Translation, Transcription and Transliteration

Translation, transcription and transliteration

Purposes and Differences: Translation, Transcription and Transliteration

Translation, transcription and transliteration. Types of translation that sound rather similar but mean quite different things. There’s a lot of terminology that the language industry likes to throw about, and if you’re not a language professional yourself, it can be hard to keep track of them all. Not to worry – we’ll walk you through some of the differences and definitions of these kinds of translation you might want to know.

translation, transcription or transliteration

What is the purpose of translation?

You’ve probably heard this word the most, and you might already have a pretty good idea of what it means. Translation refers to the process of changing the language of a text, whether it’s a word, a sentence, a document, or anything else. You might have a letter in Language A, and a translator will use Language B to express exactly the same meaning. The translator might not use exactly the same words or expressions in Language B as they did in Language A, but what is important to translation is the communication of meaning from one language to another. It’s also important to note that translation is all about written language. If you’re thinking about translations of spoken language (like those clever people who stand behind politicians, whispering into their ear) you’re thinking of interpretation.

Who uses translation?

Anyone. And everyone. Any form of writing could be subject to translation – billboards, books, magazines, contracts, websites, and that piece of paper that comes inside your medication box. They all belong to their own corner of the translation industry, with their own highly trained translation experts. The main objective of translation lies in communication, so anybody who wants to communicate with other languages and cultures could benefit from translation. It might be building relationships, building your audience, or building the image that you’re a big, international company.

How to choose translation services

There’s plenty of ways to get your content translated. It could be translated by human professionals, by machines, or a bit of both. You might choose a freelance translator, or a translation agency. Here are a few things to consider that might point you in the right direction:

  • How much do you need to translate? How regularly? If you’re going to need regular translation work, it will be beneficial for you to stay with the same translation provider for each project, as they will get to know you and how you work.
  • Which languages are involved? If you only need your texts translating into one language, you could find a freelance translator to help you. If you need more than one, a translation agency will save you lots of work and deliver all the languages at the same time.
  • Who will be reading the translation? If you just want to understand the gist of a document, it might be best to use a machine to translate it. If the text will be consumer-facing or in the public domain, a human translator will be better at ensuring fluency and readability.

Professional and Qualified

qualified translator

It’s also important to make sure that you’re using a professional, qualified translation service – asking your bilingual colleague to do the job could cause you a few issues. Here are a few things to check from your chosen translation partner:

  • Is their pricing reasonable, and within your budget? Beware if the price seems too good to be true, as you tend to “get what you pay for”.
  • Do they have recognised certificates and qualifications?
  • Will they offer a sample translation, a sort of “test run” before you commit to doing a full project with them?
  • Do they reply promptly, and helpfully?
  • Will they they proofread and provide quality assurance with every translation?
  • Do they use targeted software to build up translation memories and termbases?
  • Are complaints dealt with in a professional way?

It seems like a lot, but the benefits to using a professional translation partner are not to be underestimated.

When should your business consider translation services?

Regardless of the size of your business, you can benefit from translating your content. There’s no business too big or too small. We all know that the importance of physical distance is diminishing day by day, thanks to the internet. If your business has an online presence, or you want it to have one, you can benefit from making your website and products available in more than one language. Even if you’re not aiming to reach an international audience just yet, it’s still very likely that your business is located within a diverse community. If your information is available in other languages, it’s more likely that those who might belong to minority groups within your community might feel more welcomed and included.

What is the purpose of transcription?

Transcription describes the process of converting spoken language into written language. A transcriber might be writing down the words said in a meeting, conference, video, research group – the list goes on. Using transcription services can have lots of benefits. You can use transcriptions to record and store important moments or processes. A moment is fleeting, but if it’s transcribed you can keep it forever! (Okay, that might be dramatic, but you catch my drift). If you have video or audio content, you might also benefit from having these transcribed. Not only does it make it more accessible to the deaf or HoH community, but it means that your content is more easily translated. What’s more, it is also more easily searchable, thanks to SEO.

Who uses transcription?

medical translation

There are many different companies and industries that might use transcription services, but the main fields tend to be medical, legal, and business. Transcription and translation, although describing different processes, often go hand in hand. A transcript is always written in the same language as the spoken version, so translation will be the next step. It’s used quite often for translating videos and films – you have someone write it all down, so that it can be translated and used as subtitles to reach your international audience.

