, they do need to have an in-depth knowledge of the vocabulary, grammar, spelling, colloquialisms, and cultures of both languages. Capturing meaning and hidden depth in a literary or academic paper requires finesse and thoughtfulness. Translating technical documents requires precise knowledge and analytical skills. All translators should be subject matter experts in the type of text they are translating.



Interpretation is the act of translating verbally from one language to another. It is performed on the spot and without the use of reference materials or dictionaries. Interpretation requires elevated fluency in both languages. There are two types of interpretive services.

One type of interpretive services is simultaneous interpretation. This occurs when an interpreter repeats each sentence immediately after it is spoken. Not only must the interpreter translate the sentence in their mind, accounting for cultural references and technical language, but they must also speak it out clearly and audibly. On top of that, they need to be listening for the next sentence and interpreting that mentally, all while speaking the previous sentence. If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is.

Consecutive interpretation occurs when the speaker communicates several sentences or paragraphs at once before stopping to let the interpreter translate. A consecutive interpreter must be an excellent note taker as it is difficult for even the best minds to memorize whole paragraphs of lines to repeat to an audience.

Neither translating nor interpreting are about literal word-for-word conversion of one language to another. Both require an understanding of subject matter, a high degree of skill and proficiency in writing, listening, and speaking.


If you need translation or interpretive services in Columbus, call us today!

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