How to Understand the Difference Between Translation and Interpretation


Can you speak Chinese?

It’s likely that at various times in your life you need to communicate with a person who does not speak the same language as you. Sometimes you can make yourself understood through simple body language and gesture; you manage to get through the moment and life goes on as usual.

At other times, however, it’s important, if not crucial, that the other person understand your exact meaning. It is helpful, therefore, to know something about the art and science of language to language conversion. Here are a few things you should know:

-The words translation and interpretation are often used interchangeably. Technically, this is incorrect. As a rule, translation is written, whereas interpretation is oral. The exception is interpretation using sign language, which can be thought of as visual.

-Professional translators usually only translate into their native language. This is because the finished document should be error free and grammatically correct. A professional translator must have excellent editing, thinking and writing skills.

-There are two types of professional interpretation (not including sign language). The first is called simultaneous interpretation. The second is called consecutive interpretation.

-In simultaneous interpretation the interpretation is done at the same time a speaker is speaking. A good example of this is a speech at the United Nations. Because of the demands of this type of work, simultaneous interpreters often work in pairs or teams.

-In consecutive interpretation, the speaker stops talking periodically to allow time for the interpreter to communicate the meaning to the other party. Quite often, the interpreter will take notes or use some method of shorthand to remember what is being said.

-American Sign Language or ASL is a form of interpretation for deaf and hearing impaired persons. It uses gestures and hand signs to communicate meaning. Although there are some elements of English within ASL, it should be considered a distinct language with it’s own grammar, syntax and even regional dialects.

-Modern translation software is often useful for simple translation purposes, however it should never be relied upon for translation of legal, financial, or business documents, or other works of permanence.

-There are a number of certification agencies for companies and individuals who offer Translation and Interpretation Services. It is a good practice to ask if an agency or individual is certified and by whom.

It has been estimated that there are approximately 6700 different languages in the world. By far, the most common language spoken is Mandarin Chinese, followed by Spanish, English, Hindi/Urdu, and Arabic in approximately that order. On the Internet, the most common language is English, followed by Chinese, Spanish, Japanese and Portuguese.

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