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Translation vs Interpretation: The Ultimate Guide

There is a certain degree of confusion between what translators and interpreters actually do. Although a professional translation and interpretation agency such as London Translations will be able to offer both to the highest standard, there are significant differences between interpreters and translators, and the skills required of both.

This guide will identify and explain those differences.

Key similarities and differences between an interpretation service and translation service

Interpreters and translators convert information from one language into another language. They both need to understand information in one language (the source language) and then accurately convey that information in a second language (the target language). The information must replicate the original source speech or text as accurately as possible.

The primary difference between translation and interpretation is this: interpreters work in the spoken word (or in sign language), and translators work in the written word. However, there are a number of differences in the way they work, who they typically work for and what skills are required of both translation and interpretation agencies.

What does an interpreter do?

Professional interpretation services work with the spoken word, often in a range of different industries. An interpreter maintains message content, context and style in the specified language when interpreting messages, consecutively or simultaneously, orally and/or through the use of hand signing. An interpreter can work in any number of industries, including finance, media and public services.

Interpretation can be done in person, over the phone, or over video call. There are several different types of interpreting, such as consecutive interpreting, where a speaker pauses to allow an interpreter to repeat what has been said in the target language. There’s also simultaneous interpreting, where the interpreter speaks at the same time as the original speaker from an isolated booth via a headset, or whispered interpreting, where an interpreter literally whispers in the ear of their client. This version of interpreting is commonly used in face-to-face business meetings.

Rates between the different types of interpretation will vary. An interpretation agency will generally charge more for conference interpreters, because simultaneous translation involves a minimum of two interpreters. Price also differs depending on the languages the interpreter is working in.

What does a translator do?

Translators take text and translate it from one language to another. This is not just a literal word for word translation, as provided by online translation tools, but rather it is adapted to make the most sense to the reader and to be true to the original text.

Translators often have to spend much of their time researching, in addition to having strong writing, editing and proofreading skills. Not only that, but industry specific knowledge is just as important to translators as it is to interpreters. Translators tend to work in a specific industry, because to translate accurately in say, the financial industry, one would need to understand financial terminology and business practices. Simply speaking two languages will not give you this insight.

Although translators rarely work over the phone or face-to-face, translation services often work to very tight deadlines, and therefore it is of paramount importance to work as quickly as possible, without sacrificing the quality of the work.

The costs of translators are usually calculated per 1000 words. Like interpretation services, translation rates also depend on the source and target languages.

What skills & qualifications do interpreters need?

Many skills are interchangeable, for both interpretation and translation. Showing cultural sensitivity, having industry expertise and being fluent in two or more languages are traits both translators and interpreters require. However, some skills are specific to interpreters:

  • Fantastic listening skills
  • Eloquence and accuracy of body language and tone
  • Able to process language and translations in their head near instantaneously


For live interpreting, you’ll usually need a degree in languages or interpreting, and often a postgraduate qualification in interpreting. Interpreters in the public sector generally hold a certificate in Bilingual Skills, a diploma in Public Service Interpreting, or a college qualification.

Just as significant as any degree is accreditation. In the UK, the Institute of Translation and Interpreting and the Chartered Institute of Linguists offer accreditation for both translators and interpreters. The majority of London Translations’ interpreters have received accreditation through one of these institutions.

What skills & qualifications do translators need?

These skills include…

  • Fantastic writing skills, including editing and proofing skills
  • Time management skills
  • The ability to cope with the responsibility of dealing with sensitive and classified information


Generally, translators are educated to degree level and usually have a postgraduate qualification in translation. However, sometimes a translator’s requirements will be dependent on the industry they are working in. For example, financial translators may have a degree in economics or mathematics.

As is the case for interpreters, accreditation is just as important as any degree. In the UK, the Institute of Translation and Interpreting or the Chartered Institute of Linguists are two such organisations.

At London Translations, our translators can guarantee a fast and accurate service as we hold the British Standard EN 15038 for translation service quality. The British Standard EN 15038 is a benchmark of professionalism used to distinguish fantastic, quick, accurate translators from chancers with a foreign language dictionary.

Does your business need a translation agency, interpretation agency, or both?

Depending on what type of service you need, you may require a translator, interpreter or both. Do you have a document you need translating into a target language? Then you will need a highly competent translator. Are you attending a meeting where there is a language barrier? You’ll need a top quality interpretation service.

Fortunately, London Translations’ network of professional and highly skilled translators and interpreters can cater to all of your language needs. Request an instant and free quote today.

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