Translation and interpretation

Aras Ahmed

By Aras Ahmad Mhamad:


This article aims to give a glimpse into the relation between translation and interpretation, with their similarities and differences. It will examine how a translated text faces problems in finding the exact equivalence in the target language.


The ability to understand and the indispensability of comprehending multicultural similarities and dissimilarities in the workplace and society have become a driving force to earn power and locate job opportunities. The rapid developments in science and technology, with people’s increased demand and need to get the message across, have had major effects on the expansion of the study of language. This further increases the importance of translation and interpretation.


Translation is an irrefutable and needful aspect of the history of humankind and civilization. If the human race had understood each other easily, there would have been no need for translation and/ or interpretation.

The fact that there are several languages, or to be more specific, the English language, that dominates the international media and communication system – including: internet, newspaper, magazine, radio, and television as well as merchandizing, education and transportation system  – does not mean that the English language is the world’s most superior language or that other languages are inferior.

Each language has its own value and significance, just as everybody has a personality. It is true that the English language is the most outstanding language but it is not the most respectful language, at least to some religious people.

Translation “consists of transferring the meaning of the source language into the receptor language”. (1) This definition of translation opens a question of how to define meaning. Is it to find equivalence? But not every word in the source language is given the exact equivalency in the target language. So, should a translator translate sentences, thoughts and messages, or words, letters, and grammar?

translationIn almost every definition of translation there is an emphasis on finding equivalence, but what if there is no equivalence in the target language? For instance, most languages use ‘taxi’ or there are several kinds of species and animals that exist in West but cannot survive or live in East and vice versa. Here, the types of equivalence vary in the receptor language, forcing the translator to lengthen or shorten lots of words.

Translators often resort to adapting both texts because direct translation might run a risk of losing meaning. Translation “is the expression in another language (or target language) of what has been expressed in another, source language, preserving semantic and stylistic equivalences”. (2) Language changes over time and place, thence, translation is sometimes recreating out of necessity to find a sort of compromise even within a language. Therefore, something will always be lost. This simplification of a text by rewording or what is called Intra-lingual translation: for example, Old English into Modern English involves different style and meaning levels.

Language is problematic or not static. As a result, if one language has such complicated features, how about compromising two different languages? In advertising and marketing there are words for products which, when they are translated, can be offensive and ridiculous, such as, chavy, hotdog, etc… this happens because of lack of awareness.

Subsequently, translators and interpreters are highly required to have formal training, certification, and license; because, with these, they will gain credentials and fitness. Cultural exchange, background information, nature of societies as well as skill and talent are the bedrocks for the act of translation and interpretation.

The Importance of Translation

Translation as a valuable practice and procedure for filling gaps and building bridges across ethnicities – from the time of Cicero and Horace, known as the grammar-translation method (literal translation) , to today, known as sense-to-sense method (free translation) – can offer and find a common ground among customs, lifestyles, and nations. “Translations mediate between languages, societies, and literatures, and it is through translations that linguistic and cultural barriers may be overcome”. (3)

Added to that, translation itself can be considered as a mixture of reinventing and recreating a text which needs a very deep understanding, awareness, and familiarity of both languages. This enriches the target language by entering several new words, terms, and expressions; it also helps the translator to enhance and improve his knowledge. Consequently, a system of governing might be influenced by translation: for example, the number of books in Japan translated into Japanese was greater than the number written in their native language at the beginning of 21st century.

Similarly, translating international masterpieces will assist local writers to compare and evaluate their works with them. It has been said that the world has become like a small village, but the problem is that the inhabitants of this village do not understand each other because they need good and qualified translators, without forgetting the fact that the root of all devils is money.

The task of translation can be done by individuals or by groups of experienced translators with the aid of the Ministry of Culture and other specialized governmental establishments or through private publishing houses, so that the system of a country can catch up with the rapid change that the whole world witnesses nowadays.

The human being is changeable and the change takes place very rapidly. This process of transformation and renewal from one state of being to another can be applied to the process of translation, which brings fresh terminology and idioms. This further gives life more hope and meaning. For that reason, the richer is the library of a country, the more developed is its nation and vice versa.

English language might serve as a good example of how people embrace it and how it benefits from almost all languages, or at least those of neighboring countries, by transferring and transplanting words that enter the language on daily basis. This cultivates the English language without damaging its eternal structure. This makes people believe that English is easy, lucid, and understandable. By contrast, those languages that have strict rules and regulations will decay and die sooner or later, because there is no reform or change.

Nowadays, the scientific study of translation is very much in demand as it helps language learners to find similarities and differences among the source and the target languages, though each language has its own origins and rules. In this case, for a Kurd it is easier to learn English than it is for an Arabic person because Kurdish and English have the same Indo-European origin.

English is considered by many as the most flexible and elastic of languages, able to borrow and adapt itself without this having a negative influence on the natives. “English has been a prodigious borrower of words from other languages throughout history, and a vast number of borrowed words are now in our language. This has come about through invasions, immigration, exploration, trade, and other avenues of contact between English and some foreign languages”. (4)The word ‘assassin’, which is originally from Arabic ‘hashshashin’, it entered French as assassin and, from the French, it was borrowed into English. What has been mentioned above can be considered as a success or failure and all can be affected by the process of translation.

Translation versus Interpretation

The differences and similarities between translation and interpretation are many, yet the most important ones are as the following:

Translation is written. It is usually done by converting a text from one language to another, whether it is free or literal. Neither author of source texts nor addressee of target texts are usually present so no overt interaction or direct feedback can take place.(5) The translator can go back to it and make necessary changes and corrections.

However, interpretation is spoken. It is usually simultaneous and consecutive between two or more   people. Both author and addressee are usually present, and interaction and feedback may occur. Since it is not permanent or does not last forever changes and correction is somehow not easy or very restricted.


All in all, the process and act of translation and interpretation encompasses a wide range of inquiries and questions. It raises doubts and responsibilities and even controversies among scholars and readers; that is why there should always be a sort of imperfection or ambiguity in punctuation, order of words, intonation, stress, abbreviation, mood, or idiomatic expressions, etc… Yet, the concept of words is more important than the individual or abstract meaning of the words – otherwise disharmony will occur and the message will be lost.


1-       Mildred L. Larson Meaning-Based Translation (1998: 3), (2nd Edition): University Press of America.

2-        Roger T. Bell Translation and Translating (1991: 5), (1st Edition, Second Impression): Longman Group UK Limited.

3-       Julianne House Translation (2009: 3), (1st Edition): Oxford University Press.

4-        Norman C. Stageberg An Introductory English Grammar (1981,120), (4th Edition): Holt Rinehat Winson

5-       Julianne House Translation (2009: 9), (1st Edition): Oxford University Press.

Aras Ahmed Mhamad is a freelance writer and translator. He is the Founder and Deputy Editor of SMART magazine, an independent English magazine that focuses on ‘Literature, Language, Society’. He is the Top Student of College of Languages at the Department of English/ University of Human Development, 2012.


One Response to Translation and interpretation
  1. Polish interpreter
    July 3, 2013 | 22:31

    I must say it is really good article!!!

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