The Difference Between Interpreters and Translators

Have you found yourself in a situation where you need to communicate with someone else, but don’t know if you need an interpreter or a translator? Interpreters and translators may seem as if they’re one in the same, one might even say they’ve had something translated after speaking to an interpreter, and vice versa.  If both have the ability to take languages and decipher them in a way that leads to understanding, then what’s the difference between interpreters and translators?

Both translators and interpreters must have a significant amount of cultural awareness, knowledge of regional dialects, and a grasp of colloquialisms from those regions in order to properly and accurately deliver the intended message. Though both interpreters and translators must have a mastery of both the target language and the language they are interpreting or translating into, there are different skill sets and requirements for each field.

The first major difference is that Interpreters operate orally, while translators deliver their work in a written format.  What also sets interpreters and translators apart is their work environments.  You will find interpreters in situations where they are called to be at a physical location, like a courthouse or a hospital. Translators are sometimes involved in projects that do not require being in a setting with the party that requires the translation, such as translating text in novels and books, or websites.

Translators will take the source text they need to translate, and use a variety of resources to help them accurately transpose the text into the target language. In some instances, they will need to be subject matter experts in order to accurately translate specific text. Translators need to have a cultural understanding of the target language, and they  typically tend to be native speakers. Translators only translate into one direction: From the source material to the target language.

Unlike a translator, an interpreter must be able to translate in two directions: From the source language to the target language, and then from the target language back to the source language. This is done live, either on the spot or telephonic, and can be done consecutively or simultaneously. Consecutive interpretations means the speaker is able to deliver a few sentences at a time, and an interpreter will relay them to the recipient after a thought has been completed. Simultaneous interpretation requires an interpreter to listen and deliver the content of the speaker while the speaker is still speaking. Because of these two types of methods, an interpreter would have gone through extensive qualifying testing, and if the interpreter is being used in a medical or judicial setting, extra certifications are needed.

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