Difference Between Transcription and Translation

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: April 30, 2023


Difference Between Transcription and Translation

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Transcription and translation may sound similar and have some common elements, but they are not the same. The former deals with creating a written version of what is spoken/heard in the same language. In short, transcription involves writing down (transcribing) what one hears when listening to an audio file, a video, or a live speech. If the source material is in English, the written version is also in English.

In the beginning, transcription was done manually using pen and paper; however, in the digital world, transcribers create electronic documents to provide the written version. Some go a bit further and opt for automated transcription (speech-to-text engines that convert audio into electronic text. Transcriptions are free of embellishments and the transcriber’s opinions.

The latter deals with capturing the meaning of the text in the source language (the language in which the original text is written) and conveying it in the target language (the language into which the text is converted). An example of translation is understanding what is written in English (source language) and writing it in German (target language). Interpreting signs does not count as translation. The translation process is also referred to as inverse or reverse translation.

Transcription Vs. Translation

Translation involves the conversion of text available in one language into another. The focus is on the meaning and not on the syntax and grammar of the source language. Therefore, idioms and phrases are written in a way that best conveys their essence in the target language. Transcription involves writing down exactly what the original speaker says. The transcriber will not change the wording or add some of his own to convey the meaning more clearly.

Difference Between Transcription And Translation In Tabular Form

Parameters Of Comparison Transcription Translation
Meaning Listening to recordings or live speech and writing down what the speaker says is known as Transcription. Conveying the essence/meaning of the source material or text in another language is known as Translation.
Focus The focus is on writing/typing down precisely what the speaker says. Translation focuses on conveying the true meaning and not the literal text.
Scope for changes A transcriber does not make any changes to what the original speaker said. Translators use the concept of ‘paraphrase’, which involves using other words more relevant to the target language to convey the meaning.
Source Material Live speech, digital audio, or video files. Written text and rarely, audio files (some transcribe them and later translate, while experts can translate while listening to the audio).
Co-dependence Transcription does not rely on translation. Sometimes, an audio or video file needs to be transcribed before translation can be done.
Requirements A transcriber only needs to know one language apart from top-notch listening skills. Translators must know a minimum of two languages (bilinguistics) besides the creative ability to paraphrase without distorting the meaning.
Types Phonetic and orthographic transcription are the types of transcription. It can be further classified into human and automated transcription. Machine, literary, and tecnical translation are the types of translation.
Field Transcription is useful in the field of law, medicine, and entertainment. Translations are useful in the field of business and entertainment.

What Is Transcription?

Transcription refers to the creation of a written version of speech or sign language. Coming across the concept of transcription is inevitable when delving into sociolinguistics (studying the effect of various aspects of society on how a language is spoken). Two types of transcription software are used to aid transcribing. One type facilitates manual transcription (people type what they hear) by providing playback or speed-adjusting function. The second type provides automated transcription (speech-to-text engines are used).

Subtitles are text representations of audio-visual media. Transcription is essential for subtitling, making it invaluable to the entertainment field (after all, people seem to suddenly go deaf if no subtitles are available). Subtitling is already a complex process; entertainment giants do not need blundering transcribers to botch the process. Viewers would probably swear bloody revenge if the subtitle is wrong!

Types Of Transcription

The two main types of transcription are as follows:

Phonetic Transcription

Phonetic transcription refers to the practice of writing down symbols that denote speech sounds. That is instead of using words to write down what one hears symbols/phonetic alphabets are used. The defining characteristic of this type of transcription is that the phonetic symbols denote the same sound irrespective of the language being transcribed. The pronunciation of words changes as years go by. Therefore, orthographic transcription does not accurately help decipher how to pronounce a word.

Phonetic transcription or notation is divided into Alphabetic (one symbol is assigned to represent one sound) and Analphabetic. Alphabetic notation is sub-classified as broad phonetic transcription (gives the readers only an idea of how a language probably sounds) and narrow phonetic transcription (indicates precisely how it sounds). The analphabetic notation uses a series or sequence of symbols to describe exactly how a word sounds.

Orthographic Transcription

In orthographic transcription, transcription is done using the spelling system of the target language. A word transcribed according to this type may spill over (get adopted as a loanword) to another language, which may result in the spelling and pronunciation being different from the original word.

Transcription Systems

Transcription systems are rules that must be followed when transcribing. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is the most popular among phonetic alphabets used in Alphabetic notation. Conversation Analysis, Discourse Transcription, GAT, and HIAT are the systems used in orthographic transcription. Conversation analysis is further divided into two types. The first is narrow transcription, which gives details about which words are stressed, spoken loudly, articulation of a particular word, and so on. The second type is broad transcription, which is used when in-depth details are not essential and only the overall conversation matters.

What Is Translation?

A translation is the conversion of text in one language into another. A word has different connotative and denotative meanings. A translator must understand which meaning needs to be brought across to the target audience. Moreover, more than one word of the target language may convey what is written in the source language; an efficient translation consists of the most suitable words that help the target audience to understand the text.

