Transcription vs Translation: The Difference Explained

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    Wondering about the differences between transcription vs translation? Dive into the nuances of these language services to make informed choices.

    You’ve probably heard translation vs transcription used interchangeably. But in reality, these two language services are quite different.

    Whether it’s a suspect interview, courtroom proceedings, or a quarterly earnings review, you want to make sure you hire the right services the first time. Otherwise, you might get a Spanish translation of your audio when what you really need is an English transcription!

    Here’s what you need to know about transcription vs translation.

    Transcription vs Translation Comparison

    While both transcription and translation involve converting information into different formats, they serve different purposes.

    Transcription is used to convert audio or video to text, while translation is used to convert audio, video, or text from one language to another. If you need help determining which one you need, this chart should help clarify it for you.

    Transcribing audio or video:
    Translating between languages:
    • Transcription refers to: the process of converting spoken language or audio into written text. It involves listening to spoken words and writing down what is being said verbatim.
    • Transcription is commonly used to: create a written record of verbal content, such as interviews, speeches, podcasts, or videos. It is used in various fields like journalism, research, legal proceedings, and entertainment.
    • You would use transcription if: you have an audio recording of an interview and you want to have a written transcript of the conversation.
    • Translation refers to: converting text or content from one language to another while preserving its meaning, context, and intent. It is about expressing the same ideas and information in a different language.
    • Translation is used when: you need to make content accessible to speakers of another language. This can include documents, books, websites, or any written material that needs to be understood by a different language group.
    • You would use translation if: you have a document written in English and want to make it available to Spanish-speaking audiences.

    Transcription: What It Is & How It Works

    Transcription refers to the process of converting audio or video content into written text. You can get transcripts through professional human transcriptionists, AI-powered speech recognition, or even DIY audio transcription methods.

    Transcripts are frequently used across the legal, medical, and media industries, as they provide a clear and user-friendly document that exists independently of recorded audio or video.

    Verbatim Transcription

    Verbatim transcription is the most literal and comprehensive form of transcription. It includes every word, utterance, and filler words precisely as they are spoken in the audio or recording.

    This transcription level captures all spoken words, including repetitions, stutters, and filler words like “um” and “uh.” It also preserves false starts, incomplete sentences, and interruptions without any omission.

    It’s crucial in contexts like legal proceedings, research interviews, and linguistic studies, where a precise record of spoken language is essential.

    Intelligent Transcription

    Intelligent transcription retains spoken words, filler words, and false starts while also considering context and some formatting elements. It includes all spoken content but may omit highly repetitive filler words for readability.

    Intelligent transcription maintains contextual elements, such as non-verbal sounds like laughter and pauses, and includes speaker identification when necessary. It has applications in media production, market research, and academic research, where a balance between content and context is desired.

    Edited Transcription

    Edited transcription involves omitting unnecessary words and elements while adding additional context, punctuation, and formatting to improve readability and clarity. It omits filler words, false starts, and content deemed irrelevant to the transcript’s purpose.

    Additionally, it corrects grammar, syntax, and pronunciation errors to enhance readability and adds punctuation and formatting to create a polished and coherent transcript. Edited transcription is commonly used in content production, business meetings, and academic papers, where the goal is to create polished, concise records or documents from spoken content.

    AI vs. Human Transcription

    With technological advancements in artificial intelligence, software solutions can now perform the task autonomously; however, these AI tools tend to yield inaccurate transcripts and may not be appropriate for official use. Human transcription is preferable for legal proceedings, medical records, and any context where accuracy is paramount.

    Who Should Use Transcription?

    Transcription can be a valuable tool in various professional and personal contexts. Here are some examples of who should consider using transcription services or engaging in transcription work:

    • Legal Professionals – Lawyers often transcribe recorded conversations, depositions, or court proceedings for documentation and reference in legal cases.
    • Businesses – Companies may transcribe meetings, conferences, or customer service interactions to maintain records, analyze discussions, or improve communication.
    • Podcasters and YouTubers – Creators in the digital media space often transcribe their audio or video content to make it more accessible and searchable for their audience.
    • Law Enforcement – Police and investigative agencies transcribe recorded interviews, interrogations, and wiretaps as part of criminal investigations.

    The Benefits of Transcription

    Transcription, the process of converting spoken words into written text, provides tons of benefits, from enhancing productivity to promoting inclusivity.


    Transcripts are helpful for revisiting content, serving as an essential resource for professionals and students. It also allows you to dictate notes rather than typing or writing longhand—talk about convenience!


    Text-based content is easily searchable, making finding and notating specific information more accessible.

    User-Friendliness & Accessibility

    Transcripts can be easily read, understood, stored, and distributed. Transcripts make audio content accessible to those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

    What To Look For In Transcription Services

    Professionals might need transcripts for several reasons, from documentation of interviews and courtroom proceedings to video content marketing purposes. So, if you’re using a transcription in a professional context, it should be accurate, well-formatted, and easy to read.


