Transcription vs Translation

Transcription vs Translation

In linguistic studies, transcription and translation are commonly used terms. Although both terms refer to spoken language, they are distinctly different. The only thing they have in common is that they are used in the documentation and at times recording of words so that they can be understood by another person not necessarily the originator of the words or the one who translated or transcribed the words.

What is Transcription?

This is the process of taking information in the same language and using it again in a clearer manner so that the information is understood better by the targeted person or persons. Doing this helps to make a technical topic much easier to grasp by non-technical persons, or even professionals in that field who were not part of authoring the information. A common area where this is applied is in the medical field. Medical notes transcription is common for the purpose of accurate charging for given services. Transcription involves:

  • Reading the material to be transcribed
  • Listening to a recorded voice
  • Writing the information in the same language.

Transcribing recorded information is usually faster than doing so from written material. Transcription is used both in the academic and non-academic worlds. Apart from the medical field, it is also commonly used in law courts where court reporters have to transcribe proceedings accurately to retain the meaning. In linguistics, this process is applied in many areas of language including:

  • Phonetics
  • Dialectology
  • Conversation analysis (CA)
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Speech technology which is mainly used in people with speech or hearing disabilities.

Transcription is also commonly used in research. Data collected during a survey, for example, may not be comprehensible to another person other than the researcher who collected it. For the data to make sense to another person the researcher transcribes the information.

What is Translation?

Unlike transcription where only one language is involved, translation involves more than one language. There is the source language and the target language. The information in the source language is presented in the target language as accurately as possible so that the original meaning is retained. Both spoken and sign language can be translated to other languages or types of sign language respectively.

In most cases translation is an interactive undertaking. It goes beyond merely changing words into their equivalents in the target language. The translator has to express the same emotions displayed through the source language. Such emotions include frustration, sadness, happiness and even power.

Translators usually take longer to qualify and get certification. This is because they have to master both source and target languages they will be dealing with. They also have to be conversant with the cultures of both languages and even the dialects. This may mean moving to locations where there are native speakers to get the real feel of the language.

Translators are used in various fields including sensitive government settings such as diplomatic circles and important international meetings. For these reasons, such translators are thoroughly vetted and naturally earn more than transcriptionists.

In Summary


  • Mostly involve converting spoken information into written form in the same language
  • It is more straightforward
  • Takes a shorter time to train
  • Earns comparatively less

  • Involves converting information from one language to another either in written or spoken form.
  • More complicated as it goes beyond text conversion to the target language.
  • Generally earn more than transcriptionists


Both transcriptionists and translators play an important role in all fields. On many occasions the two services cross. For example, a translator can take transcribed material and translate it to another language therefore making it available to an audience that would otherwise have not benefitted from it.

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