Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

What’s the difference between translation and interpreting

March 28, 2023
  > Gavin
Apples & Oranges

Many people use the terms “translation” and “interpreting” interchangeably even though translation deals with written text and interpreting involves spoken words

Translation is a more complex process to coordinate than interpreting, and has a very different educational infrastructure. The knowledge and

skills required in these professions are different enough that it is common for linguists to specialize in one role, particularly in high-demand languages.

There are also differences within each profession that affect educational requirements, earning potential, attrition and ability to prepare for assignments. It is important to understand the basic differences as they impact resource selection, the linguist’s rate of pay and skills required for the job. 

Hopefully, this knowledge will help you appreciate why language service providers will charge higher or lower rates to retain the right person for the job.


CriterionTranslatorConference InterpreterCommunity Interpreter
Professional Qualification/Accreditation in their field*University, EU, UN, FIT, CTTIC, ATA, ATIO, OTTIAQUniversity, EU, UN, AIIC, Translation BureauUniversity (recent), MAG, IRB, OCCI, ATIO 
Percentage of Linguists with above*Mid-to-HighHighLow
Preparation ProcessPerforms research concurrently Researches and reads briefing materials in advanceResearches in advance based on context of job
Cost StructurePer-Word RateDaily RateHourly Rate
Attrition (people who leave the industry)LowLowHigh

*This is based on our experience and industry understanding. Other realities apply based on geographic location of linguists

  • Translators work primarily with written text, and are among the most highly paid language professionals in Canada.
  • Conference interpreters deliver seamless multilingual communication, most often simultaneously, and are well-paid. 
  • Community interpreters interpret mostly consecutively during life-altering meetings such as legal, medical and social service settings, and are, surprisingly, the lowest paid language professionals.


Most language service providers leave training and certification to well-respected learning institutions, and focus on putting interpreters on the right track to professionalization. But some companies develop their own programs and issue their own certificates to community interpreters. This lowers the bar for entry and allows a larger number of interpreters to enter the market. Costs come down and jobs are created, but it also causes attrition and undercuts officially recognized accreditations by clouding the perception of what it means to be a “professional interpreter.” 

Community Interpreting process is more immediate

Once an interpreting assignment has been completed, the process is over. The interpreting process requires the interpreter to listen to a speaker in one language, immediately understand what is being said, and then communicate that understanding to a listener in a different language. The interpreter must be able to relay conversations in both directions, on the spot without delay, using their language skills, prior knowledge and, at times, a dictionary and notepad.

The interpreter works independently and in real time, without access to databases or computers. The interpreter is completely on their own, which makes the job quite challenging.

Translation process is more continuous