Defining Terms: Interpretation vs. Translation

Many people interchange the words “interpretation” and “translation,” but they are in fact different. Below is a quick list of terms and definitions to help you understand the big differences between the two.

Translation is the conversion of written material from one language to another. The translator often works alone or with one main contact.

Interpretation is spoken, and is thus the oral conversion of one language to another. Interpreters work with clients in person or sometimes through the phone or video technologies. Interpretation can be done in two ways: simultaneously or consecutively.

Simultaneous interpretation is often used in courts, conferences, and the United Nation. In the medical setting, this is used when a patient is extremely upset, during a medical emergency, or during a mental health interview. While this type of interpretation saves time, it can also involve the most errors, which is why it is not recommended during a medical interview.

Consecutive interpretation is most commonly used in a medical setting to ensure the accuracy of the message. In consecutive interpretation, there are also four different forms:

  • Sight Translation/Interpretation. Used when the interpreter reads a document in another language, basically translating the document orally from what is seen. The reason why we term this sight “translation”  even though the final message is spoken, is because the source is written.
  • Relaying Interpretation, also known as Indirect Interpretation, is when multiple languages (more than two) are at play, and involves at least two interpreters. For example, in a room where there are Korean, Chinese, and Hindi speakers, when Korean is spoken, the interpreter will render the message into English, after which the other interpreters will render the message again to the preferred language pair (Chinese and Hindi). Relaying interpretation often takes more time, and because the message is rendered into two different languages, there is the risk of omission, addition, and message distortion.
  • Summary Interpretation is when one person says several sentences and the interpreter summarizes what was said in a different language. The downside of this is that the interpreter, not the speaker, decides what was most important and less important in the message. Because of this, important information can be lost during the transmission of information.
  • Remote Interpretation happens when the speaker and interpreter are not in the same room together, instead, phone or video technologies are used.

Heartland Alliance Cross-Cultural Interpreters training 10/1/2011
World Interpreting Inc.

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