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What is Interpretation?

In my work as a translator, I often hear people, due to an understandable unfamiliarity, tell me that they once again needed an “oral translation”. I then deduce that the concept of “interpretation” is not well-known and that is why people who are not part of this small world of translation tend to be so unfamiliar with it. It seems appropriate to me as a result to gloss over the subject for anyone who is not familiar with the concept or who may be in need of interpretation services.

First, it is interesting to consider what the Oxford English Dictionary has to say on the matter:


noun a person who interprets foreign speech orally.”

The fundamental difference to appreciate here is the difference between written and spoken translation. When we normally discuss “translation”, we have in mind texts, whether they are printed or electronic. When talking about “interpretation”, we are dealing with a task that consists of working as a middle ground between two speakers who do not share a common language and ensuring that each one’s ideas are communicated to the other as quickly and accurately as possible.