Interpretation and translation

Interpretation is often confused with translation. The difference is that interpreters work with the spoken word whilst translators deal with written texts.

Types of interpreting

Conference interpreters work in various modes, all used by Commission interpreters:

Interpreting after the speaker has finished, usually with the help of notes.

Interpreting while the person is speaking, using particular equipment (eg. booths, earphones, microphone).

Working from your mother tongue into one of your passive languages (see below for a definition of passive language).

An interpreter working in two booths in the same meeting.

The interpreter is seated or standing with the participants and interprets simultaneously directly into their ear.

Sign language
Interpreting using signs used by people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Sometimes referred to as “indirect interpreting”. The interpreters work from a language they do not understand through a bridging language.
Example: interpreting from Finnish into Slovak via a first interpretation into French


  • active language: the language into which the interpreter interprets
  • passive language: the one from which the interpreter interprets 
  • reduced regime: when interpretation is provided but from less than the full number of official languages
  • symmetric regime: means delegates can speak and listen to interpretation from the same languages
  • asymmetric regime: all participants speak in their mother tongue, but interpretation is not provided into all languages