Translation and Interpretation

What’s the difference?

Translation is the act of transforming written text from one language into another. Interpretation communicates the spoken word of a speaker into the desired language of the listener. The difference between the two is as basic as reading and speaking.


The translating of text dates back over 4000 years. One of the oldest translated texts is an excerpt from the Sumerian Epic of GilgameshThe modern translation industry was built on the human transformation of written communications but has evolved to include computer-assisted-translation (CAT) and various forms of machine translation (MT).

CAT involves the use of software to aid the translation process. MT attempts to recreate natural flow of the target language through the use of computational statistics and rule-based modeling.

But regardless of technology the core dilemma of whether to be faithful to the source text or to deliver the text as if it were written in the language of the reader, still exists. This conundrum of fidelity and transparency was best described by the 17th-century French philosopher, Gilles Ménage, as “translation can be either faithful or beautiful, but not both”.


Interpretation suffers this same dilemma but with the constraint of time added to make the task more challenging. Unlike translation where there is ample time to review and edit the written word, interpretation requires the real-time comprehension and reconstruction of the spoken word into the desired language of the listener. The challenge to remain true to the source message of the speaker and communicate it fluently in the target language of the listener is never more apparent than during interpretation.

Interpretation can be divided into two major categories: consecutive and simultaneous. Consecutive Interpretation (CI) requires the source language speaker to pause and allow the interpreter to reconstruct their message in the language of the listening audience. Simultaneous Interpretation (SI) operates under the same principles but without the benefit of a pause from the source speaker. Simultaneous interpreters must comprehend and reconstruct the source message in real-time.

Our modern system of simultaneous conference interpretation was developed in the early part of the twentieth century as radio technology became more portable. The first great display of simultaneous interpretation was during the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-1946, in the aftermath of the second world war.


How can we help?

Whether you need translation or interpretation, Agnew Multilingual provides professional and personal service to help bring your message to the world.

Please contact a member of the Agnew Multilingual team to discuss your next project.