Are We Translating or Interpreting?

If a client sends Tembua an MS Word document and wants it returned in 26 languages, we understand that translation is needed, even if the client says they want it interpreted or converted or changed into.

If our client asks for translators for a conference along with booths and electronic equipment, we realize they are requesting interpreters.

Translation refers to the written word; interpreting, to the spoken or signed word. Thus, a document is translated, but the person standing next to the Prime Minister is most likely an interpreter. In general, context signals the meaning of these words, even when they are confused.

Sometimes, the context needs to be clarified.

If the client asks for a translator onsite for a meeting, we ask. You see, we provide interpreting services for the spoken word, but we also provide translation services for meetings, for which the linguist does sight translations of documents, usually financial, that are being discussed and revised immediately.

The misusage is most likely born out of the perceived awkwardness of the phrase Interpreting a speech. We do, after all, use interpreting in casual conversation to mean understanding the meaning of. Thus, many people simply say translating the speech, even though the sentences mean different things. Again, the context usually makes it clear.

Sometimes there is a real need for precise usage. We recently responded to a large RFP for linguist services. The documentation was massive. The required response looked enormous, and the languages needed were numerous and widespread. No problem.

We came to a stop, however, when we read that the client required onsite translation and return of documents as PDF. The next sentence said that oral translation may be needed along with the standard. The RFP then went on to discuss Braille.

Later in the documentation, we found this sentence: Telephonic translation as well as multi-language desktop publishing is needed for all languages being interpreted.

Tembua certainly can provide interpreting by phone, onsite, or in a conference setting, and foreign language DTP is something we do every day. Rather than correct the writer, we sent a gentle request for clarification. When the answer came back, we found we’d guessed right in all but one instance. We were glad we’d asked, and we hope to be able to educate the client about the dual aspects of linguistic services.

Language is a living, growing thing, and the use of translation and interpreting is changing, merging. Within the next two decades, we may lose the word interpret in the meaning of moving between languages. Context will be more important than ever!




About tembua

Tembua: The Precision Language Solution provides comprehensive linguistic services for 100 languages to private industry and government agencies on a global scale. Services include document and website translation and localization; conference and 24/7 telephonic interpretation; glossary development; proofreading, text adaptation, editing, multilingual design and DTP; transcription; technical / custom authoring editing, foreign search engine optimization; translation memory management; subtitling.
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