    Ensuring complete accuracy can be challenging, especially with heavy accents, poor audio quality, or automated transcription. Human transcription tends to fare better than speech-to-text transcription if you’re concerned about accuracy.

    Turnaround Time

    Many businesses outsource transcription to professional transcription services, which have a turnaround time of about 3 hours. You can get near-instant transcriptions from speech-to-text or AI transcription software, but you’ll have to spend plenty of time editing and formatting.


    High-quality transcription services may be more of an investment than AI-generated transcription. However, it may be a valuable investment for those with other demands on their time.

    Translation: What It Is & How It Works

    Whereas transcription involves converting audio to text, translation refers to converting text from one language to another. Translation allows everyone to communicate across language barriers.

    Free AI-powered translation software is often sufficient for daily communication and can provide a usable translation (like Google Translate, for instance). However, it’s standard for businesses and institutions to use professional translators.

    Translators are typically native or fully fluent speakers of both the origin and target language. They can provide accurate translations even with regional dialects, acronyms, figures of speech, and other common obstacles.

    The Benefits Of Translation

    For enterprises that operate across language barriers, translation is a vital process. Here are just a few of the benefits of leveraging translation services:

    Legal and Compliance Requirements

    In some industries, there are legal requirements to provide information in multiple languages. Translation services help companies meet these obligations and avoid potential legal issues.

    Market Expansion

    Translating marketing materials, product descriptions, and websites enables businesses to confidently enter new markets. It helps adapt content to local preferences and cultural nuances, increasing the chances of success in those markets.

    Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

    Translating website content can improve its visibility on search engines in different languages. This helps attract organic traffic from various regions, increasing online presence and brand visibility.

    What To Look For In Translation Services

    When seeking translation services, choose a reputable provider to ensure accurate, high-quality translations. Here are some key factors to consider when looking for translation services:

    Professional Translators

    Ensure that the translation company employs professional translators who are native speakers of the target language and have expertise in the subject matter of your content. Experienced translators are more likely to provide accurate and contextually appropriate translations.


    Confidentiality is paramount when dealing with translation services, mainly when your content contains sensitive or proprietary information. The chosen provider should have a clear and robust confidentiality policy that outlines how they handle your data, including encryption protocols, secure file transfer methods, and non-disclosure agreements with their translators.

    Cost and Pricing Structure

    In addition to discussing pricing, understand how the translation service calculates costs. Some providers charge per word, while others offer project-based fees. Be cautious of unusually low prices, as they may indicate a compromise in quality. A transparent pricing structure helps you budget effectively.

    How Do You Translate AND Transcribe Audio?

    In some situations, it may be necessary to translate and transcribe audio. For example, a law enforcement professional may need a Spanish-language witness interview translated and transcribed into an English text document. Professional translation can also be used for creating closed captions.

    When done using AI software, the translation and transcription process can be time-consuming and complicated, often resulting in a less-than-ideal final product. A DIY approach may not be ideal for those with busy schedules between imperfect speech recognition, inaccurate translation, and the formatting and editing process.

    With translation and transcription services like SpeakWrite, you can upload an audio or video file and have it translated and transcribed by trained professionals.

    Subtitles and Closed Captioning

    Sometimes, you may hear transcription, translation, subtitles, and closed captioning used interchangeably. These are distinct services, though they are closely related. Subtitles and closed captions are critical for professional video production, helping increase the accessibility of content.

    Closed captioning is used to transcribe the spoken words and audio cues within videos. This is vital for the deaf and hard of hearing, though closed captions are widely used by individuals out of preference or when headphones are unavailable.

    Subtitles refer to captions that have been translated into another language. It is a valuable accommodation for language learners and is widely used for the global distribution of movies, television shows, and videos.

    Transcription vs Translation FAQs:

    What is the primary difference between transcription and translation services?

    The primary distinction between transcription and translation services lies in their core purpose. Transcription involves the conversion of spoken or audio content into written text. On the other hand, translation services are designed for converting text, whether written or spoken, from one language to another while maintaining the original meaning, context, and intent.

    When should I opt for transcription services, and when is translation more appropriate?

    Transcription services are ideal when you require written records of spoken content. Translation services become necessary when you aim to make content accessible to speakers of a different language.

    Why should I choose professional human transcription over AI-powered solutions?

    While AI-powered transcription tools offer speed and convenience, they may fall short in terms of accuracy and reliability, especially in complex contexts. Human transcriptionists bring a level of precision and understanding that can handle challenging accents, poor audio quality, or specialized terminology.

    Get Started With Translation & Transcription Today

    Translation and transcription are vital for students and professionals. A professional translation and transcription service can help you create accurate, user-friendly documents to help you maximize productivity, accessibility, and audience reach.

    Speakwrite is an industry leader in translation and transcription, offering 99% accuracy on a quick turnaround time. Start your free trial today to get started.

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