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Translation vs.......
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Translation vs. interpretation

The key difference between translation and interpretation lies within the choice of communication channel. Whilst translation concerns itself with written communication, interpreting deals with the spoken word.

Translators work on written documents, whether they are books, essays, legal documents, medical records, websites, instruction manuals, subtitles for film or TV, or any other form of information in written form. Interpreters, on the other hand, are involved in circumstances that require live translation; for example conferences and business meetings, medical appointments, legal proceedings, and the like.

Both translators and interpreters have a deep linguistic and cultural knowledge of their working languages, as well as the ability to communicate clearly and succinctly. It is, however, important to highlight the distinctive features of these two professions.

Translators generally work from their home computers, and tend to specialise in a particular field. Good translators have excellent written skills and are usually perfectionists by nature, paying particular attention to the style of the source documents, as well as the accuracy and significance of the terms used within their translations.

Unlike translators, interpreters do not provide a word-for-word translation; instead, they transpose spoken messages from one language into another, instantly and accurately. Interpreters work in real-time situations, in direct contact with both the speaker and the audience. They rely primarily on their linguistic expertise acquired through training and experience – a sentence in one language may be rendered an entirely different way in another. Good interpreters are endowed with very quick reflexes, as well as a good memory and speaking voice. An interpreter is often more than an on-demand translator, however – they also act as a facilitator between speaker and listener, both linguistically and diplomatically


A translation is no translation, he said, unless it will give you the music of a poem along
with the words of it.
- John Millington Synge, Irish Writer, 1871-1909


Say what we may of the inadequacy of translation, yet the work is and will always be one of the weightiest and worthiest undertakings in the general concerns of the world.

J. W. Goethe

Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.

Anthony Burgess

Either the translator leaves the author in peace, as much as is possible, and moves the reader towards him: or he leaves the reader in peace, as much as possible, and moves the author towards him.

Friedrich Schleiermacher


To translate, one must have a style of his own, for otherwise the translation will have no rhythm or nuance, which come from the process of artistically thinking through and molding the sentences; they cannot be reconstituted by piecemeal imitation. The problem of translation is to retreat to a simpler tenor of one’s own style and creatively adjust this to one’s author.
- Paul Goodman, American Author, 1911-1972

Sondra Schalk MA