Both translation and interpreting involve working between two languages, but there are important differences.


  • is for the written word (documents, web sites, etc.)
  • is asynchronous (text is written, then translated)
  • is normally done independently of the document author, often from a separate location
  • uses online and printed reference materials.


  • is for the spoken word
  • is normally simultaneous with the speech being interpreted, or nearly so
  • is performed in the same place as the speaker and listeners
  • using short-term memory and/or notes
  • requires specialist equipment.

These definitions are very general and will not cover all situations – for example creating a written script from audio or video, sight translation or telephone interpreting – but they help to start thinking about which service you require and what needs to be provided.

For example, translators working in isolation from the authors of the document will need a way to send questions and receive answers, and budgeting for an interpreter will need to include travel and accommodation costs.