Translation or Interpretation?

Many people tend to believe that translation and interpretation are interchangeable terms, but they are not!

About Translation


TRANSLATION involves writing. The translator begins with a written text in one language (referred to as the source text) and translates it into a second language (referred to as the target text). This is not just a matter of simply substituting a word in one language for the identical word in another language; translation involves the task of conveying the idea and true meaning of the original text in a culturally relevant, correct and true rendering in the target text. Sometimes a source text word or phrase may not exist in the target text, and the translator must find a way to convey that word’s meaning in the target text. Just think: how would one translate the phrase "as white as snow" into a language that has no word for snow?

The translator must also convey the unspoken but understood humor, sarcasm, confusion, doubt, threat, or other emotions that exist in the source language. Here’s an example:

This translator witnessed a beat-up pickup that actually had eight grown men crammed in the back. There were also five adult men in the cab. One of the men held up a cardboard sign saying, "Es más triste andar a pie". This literally says, "It is more sad to walk on foot". What is actually meant to be conveyed is closer to something like, "It's better than walking" or "This beats walking". A qualified translator picks up on things like this and renders accordingly.

About Interpretation


INTERPRETATION involves speaking. As in translation, the interpreter must render the entire meaning and idea expressed in one language (referred to as the source language) into a second language (referred to as the target language) in a way that is culturally relevant and correct.

The interpreter either speaks at the same time as the source language speaker, interpreting what is said a line or so behind the speaker (this is referred to as simultaneous interpretation), or else the interpreter has the speaker say a few lines or express an entire idea, then pause while the interpreter renders what was said (this is referred to as consecutive interpretation).

The interpreter has the same task as the translator, which is to convey the entire meaning and intent of the source language into the target language, including the unspoken but understood humor, sarcasm, or other emotions or idioms. Here is an example:

Someone may say in French, "Je suis tombé dans les pommes". This literally means, "I fell into the apples", and it makes no sense in English. But the culturally competent interpreter knows that this is a way of saying, "I fainted", and would render it accordingly.