Most people use the terms “translation” and “interpretation” interchangeably, when in reality they are different processes, requiring different skills. Translation applies to written or recorded text. Interpretation applies to verbal exchanges. Good translators and interpreters need to know both languages and understand the topic at hand. How do the requirements of each differ?


Translation skills developed after the advent of writing. They entail reading text from one language and rewriting it in a different one, in a way that transfers the meaning accurately from one language to the other. Sometimes translators convert the idioms of a language over too, which can either cause confusion or add new words to the other language. Translating a piece back to the original language is a good way to check for accuracy.

Most translation software doesn’t work well because it’s based on word-to-word meanings. Too many words have many different meanings, so good translators generally look for equivalent phrases. You can watch the written translations on YouTube videos to see how funny or odd many of the word-for-word sentences end up.

Because written documents last a lot longer than verbal conversation, their translation needs to be precise in order to avoid misunderstanding. Precision is especially important in business, which includes contracts for which you could be sued, if they are inaccurate and you refuse to abide by the inaccuracy.


Interpreters also need to be accurate, but they are interpreting body language and eye contact, in addition to verbal phrases. And they’re doing it at the same time as the speaker is communicating. They don’t have instant access to dictionaries or software, so their knowledge of both languages needs to be almost instinctive. A relieving factor is that interpreters can use eye contact and body language of their own to add meaning.

When hiring an interpreter it works especially well to find someone who is a native speaker of the language to be interpreted, but who has spent many years living in the country or culture that speaks the second language. A good example of a famous interpreter in the United States is Sacagawea, who helped Lewis & Clark with their trek across the continent.

Dialog One is proud to be able to provide you with skilled translators and interpreters, fluent in many languages, and experienced with many cultures. Be sure to call us when you need help.