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Boost export sales with translation
How to boost exports sales
Refugees, asylum seekers, immigration
Language access inequality undermines human rights

Translation or Interpretation? ... that is the question

The terms ‘Translation’ and ‘Interpretation’ – or ‘Interpreting’ – are often used interchangeably outside the Localisation Industry.

Clients often come to us because they need "translation services for a conference". But there is no such service.

One of the main, and most obvious differences between translation and interpreting is between the written and the spoken word. We translate texts, manuals, novels, but we interpret at meetings, conferences and workshops. Yes, translation is written, while interpreting is oral.

However, this is not the only difference.

Let’s translate the following phrase into Spanish:

(EN) Learn how to use X / Teach how to avoid Y

  • (ES1) Aprende cómo usar X / Enseña cómo evitar Y
  • (ES2) Aprende A usar X / Enseña A evitar Y

Some English native speakers may not see anything wrong with ES1. Perhaps this is you?

ES1 is quite literal and it’s probably the translation output that we could get from Google Translate. The fact is that ES1 above does not sound natural to a Spanish native speaker. ES2 does.

Let’s explore the issue of “naturalness” a little more in detail.

What may sound natural among Spanish speakers in the US, may not sound natural in the rest of Latin America, or in Spain.

This is briefly explained on a LinkedIn post authored by our colleague Carlos la Orden Tovar, translator, trainer and speaker.


Emily Lemonds Ewing, an interpreter living in the US, comments that she sees similar constructions to ES1 above in translated documents for her Spanish-speaking clients, who would also use similar constructions to this one themselves.

The fact is that, in the USA, “Spanglish” is quite normalised among Spanish-speaking immigrants who have lived in this country for a while, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish whether that's how they would say it in their own Spanish-speaking country, or if they've learned to say it from clumsy translations. It may also be true that, probably out of habit, or because it’s constantly heard otherwise, the most correct expression may not be easy for them to understand.

Other “Spanglish” terms favoured over more Spanish ones are “naturalisations” of English terms, some of which are cognates. English terms such as computer, mammogram, ultrasound, school, may be rendered as computadora, mamograma, ultrasonido, escuela, in US Spanish, whereas in Spain ordenador, mamografía, ecografía, and colegio may be preferred. (Continental Spanish vs LatAm Spanish for another post).

“Interpreters sometimes have to resort to what clients understand better,” Emily reflects.

Carlos goes on to suggest that the interpreter’s syntactic correctness, although important, is generally subordinated to the immediacy of conveying the general meaning, which means that an eye is necessarily “closed” to any possible syntactic calques. The translator, on the other hand, has time to analyse the most suitable solution, and thus the duty to choose the most correct option in the target language and not to settle for a solution that is “understood”, but has errors.


Cognates - and naturalisations - are indeed much more frequent in Latin American Spanish, but they are still correct for the most part. In the examples above, although relatively correct, EN1 is neither natural nor idiomatic in Spanish: an interpreter may use it without any problem, but a translator should choose the correct preposition:

aprender a usar / enseñar a evitar


Translation and Interpreting

In a nutshell, Translation is written, and the translator has more time to research the specific terminology and correct expressions to render the exact meaning into the target language. Interpreting is oral, and the interpreter must resort to their short-term memory to convey an as accurate a meaning as possible into the target language according to the occasion. The translation, once delivered, or printed, cannot be amended, whereas the interpreter can “amend on the spot” if they feel that something is not right (although this does not happen in simultaneous interpreting).

These two sibling disciplines have remarkably similar, but also quite distinct characteristics, and many of our linguists can manage various skill sets to work in both.

An ISO accredited language company, My Language Hub provides Translation and Interpreting services at extremely high standards, and all our linguists are fully trained and highly qualified in their fields.

Contact us and let us know what we can do for you and your business.

for all your language needs

+44 (0) 1462 656577

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