The difference between Translation and Interpretation

People regularly contact me to get prices for “oral translation” services and more often than not, I end up having to explain to the callers that the difference between translation and interpretation (oral translation) is vast.

Following the umpteenth call of one Mr Martin a few days ago, who needed “oral translation” services, I thought to myself that it might be time to write an article on the subject to help people differentiate between the two services.

It is common practice to place interpreters and translators on the same shelf and to believe that they are linguists capable of providing all kinds of language services simply because they possess in-depth knowledge of a foreign language. Even though they fall within the same industry, translation and interpretation are two very distinct professions requiring a very different approach, set of skills and qualities.

Nonetheless, these two specific professions have one thing in common: a translator and an interpreter both possess a perfect mastery of several languages. They convert information from a source language to a target language without confining themselves to the literal meaning, while taking into account factors like culture or target audience. On this level, I must agree…

So, what is the difference between a translator and an interpreter’s profession?

The Translation Profession

A translator works from a written document (source document), which comes in various formats: newspaper articles, instruction manuals, contracts, books, letters, etc. This translators job consists of taking content from a source document and putting it into a target language with high accuracy, while keeping the meaning; the translator must therefore possess writing skills, be an expert in grammar, syntax and typography, capable of carrying out in-depth research, have editorial skills, be creative as well as being meticulous and precise. Each translator is an expert in one or various fields: literary, technical, legal, medical, financial, scientific, IT, etc.

In addition to all the skills required for this profession, translators also have to work under varying deadlines. A translator, therefore, has time to think, modify and review his work until he is fully satisfied with it before the final submission date. The translator’s work is mainly carried out on a computer and if need be, he may consult reference texts.

The Interpretation Profession

An interpreter’s job consists of ‘live translating’ an oral message or someone’s speech by orally translating into the target language, while taking body language into account (tone and gesture). An interpreter must, therefore, possess oral skills and know how to express him or herself correctly.

An interpreter must not only be fluent in his or her mother tongue (native language) but must also have a perfect mastery of the target language. There is no room for the slightest mistake as this could have serious consequences. He or she must be able to translate all kinds of speeches or conversations on the spot and without preparation. This is the reason why he or she must be both fast and concise.

Unlike translators, once their message has been delivered into the target language, interpreters can no longer make any modifications to their work. An interpreter must possess excellent memory, good reflexes and endurance due to the demanding nature of this profession.

Lastly, given the fact that the translator’s approach is entirely different from that of an interpreter, it is EXTREMELY rare that one person can be both a good translator and a good interpreter.

A Touch of Humour:

While preparing this article for you, I came across Mox’s blog and a short comic strip which perfectly represents the feeling of many translators when the famous question is asked:

translation versus interpretationIt is very important to mention that at QuickPro Translations in Mauritius, we provide translation services and NOT interpretation services… or at least, not for the time being!

To view our various services, please visit our website by CLICKING HERE.

If you wish to get more information on our different services or if you would like to know our rates, please get in touch with us via our contact page or by sending an email to:

As the co-founder of QuickPro Translations, a premier Translation Company in Mauritius, I help numerous companies around the world unleash their potential.

I am a sun loving, island styling and coffee drinking geek.

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