Transcription and Translation: What’s the Difference?

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Transcription and translation: both words look and sound quite similar, but they describe two distinct practices. While both can stand alone, they are often used in combination. Let’s take a look at each and find out the differences, the use for each and how they work together.


Starting with the most familiar of the two, translation is the process of turning one language into another. This is done by taking the meaning and intention of a piece of text in one language and putting it into the same context in a different language.

Translation requires intimate knowledge of both the source language and the target language to be effective. Otherwise, the translation risks being literal – or worse. A good translator knows how to turn one language into a usable version of another: a great translator makes an effortless piece of writing that the target reader would never guess was translated from another language.


The process of transcription is to write down recorded audio or spoken words in their original language, with complete, word for word accuracy. Transcription can apply to music, video and film. Transcripts are always written in the language being spoken, so if the source language is English, the transcript will be in English too. Once transcribed, the text can be translated into any other language.

Both Working Together

Transcription and translation frequently work together, with transcription being the first step before the text goes on to be translated: interviews, news soundbites and recorded conversations are just a few of the applications.

One of the more exciting examples of applying transcription and translation together is in film. Let’s say we have a brilliant new Korean monster movie, with a global release intended – but all the film’s dialogue is spoken in Korean.

The first job is to transcribe the audio into Korean text with total accuracy, capturing the emotion as closely as possible – including notes on the actors’ delivery. The Korean text can then be used as subtitles for deaf and hard of hearing viewers, before going on to be translated.

The transcript can now be turned into any language, for use as subtitles and as scripts for dubbing. Both transcript and translation must be accurate and true for the film to perform well outside Korean-speaking audiences.

A linguist’s work doesn’t end once transcribing and translating the dialogue is delivered. Any unspoken on-screen text will need translating too, to keep the story flowing without any gaps, in all languages.

Posters, advertisements, trailers and DVD or Blu Ray box covers will need effective, localised marketing translation for a global audience.

All in all, it’s a huge amount of work. But the result is worth it: a seamless experience for every viewer, no matter what their language – that’s some real movie magic!

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