Theories And Concepts Of Translation

Some of the popular theories and concepts of translations are as follows:

Western Theories

The Ancient Greeks introduced the concepts of metaphrase (literal translation) and paraphrase (the translator may take some liberties). The English poet John Dryden advocated a mix of both practices but favored paraphrase. He opined that translators should not be limited by the author’s words. Rather, they should be allowed to focus on the meaning. Translators borrowed from the source language (spillovers) when the target language lacked the necessary/suitable word. Such practice enriched the target language. Some have compared the work of translators to the works of artists.

Other Theories

The Babylonians were the first to create/recognize translation as a profession (fortunate for present-day translators!). Asians have a separate system/tradition of translation. Classical Indian translation focuses more on loose adaptations than a close translation. According to Perry Link, some Chinese words are untranslatable; the translator must understand the meaning of those words and try to use to target language’s words to convey meaning. Here, similar to the Greek concepts, the literal meaning vs essence of the words is a never-ending debate. The translators’ perceptions play a significant role when translating such works/words.

The Concept Of Fidelity And Transparency

Fidelity refers to the accuracy with which the source material is translated. If a translation meets the set fidelity criterion, it is ‘faithful’. Transparency is the extent to which the target audience feels that the material was originally written in their native language. That is, the audience should not feel something is wrong when reading the translated work – the work must conform to the target language’s grammar and syntax. If the transparency criterion is met the translation is ‘idiomatic’.

While some argue that the two are mutually exclusive, that is not always the case. The modern-day practices of translation take into account fidelity and transparency. However, in the past, many translations were mere adaptations (adapted translations); the literature differed in each translated version according to local customs.

Back Translation

Back translation refers to the translation of a translated text back to the source language (bewildering, right? Why would someone do that?). For example, when a text that is translated from English to French is translated back to English, it is known as back translation. When back translating, the original work is not referred to. Usually, this process is helpful if the original text is lost.

Types Of Translation

The popular types of translations are machine, literary, and technical translation. In machine translation (MT), a computer program interprets the source text and produces a translated version in the target language. However, humans are involved in pre-editing (preparing source text) and post-editing (wrangling the errors in machine translation). Literary translation involves translating literary works such as novels, poems, etc. Technical translation refers to the translation of texts related to technological subjects (for example, user manuals). These translations are helpful only for a limited time. A user guide/manual will only be beneficial to the product’s user only as long as he uses it.

Main Difference Between Transcription And Translation In Points

  • Translating text is much more complex and difficult to master than transcription. Transcription is done by native speakers who grew up listening to varying accents and dialects of their language. Therefore, their job is relatively easy. However, translators need to invest time and make an effort to master another language.
  • In transcription, the written material is the same as the source material word-for-word. Metaphrase is a concept in translation similar to transcription to some extent; the source material is translated word-for-word/literally. However, this concept is imperfect, and transcribers mostly rely on the paraphrase concept.
  • Translation requires creative a mindset. On the other hand, transcription only requires excellent listening skills. After all, transcribers need not worry about how to express a concept, whereas translators need to determine how best to convey meaning without losing sight of the essence of the source material. They need to know when to metaphrase and when to paraphrase.
  • Transcription is less time-consuming than translation. Transcribers merely write or type what is being said; they do not have to analyze the meaning of what they hear. On the other hand, a translator needs to have in-depth knowledge and understanding of the source and target language. Therefore, they need more time for research.
  • Accuracy is vital in transcription. Though translation requires accuracy, a small margin of error will not affect its quality as long as the overall meaning is delivered effectively.
  • Translators have more employment opportunities than transcribers due to the increase in multiculturalism. Unfortunately, employment opportunities for transcribers are on the decline.
  • Translation pays more because of the growing demand for skilled translators. As transcription does not need the same amount of time investment and is less complex than translation, transcribers are paid significantly less.
  • Sign language can be transcribed. That is, creating a written version of the signs made counts as transcription. However, understanding the meaning of signs and writing it down does not count as translation.


To be brief, if someone needs a text to be written in another language translation is the solution. Transcription is the answer if people are looking to convert speech into text (in the same language). Translation and transcription are excellent options for people looking for remote working opportunities. Offering the combined services of translation and transcription is a surefire way to get promoted quickly; of course, the work provided must be up to the employer’s standards.

Though automated transcription and translations are popular, as of now, they cannot match human creativity and their understanding of the nuances of a language. However, the future is not set in stone; situations may change, and technology may become advanced enough to render human transcribers or translators irrelevant. But hey, every job (or at least aspects of it) is bound to become obsolete some time in the future. So, why worry about it?


  • https://acutrans.com/translation-vs-transcription-whats-the-difference/#
  • https://gotranscript.com/blog/transcription_vs_translation_in_language_what_are_the_differences
  • https://thelanguagedoctors.org/difference-between-transcription-and-translation-in-language/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Translation
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcription_(linguistics)
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonetic_transcription
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orthographic_transcription
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technical_translation
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subtitles


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"Difference Between Transcription and Translation." Diffzy.com, 2023. Tue. 30 May. 2023. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-transcription-and-translation-1267>.

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