3 Key Differences Between Translators and Interpreters

Translation and interpreting are the primary services the translation industry provides for a wide range of clients worldwide. These two services are related, but they are different as well. Each one is a separate discipline and requires specialization. But what are the key differences between translators and interpreters?

Although many people automatically assume linguists all do the same job – translations – three significant differentiators set translators and interpreters apart, and we’ll discuss them in this post.

For starters, it’s important to remember that the disciplines are different in training, skills, and aptitude. Even their knowledge of the language is different. One works with the spoken word, the other with the written.

Many people who are unfamiliar with linguistic services think that translation and interpreting are the same. They both deal with different languages. And in a broad, generalized aspect, the two disciplines are the same. But the skills a person needs to become a translator vary drastically from someone that wants to become a phone interpreter, for example.

Skills Required for Professional Translation from a Source Language to a Target Language

A translator understands the source language and the culture of the demographic area where the language is spoken. The translator can use reference materials such as books and dictionaries while working on the translation project. Using references allows the translator to render the work distinctly and accurately in any target language. While the ability to speak two or three languages is an advantage for a translator, it is rare for them to write about a subject at an equal level in all the languages they speak.

It is vital to note that many translators are not fundamentally bilingual. It’s a limitation, although it allows the translator to specialize. It means he or she will only translate into the language he or she natively speaks. It helps render their translation accurately.

Skills Required for Professional Interpretation of Spoken Language

If you think that being a translator is demanding, you’ll be in awe once you know the skills an interpreter should possess to render effective translation into the target language.

An interpreter should be able to translate into two directions immediately. While interpreting, the person must understand the source language (from the speaker) and explain it in the target language (for the listener) without using any reference material or dictionary.

Several types of interpreting services are available, with simultaneous interpreting and consecutive interpreting being the most common. Large meetings, seminars, and conferences that foreign participants attend typically use simultaneous interpreting to cater for every target language need. Consecutive interpreting is more suitable for smaller meetings and gatherings.

In simultaneous interpreting, the interpreter listens to the speaker and starts to interpret after a few seconds.

Differences Between Translators and Interpreters

You already know the primary responsibility of a translator and an interpreter. Both work with various languages. The translator deals with the written word, while the interpreter renders the spoken word into another language for a particular group of people.

Aside from the above, several more aspects differentiate the two.

1. Employment Status

Many translators work on their own if they decide to go freelance. They do all the phases of the translation process themselves, from writing to quality control. However, more professional translations often work for a translation company. The agency typically forms a team with a project manager, proofreader, editor, quality assurance, and desktop publisher to ensure high-quality translation output.

An interpreter often works directly with their clients in their personal capacity. A conference interpreter doing simultaneous interpreting usually works with a team comprising two or more interpreters. On the other hand, some interpreters work side-by-side with their clients, but they may also work with language service providers.

2. Mobility

Translators can work anywhere as long as an internet connection is available. They can travel the world and still do their work. They can receive client requests for translation through email or other means.

Interpreters, on the other hand, often have to be physically present while executing their job. They have to be in a translators’ booth when translating for a forum, conference, or seminar. Interpreters have to be near the client when performing other types of interpreting work, such as consecutive interpreting, whisper interpreting, or escort interpreting. They have to attend court hearings and legal procedures if they are legal interpreters. The only time an interpreter is away from the client is when doing video remote interpreting and over-the-phone interpreting, a service that hospitals and medical centers usually use.

3. Work Pace

Both interpreting and translation require focus and dedication. Both involve complex processes. But interpreting is more stressful than translation. The work is more demanding, as interpreting requires real-time job performance. Interpreters do not have the time to review and edit their work. An interpreter’s linguistic skills must be of the highest standard, and they should have an excellent working knowledge of the subject matter that they work with.

Translators, on the other hand, do have the luxury of time to review their work. Yes, they have deadlines to meet, but they can also plan their own work schedules. They also have time to perform research on the subject and edit their translations before delivering them to their clients. Unlike interpreters, translators can use reference materials and computer-aided tools to ensure the quality of their work is always perfect.

Similarities Between Interpreters and Translators

As you understand by now, translators and interpreters are all linguistic experts and work with the translation of languages. They share the same kind of passion, and both have a deep understanding of cultural nuances tied to languages. It is the mission of both an interpreter and a translator to transmit a message from one language to another as accurately as possible.

Though they share a passion for languages, translating and interpreting are not the same profession, and these professionals have different roles and areas of specialization.

Translators can work on projects such as:

  • Website/software localization
  • Legal documents that require a certification
  • Medical research and documents
  • Patent translation
  • Movie transcription and subtitling
  • Book translation

Interpreters are required for projects such as:

  • Conferences
  • Business meetings
  • Doctor’s appointments
  • Legal proceedings in court
  • Concerts (sign language)
  • Diplomatic events

Article by DayTranslations, one of Speakando’s partners