However, it is a slightly more complicated process than that. You should let your transcription service provider know what type of transcript you want for your audio or video file. Here at Planet Languages, our default style is clean verbatim (a completely accurate representation of what is being said, without any stutters or “um”, “uh”, or “er”s). This style of verbatim is ideal for recordings of business meetings or conferences. We also offer strict verbatim, which will keep all of these pauses, fillers, and environmental sounds like applause or laughter. This type of transcribing will likely be a requirement for legal proceedings. We also offer an edited verbatim transcript, which is a polished version where we improve the grammar and tenses for maximum readability, while still being accurate to what was said.

How to choose transcription services

As with choosing your translation provider, choosing transcription services can be tricky if you’re not sure where to start. Let’s begin by covering what the transcription service provider will need to know from you. You’ll need to tell them:

audio transcription
  • The duration of your audio or video file (this is often used to calculate the price).
  • What kind of transcript you need – clean, strict or edited verbatim?
  • The number of speakers involved and how you want them to be labelled.
  • Your intentions for using the transcript (we offer professional subtitling and voice-over services and would be very happy to support you with the next steps after receiving your transcript).

You’ll also need to get some information from your transcription service provider to know whether they’re right for you. Make sure you find out:

  • Their policies regarding data and information security. (You might be handling some sensitive corporate information, so it’s very important that you’re careful about who you’re letting handle it.)
  • Their turnaround time. Your project might be time-sensitive, so it’s key that they can accommodate your deadlines.
  • Their accuracy rate. For a truly professional transcription provider, this should be no less than 99%.
  • Does their pricing sound reasonable, and fit within your budget?
  • What qualifications do they have?
  • What other services do they provide?

Top tip: If you are looking to have the content translated or edited in some way, using the same service provider could save you time and money.

When should your business consider transcription services?

There’s no business too big or too small to benefit from transcription services. A bigger business might benefit from the record-keeping benefits, along with the improved translation possibilities. A smaller business might have put out a video on social media, the transcript of which means it’s now more accessible to those with impaired hearing, those with limited English, or even people who are watching your video somewhere loud. Get in touch to find out how transcription can help your business.

What is the purpose of transliteration?

This is a good time to remind you that translation is about expressing meaning in a different language. On the other hand, transliteration doesn’t tell you the meaning of words, but rather helps you to pronounce them. Transliteration describes the process of changing the script (the letters or the characters used) rather than the language. You might use it for a word or a concept that you don’t want to be translated or explained, but which should be accessible to an audience whose language uses a different alphabet to yours.

Who uses transliteration?


It’s actually really common, even though you might not spot it. Let’s presume you speak only English, and see an article written mostly in English online which mentions “חנוכה”. You don’t recognize the characters, so you skip past the article without a second thought. If the same article used the transliteration “Channukah/Hannukah” to describe the Jewish festival of light, the article becomes instantly more appealing. Another example is in a Chinese restaurant – you might see a sign on the door welcoming you in with: “你好!” But you don’t recognize it, even though you would recognize “Nǐ hǎo” as “Hello”. Neither example mentioned here involves translation, but both involve transliteration.

How to choose transliteration services

Transliteration tends to go hand in hand with translation, so many of the same boxes need to be ticked when choosing your provider. It’s probably a good idea to check qualifications, specialisms, pricing, and reliability. It’s also important to use a professional, who will know everything about the language and the culture into which you’re translating (the target audience). A good transliteration will not only help the target audience to pronounce your brand name, but it will also help to create the same sort of effect as the original name does and avoid any unfortunate homonyms.

What is the difference between translation, transcription, and transliteration?

Let’s go back to one of the examples I used before. There’s a video of somebody saying “你好”. Transcription would be listening to the video and writing those characters down. Transliteration is reading “你好” and changing it “Nǐ hǎo”. Translation would be changing it to “Hello”. As you can see, they all go hand in hand and often a language service provider will use all three in the same project.

Whichever service you’re considering, at Planet Languages we can help. We’d be happy to advise on the processes that would be right for you.

About the author

Emily Barnett graduated from Lancaster University with a 2:1 in her Integrated Masters in French & German Studies, where she also received the Swiss Ambassador Prize for her performance in German. She went on to graduate from the University of Manchester with an MA in Translation & Interpreting Studies. She is passionate about content writing and languages, and currently learning Dutch in her spare time!

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