What is the difference between translating and interpreting?


There are great differences between translating and interpreting that the layperson is not necessarily aware of.


Translators and interpreters transfer written or spoken language from a foreign language into their native language. The necessary language skills go far beyond the command of everyday language and require specialist knowledge of the respective topic.


Translators work with a text and (generally) produce a written translation. They always work into their native language and translate the most diverse texts, including official documents, letters, promotional texts or operating instructions.


Interpreters transfer heard information (generally) verbally from a source language to a target language. For the most part they work from the foreign language into their native language, rarely in the other direction. This makes communication possible between people who speak different languages and come from various cultural backgrounds. A distinction is made between simultaneous interpreting and consecutive interpreting. Simultaneous interpreting means the direct and instant transfer of spoken information, whereas in consecutive interpreting first the content is recorded by the interpreter and is then reproduced at a later time. Further special applications or training in the field of interpreting are court interpreting or sign language interpreting.


A translation course offers participants the opportunity to learn the skill of analysing a written text and formulating it in another language so that it can be understood in the relevant cultural domain. This not only relates to the words but the entire structure or design of the text. Translators must work to great accuracy and treasure the details.


An interpreting course offers participants the opportunity to learn the skill of quickly understanding spoken text, of analysing it, prioritising the importance of its content and then reliably reproducing it verbally in the target language. Strategies such as pre-emptive comprehension, recognition and structuring of statements and monitoring your own delivery are practised. Interpreters have to make decisions quickly and spontaneously and be able to work very well under pressure.


Find out more about translator or interpreter training here: becoming a translator or becoming an interpreter.