We regularly get enquiries from people who are unsure whether they need translation or interpreting. So what is the difference?

Translation or interpreting?

Put simply, the distinction is between written and spoken tasks. Translation is when one or more translators work with a written text in a given language. They then provide an equivalent text in another language or languages. In contrast, an interpreter conveys spoken communication in another language. Better Languages provides written translation services, and only occasional interpreting services.

Physical location

A major difference between the two types of service is also that of physical location. A translator can work in any location in the world. They need suitable facilities including IT and a good internet connection, but that’s it. In contrast, interpreting usually takes place in a physical location. One practical impact is that whilst we translate into all major languages, we can’t always provide interpreters. This is due to the need to have someone available at a specific time, and in a specific location. A general rule with interpreting is that the longer in advance you book, the better.

Translation and interpreting skills

So what about the skills of a translator or interpreter, are they the same or different? Well quite different actually. Although both require linguistic skill in the two languages, an interpreter needs to be able to listen to one language, and to distil the meaning in another. They often perform both tasks at the same time. In contrast a translator is able to study the source text, and to spend time preparing a translation. They can also edit and review. Many translators prefer to prepare a rough draft first and then to go back and edit their work. Many people enjoy both tasks. However, not all translators like or are good at interpreting, and not all interpreters make good translators.