Transcription and Translation: What’s the Difference?
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Transcription and Translation: What’s the Difference?

Two of the professional services provided at Verbal Ink are transcription and translation. So what’s the difference? Well, it’s clear that the words start and end the same way, but so do “expertly” and “exceedingly” and you probably know that they don’t mean the same thing. It’s what goes on in between that matters, and that’s where the difference lies. Transcription, according to Merriam Webster, is the act of making a written, printed, or typed copy of words that have been spoken. Its origins are in the Latin verb for “to transcribe” (transcribere: trans (over) + scribere (write). Translation is the act of changing one language into another language. Its origins can be traced directly from the Latin translationem.

Nota Bene

A definition is often not enough to eliminate confusion over the meaning of similar sounding words, so here’s an example to better illustrate the point. Let’s stick with the Latin theme and think back to the days of that old Roman statesman Julius Caesar. (If you’re more a visual learner, cue the laurel wreath and toga to set the scene.) Imagine that Caesar has just quickly captured yet another kingdom and he wants to let everyone who’s anyone know of his victory. He gets out his Smartphone—anachronism aside, plus doesn’t everyone have one?—and leaves a rather succinct voicemail to his SO: “Veni. Vidi. Vici.” His Significant Other could then transcribe Caesar’s spoken words by writing them down in a text message to the leader of the Senate: “Veni. Vidi. Vici.” That would be a transcription. In other words, the spoken words became a written copy. Now if his SO wanted to pass the message along to someone who spoke only English, for example, then she would text: “I came. I saw. I conquered.” That would be a translation. In other words, the message changed from one language into another.

On to Today

If you want to advance the example by a couple of thousand years, imagine that you have audio recorded a five-day seminar on the Health Benefits of Reflexology, but now want written versions of talks given at the seminar. A transcriptionist at Verbal Ink could produce written versions of the recordings that you could easily reference whenever convenient for you. Those transcriptions would also make it easier for you to pass along pertinent points of the talks to other seminar participants. If you want your friend who speaks only Mandarin Chinese and another friend who speaks only Russian to benefit from the talks as well, then one of Verbal Ink’s language specialists could translate from the English.

Plenty of Purposes

In fact, specialists at Verbal Ink can translate from English into 15 languages or vice versa. Moreover, transcriptionists can provide the written content for such pivotal parts of modern life as academic lectures and interviews, court hearings and depositions, and focus groups and market research findings. Language specialists can also provide the translated versions of these transcriptions.

Explaining the Difference

The benefits of both services, while different, can be far-reaching. Suppose a local elderly peace activist makes headlines when she is jailed after being found guilty at a district court hearing of disturbing the peace for lying down on an airport runway to stop the refueling of war planes. An audio recording of the back-and-forth questioning and testimony is transcribed and posted on YouTube. Now take it one step farther. The transcribed testimony is then translated into a number of languages and posted on social websites. The posting goes viral within hours and the activist is freed.

Or you could be the facilitator of a market research focus group for an international corporation that is based in the United States but is looking to expand to Germany and the Netherlands. You can get accurate transcriptions of what each participant said and then have those transcriptions translated into German and Dutch for your overseas audience. Both services can help to assess the potential of the expansion—transcription by providing an easily accessible form of each participant’s answers and translation by extending that accessibility to the transcriptions to a global audience.

Now suppose you receive a video recording of your cousin’s absolutely favorite singer performing a love song so new that you can’t find the lyrics online. You would love to sing it at his wedding in a couple of days, plus it would be great if you could honor his bride-to-be’s Peruvian heritage. A transcriptionist will take the time to get the song’s precise words and a translator will then be able to turn those exact words in English into palabras exactas in Spanish.

Global Matters

There are, however, some similarities between transcriptionists and translators. They both have the potential to yield high-quality results in a competitive global market. As the number of jobs contracts but the immediate need for information grows, we all know that employees are increasingly called upon to provide a plethora of information as quickly and efficiently as possible. The demand for this expertise, all while keeping up with the latest technological advances, can cause frustration and sleepless nights among workers who worry if someone who’s faster will come along and get the next contract or job. That’s where transcribers can help. With backgrounds ranging from medical and legal services to law enforcement and education, they are the experts who can make sense of what otherwise might seem like business, academic, medical or legal gobbledygook. Or mumbo-jumbo, take your pick. And, if you do happen to be a nuclear physicist, rocket scientist or linguistic gymnast who needs an audio recording or video of technical information in written form, pronto, then look no farther than your nearest transcriptionist. Likewise, translators can take that transcribed information and turn it into pristine prose in the language that you need—now. It’s interesting to note that even as technology links each of us closer together at the click of a mouse or the swipe of an iPad, there’s still no translator like a human translator.

On the Net

Transcriptions and translators don’t have to be limited to offline, in-pocket help, either. They have a life of their own online as well. Transcriptions of podcasts, for example, are extremely helpful for the hearing-impaired, wherever they may live. Plus, video transcripts can make your local minister’s televised sermon instantly searchable or provide easy and permanent access to that TED Talk you found so poignant—without having to watch the whole thing again, even though we all know you’d like to but just don’t have the time (because you’re too busy trying to keep up with all those technological advances at work). Similarly, you can enjoy the benefits of foreign recordings uploaded to social and video-sharing websites through the help of translations provided by language experts.

Make no mistake, there’s still a big difference between transcription and translation. But it’s also good to know that making no mistakes is a goal for both. While today’s transcriptionists and translators are facile with technology, one can only hope that Caesar’s SO didn’t have Auto Correct.