Interpreter v. Translator, Which is Which?

By Atlas LS

As a Language Service Provider (LSP) we are often requested for on-site interpretation needs and all too often we are informed that our client needs a “translator” for a hearing, deposition, meeting, etc.  Internally, we know the difference between an interpreter and translator but do you?

Translator Booth - Interpreter v. Translator

The Difference Between Interpreter and Translator

An interpreter is a person who interprets orally from one language to another, whereas a translator translates written material from one language to another.

Although many people seem to regard translation and interpretation as the same there are a large number of professional linguists who do not do one or the other.  They may strictly interpret but not translate and vice-versa.  There are also a few that are strong enough in both forms to handle both interpretation and translation and do a very good job at both but translation and interpretation are two radically different modes of communication.

What Interpreters Do

Most interpreters work on-site.  Their work venue typically changes from day to day and they may work in venues ranging from HR related meetings, community events, medical appointments and legal proceedings to simultaneous international events or events broadcast on live television.  Interpreters have to be quick to adapt to any and all environments with very little room for research.  Interpreters have to be able to listen and speak at the same time while understanding the subject matter and the person that they are interpreting for.  They face many challenges which we will try to cover in a future blog.

What Translators Do

Translators typically work off-site at their own office or that of a LSP.  Typically, a translator has sufficient time to research terminology, consult dictionaries, glossaries or colleagues on verbiage and terminology, but a translator’s job is not easy in any sense.  A translator must be able to convey the written meaning using terms that are culturally sensitive, modern and grammatically correct.  They often have to clarify simple terms which in a written format become complex.  Translators must also have a high level of quality control for their own product that they produce.  We will also discuss some of these challenges in a future blog as well.