The difference between Translation and Interpreting

Translation is the method used to transfer a message from one language into another. This is not an instant process, so the person carrying out the translation has time to refer to various sources of information, such as dictionaries, to ensure he or she produces an accurate result. Interpreting is the method by which the spoken word is transferred from one language into another.

It involves the interpreter converting the words spoken in the ‘source’ language into a second or ‘target’ language as accurately as possible, conveying  intonation, feeling and semantic element used by the speaker. This process is carried out either simultaneously, with the interpreter speaking at the same time as the person giving the speech in the source language or consecutively; the interpreter commencing only when the original speaker has finished.

Interpreters will often incorporate a ‘lag’ before starting to relay the translated message to the audience. This processing time enables him or her to fully assimilate what has been said and to rearrange the grammar and syntax so that the language flows as naturally as possible.




Beside Liaison Interpreting, Consecutive Interpreting and Simultaneous Interpreting here is a few more interpreting modes and forms existing in the world market and available.


Whispered, whispering simultaneous or chuchotage interpreting involves the interpreter standing or sitting immediately adjacent to whoever is speaking in the source language. Despite its name, the translator does not actually whisper; he or she would soon be hoarse. Instead, they use a normal speaking voice, but pitched at a lower volume.

For complete success it is essential that the ear of the person listening must be as close as possible to the interpreter’s mouth in order to avoid disturbing other people in the vicinity. As a result, this form of translating can be damaging to the interpreter’s posture.

Professional interpreters tend to operate in teams of two or sometimes three, each one taking a break every 20 minutes or so. This overcomes problems relating to the intense concentration required to ensure they do not miss any words, which might jeopardise the accuracy of the translation into the target language.


Relay interpreting tends to be used when several target languages are involved. The source language interpreter converts the words into a language common to other interpreters present and they relay the message to their target language recipients. In extreme cases it is possible that there will be several ‘intermediate’ languages.

For example, a Spanish source language might first be interpreted into English and on into other languages. At the same time, the source language could also be directly interpreted into French and from that into even more languages. This system is most commonly used in the type of multilingual meetings held by the UN and EU.


Conference interpreting is, as the name suggests, primarily used for the interpretation of conferences. This form of interpretation can be carried out both simultaneously and consecutively; however, given the massive increase in the number of multilingual meetings being held over the past couple of decades, consecutive interpretation has largely been discontinued.

There are two markets for conference interpreting; institutional and private. International institutions, such as the UN and EU, tend to hold multilingual meetings that involve several foreign languages being interpreted into to the interpreters’ native tongues. In the private sector, local meetings have a tendency to be bi-lingual, which means the interpreters work both into and out of their native languages.


Judicial, legal or court interpreting takes place in courts of justice, administrative tribunals and in any other location where legal proceedings are held; for example, police stations when an interrogation is taking place and a conference room, for a deposition or wherever a sworn statement is being taken. This might involve the consecutive interpretation of a witnesses’ testimony or the simultaneous interpretation of entire court proceedings

A fundamental rule of law is that anyone accused of a crime in a criminal trial and who does not understand the language of the court is entitled to a competent interpreter. This right is guaranteed by the justice system in many countries around the world.

Court interpreters must possess an in-depth knowledge of the law and court and legal procedures of the country in which they work. There are many countries in which a certified court interpreter is considered indispensable when evidence is being presented by a person who does not speak the language used by the court. A mistrial may be declared as a result of failing to swear in the interpreter or when the interpreter is deemed to be incompetent.


An escort interpreter typically accompanies an individual or delegation on a visit, tour, meeting or for an interview. Escort interpreting is sometimes also known as liaison interpreting.

Public sector

This type of interpreting, which is also known as community interpreting, covers anything relating to the public sector, such as healthcare, local government, housing, welfare and environmental services. In community interpreting, extreme factors may sometimes be encountered, which can determine and affect the language used.

For example, due to its emotional content, surroundings that are in some way hostile and the stress created and the dynamics of the relationships between the participants. In some cases, reactions can be beyond extreme; perhaps even life threatening and it may all be down to how accurately the interpreter carries out his or her work.


A sub-set of public service interpreting, medical interpreting is used to facilitate communication between healthcare practitioners, the patient and his or her family or between medical personnel who speak different languages.

These interpreters are formally educated and qualified to provide such specialised services. They must also possess a thorough knowledge of medicine, patient interviews, ethics, common medical procedures and examination processes, and the daily routines of the clinic or hospital in which the interpreter works.

It should also be borne in mind that medical interpreters often act as cultural liaisons for individuals who, regardless of language, are unfamiliar with hospital procedures or are uncomfortable in clinic or hospital settings.


Media interpreting has to be carried out in the simultaneous mode. It is most frequently provided for live television coverage of events such as press conferences and live or taped interviews with celebrities, sportspeople, politicians, business leaders or musicians and artists. The interpreter will normally be ensconced in a soundproof booth, which provides a clear view of the speakers.

It is essential that all the audio equipment is checked out before recording begins. This is especially important where satellite connections are involved, to ensure that the interpreter only hears one channel at a time and does not experience feedback.

In situations where, for example, an interview is recorded away from the studio, the interpreter is obliged to interpret what he or she hears on a TV monitor and in such situations background noise can sometimes be an issue. The media interpreter must look, sound and appear as slick and confident as a regular TV presenter.


Interpreting services can be delivered in multiple modalities, the most common of which is on-site interpreting.


On-site, in-person interpreting or face to face interpreting requires the interpreter to be physically present. Under normal circumstances all the individuals or groups who wish to speak to one another are located in the same place. This is the most common modality used for the vast majority of public and social service settings.


Telephone, over the phone, telephonic and tele-interpreting, as the process is variously known, makes it possible for the interpreter to deliver his or her interpretation over the telephone via a conference call. Telephone interpreting is often used to replace on-site interpreting, especially when no on-site interpreter is available. This option is most commonly used when everyone who wishes to be included are already participating in the telephone conversation. Typical examples might include telephone applications for insurance or credit cards and consumer enquiries to businesses.


The Video Interpreter sign is used at locations offering Video Relay Services (VRS) or Video Remote Interpreting (VRI). While they are useful for overcoming spoken language barriers where visual-cultural recognition is relevant, they are even more applicable in situations where one of the individuals is hard-of hearing, profoundly deaf or speech impaired.

In these cases the interpretation flow is normally within the same principal language, which is to say French Sign Language (FSL) to spoken French, Spanish Sign Language (SSL) to spoken Spanish and so on. Multilingual sign language interpreters, who are also able to translate across principal languages, are also available, though somewhat less frequently.

Working in this area involves considerable effort, because sign languages are distinctly separate natural languages, with their own construction and syntax.

Interpreters work remotely, using video and audio feeds to enable them to see the deaf or speech impaired individual and converse with the hearing party and vice versa. In much the same way as telephone interpreting, video interpreting can be used in situations in which no on-site interpreters are available. Video interpreting, however, cannot be used in situations where all parties are speaking solely via the telephone.

VRI and VRS interpretation requires all parties to have access to the necessary equipment.