Differences Between Translators and Interpreters

By Atlas LS

Although translation and interpretation are analogous linguistic disciplines, they are not identical. Translators convert a written message from one language into another language whereas interpreters convey an oral message from one language into another language.

Differences Between Translators and Interpreters

The skills, training, and knowledge needed for being both a talented translator and gifted interpreter are so different, however, that few people embody both sets of skills. Someone who is both skilled at translation and interpretation is indeed rare.

Unique Skills for Interpretation

An interpreter must have the ability to quickly translate orally from one language to another without any hesitation. Because this skill is incredibly rare, the job of a UN interpreter is incredibly hard to get. Candidates for the job must be able to translate from one or more languages into another language on the spot.

Interpreting speeches at the UN is so difficult because of the stress, time constraints, and the fact that the interpreter must have a broad knowledge base. What’s more, the interpreter must be able to draw on that knowledge base without hesitation and cull the right word in order to succinctly convey the correct meaning while going from one language to another.

The interpreter must also invariably have a good working memory, or the cognitive ability to remember and manipulate pieces of perceptual data in short-term memory.

A simultaneous interpreter has to keep in mind the words that were spoken ten seconds or so before in order to find a new word in another language that conveys the same concept. For this reason, interpreters have to be able to concentrate intensely in the moment and remain free from distraction. Interpreters usually have great social skills and the ability to preternaturally focus.

Differences with Translators

The logistics of translation are slightly different. The translator has access to dictionaries, thesauri, and a host of other reference materials. Having access to so much reference material means that translators can find just the right word to capture the idea from one language and translate that idea into another language.

Translators may take much more time to search for that perfect word since they typically don’t work under the intense time pressure of, say, a UN interpreter.

You could also find a world-class translator who might not actually speak a second or third language very well. The act of physically pronouncing words and achieving the right accent is not a critical job skill with translation.

A translator hired for conference translation services might be called upon to translate marketing copy between one company branch and another branch in order to provide greater continuity between two different parts of the world. Translators have an acute appreciate for cultural differences, and they can capture the nuances of each language while making translations of websites in different languages.

Translators, like interpreters, can work in both private and public settings. Translators frequently work in-house for translation companies, who help out businesses by providing carefully edited translations so that these businesses can expand into new markets.