What’s the Difference Between Translation & Interpretation Services?

Which service is right for your project?

Last Updated: May 9, 2019 7:51AM

Your business needs materials and messages converted into another language. No problem—you’ll contact your LSP and find a translator. Right?

Maybe. Depending on your needs, a translator might be the right fit—or you might require interpretation services.

What’s the difference between translation and interpretation services? When should you hire a translator? When should you work with an interpreting company? Which is right for your needs at a given time?

Here’s what you need to know.

The Basics: Interpretation Services

During interpretation, a professional interpreter converts spoken words from one language to another in real-time. Interpretation can take place in person—for example, at a town hall meeting, a medical appointment, or an interview. It can also happen over the phone via a service called over-the-phone interpretation (OPI) and during video calls.

You may need interpretation services any time you’re working with partners, clients, or customers who do not share your native language.

At Lionbridge, we offer on-site interpretation as well as OPI and real-time digital chats, because a language gap should never slow you down.

The Basics: Translation Services

While interpretation handles spoken language in real-time, translation services are text-based. A professional translator converts written texts—from brochures and signs to websites and books—into  a new language.

Translators are typically experts in certain subjects or industries. This specialization gives them enough background knowledge to capture the meaning of a given text and translate it most accurately into the target language.

More About Interpretation

Interpreters need excellent skills in both the source language and the target language. If they can’t follow the context of the conversation, they can’t paraphrase it in a way that preserves its meaning. That’s why professional interpreters must be fluent in both languages.

Since they work with the spoken word, interpreters are orally fluent. They know the spoken customs, regionalisms, and colloquialisms of each language. What they don’t do is convert word by word. Trying to interpret that way would never let the original meaning come through in real-time—both parties would wind up confused.

That’s why paraphrasing lies at the heart of interpretation. Interpreters  listen to the spoken words, understand their meaning, and transform them into new words in the target language.

One benefit of Lionbridge’s team of interpreters is their subject matter expertise. Familiarity with a given subject is beneficial during highly technical discussions, especially when parties might use different words or acronyms for certain terms.

Understanding Interpretation Types

Interpretation delivery happens in two main ways:

1. Simultaneous Interpretation

Simultaneous interpretation requires intense concentration. Delivery comes at almost the same time as the speaker utters words in the source language. The time delay is minimal, so the interpreter must listen, convert, and speak the new words almost immediately.

We like to think of simultaneous interpretation as a relay race. Interpreters benefit from a team effort from start to finish. It works best when interpreters pair up, letting one person take a vocal and mental breather every few minutes.

2. Consecutive Interpretation

In consecutive interpretation, the interpreter speaks after the first person completes a sentence.. This type of interpretation, with a more noticeable time delay, works well for travel guides and casual meetings where time isn’t as limited.

More About Translation

Like interpreters, translators also require linguistic excellence in both source and target language. They must also understand both the idioms and colloquialisms of the source language they need to translate. Typically, translators are native speakers of the target language.

Translators work with dictionaries and glossaries to help them translate the material that’s written in the source language Although translating usually comes with a deadline, it doesn’t have the real-time urgency that characterizes interpreting. The relative release of one pressure comes with the addition of another: translation customers typically have a higher expectation of accuracy.

For this reason, we at Lionbridge strive to work with translators who are highly specialized in a specific area. Our translators have dual specialties in linguistics and their subject matter, so they have the nuanced understanding and industry insights that improve the quality and accuracy of their translations.

Beyond Translation

When you want your message to really resonate, you need to go beyond translation—you need to consider localization and transcreation.

Localization and transcreation both take a deeper dive into a region’s linguistic and cultural differences. Localization, a process that includes translation, focuses on  transforming content so it appeals to a target market in a particular location. When brands localize content, they take their original message and make it locally relevant for global users.

Similarly, transcreation recreates content with an emphasis on avoiding cultural references that may not be understood by the target market. With transcreation services, brands can confidently retain the spirit, voice, and emotion of their messaging in new markets.

When to Use Interpretation or Translation

When it comes to your content needs, should you pursue translation or interpretation services? That depends on your overarching goal.

For example: if you’re at a meeting that includes a discussion and a written report, should you focus on the written or the spoken portion? Should you hire a translator or an interpreter?

To answer this question, think about the focus or main purpose of the meeting.

  • Is the discussion the focus of the meeting, while the written aspect is merely a summary handout? In this case, you’d be better off using interpreting services.
  • Is the written report the focus, and the spoken portion a brief concluding Q&A? In this case, you’d want to use translation services to ensure that everyone who attends can read and understand the report.

Interpretation and translation are just two of the high-caliber content transformation services we provide at Lionbridge. Whatever your needs, we know how to bring people together with just the right words. Need help deciding what service best fits your project? Reach out today for a conversation.