Interpreting and translating are so similar in meaning many people use them interchangeably. However, interpreters and translators use distinct skill sets. If you need linguistic services, it’s crucial you know what type of services you require.
It is possible for one person to master both skill sets, just like a doctor can be certified to practice in two specialties, but they are significant differences. If you need cataract surgery, you would want an ophthalmologist, not a cardiothoracic surgeon even though many of their skills transfer across specialties.
So, what is the difference between an interpreter and a translator?
Interpreting and translating both involve the transfer of meaning, register, and style of information from one language to another. However, there are important differences. These are the main ones:
The main difference is the medium. Translation deals with written texts while interpreting is used for oral or sign-language communication.
Therefore, translators are more familiar with the rules and conventions that govern formal documents, such as contracts and laws.
Translators can choose to only translate into one language. Interpreters must be fluent enough to translate into at least two languages. For example, a Spanish-English translator may decide just to accept projects where the target language is English. However, an interpreter must have enough fluency to translate from and into both.
Another critical difference between translators and interpreters is the setting in which they work. Interpreters travel to where their clients are – either physically, over the phone, or online –while translators usually work on a computer far from their clients.
For instance, in a courtroom, you would want the services of a court interpreter, not a translator. But if you need an expert opinion on the accuracy of a birth certificate translation, you would ask for a translator. If you want to translate a medical textbook into Catalan, you need a Catalan medical translator, not a medical interpreter.
A translator can spend hours poring over dictionaries and researching how a tricky term has been translated in the past. An interpreter doesn’t have that luxury. She must transpose the thoughts of the speaker either at the same time (simultaneous interpretation) or immediately after the speaker finishes (consecutive translation).
Although both interpreters and translators aim for perfect accuracy, interpreters cannot always provide the same level of precision, and their work is not usually as polished as that of translators.
5. Technical Skills
Translators must be skilled researchers. Although it is possible to work as a translator without using a computer, most professional translators now work with specialized software that helps improve their accuracy and speed. Some interpreters also benefit from the assistance of translation software, but it is less common. However, they often need to know how to use specialized equipment, such as multi-channel receivers and remote translation devices.
Interpreters must also be skilled public speakers. Not only do they have to consider the meaning, style, and register of what they translate, they must also convey the same tone, inflection, and voice quality used by speakers.
In translation, localization is the adaptation of language to the specific terms used in a region. For example, do you know what a logan is? If you’re not from New England, you probably don’t know it is a swampy lake. It would be impossible for an interpreter to be familiar with all regionalisms. A translator, however, is more likely to have the time and resources to research obscure terms and choose the perfect term for the target audience.
These are only a few of the differences between interpreters and translators. It’s important that you select professionals that have the right skills for the job. Choosing between an interpreter and a translator is only the first step. There are multiple specializations within each profession.
If you need an interpreter, do you need a medical or a court interpreter? Does the interpreter have previous experience with your type of case? Is she familiar with how technical terms are used in your country or region?
If you need a translator, what type of text is it? Does your translator have the necessary expertise and experience? These are just some of the questions you should be asking before choosing an interpreter or translator.