Differences between Translation and Interpreting

A simple distinction between translation and interpretation is that translation is written whereas interpretation is oral and that translators work with written texts while interpreters work with spoken words. This distinction however neglects to include sign language interpreting and a hybrid mode of interpreting and translation called sight-translation. That means interpreters also work from a written text to spoken words as in the case of sight translation and between a spoken language and a sign language in the case of sign language interpreting.

The following table compares and contrasts the major differences between translation and interpreting:

Features Translation Interpreting
Input Written Oral, written (ST) or signed
Output Written Oral or signed
Delivery Delayed Real-time
Direction Uni-directional Bi-directional (esp. in community interpreting)
Specialisation Recommended Not recommended
Fluency in BOTH SL & TL Not a must A must
Outside help during the process Yes No
Level of pressure Low High


This is an excellent resource for practitioners, students, educators and researchers of Interpreting. I am very happy to endorse it and to recommend it.

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Professor Sandra Hale, University of New South Wales

Resources for Interpreting is the product of years of experience and expertise.  It is useful not only to professionals, but also researchers and all students of Chinese and English...

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Professor Keith McMahon, University of Kansas

This is indeed a resourceful website not just for interpreting students but also for researchers who are interested in interpreting studies.

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Dr Ester Leung,
Associate Professor, Translation Programme, Hong Kong Baptist University

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