What is the Difference Between Translation and Interpretation?

interpreters listening with headsets

Translation and interpretation are both needed to enable communication between cultures and across languages. In a world where communication is key, it is necessary to use the help of interpreters and translators to effectively communicate.

Translation vs. Interpretation

On a general level, the difference between interpretation and translation is that interpretation deals with spoken language in real-time while translation focuses on written content.1

Interpreters translate spoken language orally, while translators translate the written word.2 Both require deep cultural and linguistic understanding, expert knowledge of the subject matter, and the ability to communicate clearly.

Another difference is that translation happens over a period of time with extensive access to external resources, compared to interpretation which occurs on the spot during a live scenario.3


Translation interprets the meaning of written content from a source language into a language that is targeted. For example, translating a written text from Spanish to English.

Professional translators use a wider range of computer-aided tools in their work. Translators are able to use software, such as translation memory and a termbase, that facilitates the translation process and quickly fills in the missing gaps. They are able to go through the text and refer to other written materials such as parallel texts to ensure an accurate translation. Translators focus on working with written materials like print or websites, which is one main difference between translation and interpretation.4

When it comes to language skills, translators need to have solid reading comprehension, transfer, and target language production skills.


Interpretation focuses more on paraphrasing the content that the speaker is trying to convey. An interpreter, someone who repeats the message but in a different language, deals with live conversation, which can include translating meetings, conferences, appointments, live TV, and more.5

Interpreters need to optimize their working memory in rendering content much more quickly and with no extensive access to external resources for support.

What About Localization?

Localization is all about locales rather than languages. It differs from translation in that it takes into account the culture, or locale, of the audience, as well as the broader meaning of the text instead of relying on a straight translation from one language to another.6

For instance, some of the aspects localization takes into account include:

  • The cultural identities and preferences of the end-users
  • Presentation of dates, currency, imperial vs. metric measurements, and more
  • Region-specific spellings
  • Cultural differences, traditions, expectations, symbols, and taboos that might be wholly absent in the language that produced the original text

To ensure matters like the above are addressed appropriately, any translator who is localizing a text into a new language should be well-versed in the target culture or locale.

Kent State University Online Master of Arts in Translation

The Gawlicki Family Foundation Online Master of Arts in Translation provides students and professionals with access to the nation’s most comprehensive graduate program in translation.

The Online Master of Arts degree in Translation prepares students for careers in translation, localization, terminology management, project management, and a variety of additional career paths involving multilingual communication in the language industry.

Available online concentrations/languages:

  • Arabic
  • Spanish
  • Russian
  • Japanese
  • German
  • French

Dual Degree:
Students have the opportunity to complete a dual degree program with the MA degree in Translation and the MBA degree. Learn more about the dual degree.

For more information on Kent State’s Online Master of Arts in Translation, visit https://onlinedegrees.kent.edu/degrees/master-of-arts-in-translation.

1 Retrieved on May 11, 2021, from https://www.kent.edu/appling/matranslationonline/blog/translationvsinterpretation
2 Retrieved on May 11, 2021, from https://www.lionbridge.com/blog/translation-localization/5-major-differences-interpretation-translation/
3 Retrieved on May 11, 2021, from https://www.kent.edu/appling/matranslationonline/blog/translationvsinterpretation
4 Retrieved on May 11, 2021, from https://www.kent.edu/appling/matranslationonline/blog/translationvsinterpretation
5 Retrieved on May 11, 2021, from https://www.kent.edu/appling/matranslationonline/blog/translationvsinterpretation
6 Retrieved on May 11, 2021, from https://www.kent.edu/appling/matranslationonline/blog/translationvslocalization

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