Translation vs. Interpretation – and why are they needed?

August 17, 2016

Are you one of those feeling confused about the difference between translation and interpretation?


I have to once again share a TED-Talk with you (I just can’t help it!). This 11-min clip will give you a great insight into the topic.



The difference is actually very simple: Translation is written and interpretation is spoken.


Interpretation is either done simultaneously or consecutive. Simultaneous interpretations are probably the ones we hear most about. Think about big international conferences where the participants, often from all over the world, though headphones receive information from the interpreters, hidden behind screens in the back of the room – just like Nicole Kidman in the film “The interpreter”. When it comes to consecutive interpretation, the interpreter first listens and takes notes, special notes that are only intended for short-term memory, and later explains the content of the speech. It’s not so much about remembering specific words and translating word for word but the interpreter instead concentrates on the flow of ideas that he hears.


Interpretation really fascinates me, and I was exposed to it when I was an international development intern at UNESCO in Paris. It was an awesome feeling sitting in one of the enormous UN conference rooms at the UNESCO head office and being able to understand all the talks and lectures with the help of an interpreter whom I never even saw. I work as a translator but I realise that interpretation is a completely different category. The vast vocabulary, high concentration span and multitasking skills an interpreter must have are admirable.


So why do we need translators and interpreters in today’s world where so many speak English? This Nelson Mandela quote says it all:




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