Interpreter vs Translator Differences and Similarities
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Interpretation and Translation are two essential disciplines for any international business to be truly successful, because it is crucial that you communicate with audiences in different countries in their language, flawlessly and naturally. This could necessitate either translation, or interpretation, or sometimes, both. Both the processes are closely related, and quite similar to each other, yet they are also very different. They are used in completely different situations.
True, they both basically translate from one language into another; however, there are several differences too. Those who are linguists themselves, or have in-depth knowledge of language, know the difference between the two. Often though, these terms are used interchangeably, and clients ask for an interpreter when they need a translator, and vice versa. So let’s see how these two professionals are different, and what their roles are.
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Table of Contents
- 8 Similarities between Interpreters and Translators
- 10 Differences between Interpreters and Translators
- In Conclusion
8 Similarities between Interpreters and Translators
Most people know that translation involves retaining the original meaning of the source text, and not a literal translation. The words used are often different, but they convey the same meaning. Surprisingly, people think of Interpretation as a word for word translation – but that is not the case. An interpretation is often a paraphrased version of the original message.
Also read on the Top 10 Translation Problems and Solutions.
Before we delve into the differences, let us explore the similarities between the two sets of professionals.
1. Source and Target Language
Both linguists and translators work with a source language and a target language to carry out their jobs.
2. Academic Discipiline
They both study the scientific study of language: Linguistics. So, they are both linguists.
They both translate a message from one language to another. We can say they have the same primary goal.
Both professionals have thorough knowledge of at least the two languages they work with. This includes fluency, sentence structure, grammar, idioms, slang, and more.
5. Cultural Knowledge
They both have an in-depth knowledge of the culture, customs, traditions, and so on of both the languages they work with.
They both require professional qualifications to exersice their jobs.
7. Literal Translation
Neither interpretation nor translation is a word to word translation. On the contrary, they both exersice Literal Translation.
8. Intact Meaning
Both translators and interpreters have to translate into the target language without changing the meaning of the message to be translated.
Also read tips on How to Learn French on your Own.
10 Differences between Interpreters and Translators
Now that we know the similarities between this two disciplines let’s now dive into the differences between interpretation and translation:
1. Spoken vs Written Communication
The biggest difference between the two professionals is that the interpreter’s role involves working with spoken communication, while a translator’s role involves working with written communication – websites, scripts, legal, technical or medical documents, manuals, and so on.
Interpreting is all about translating something that is said, and translation is about translating something that is written.
2. Forth and Back Translation
An interpreter is often required to translate back and forth; that is, from and into a particular language. When an interpreter is at say, the hospital, they need to translate say from Spanish into English for the doctor to understand, and from English (what the doctor says) to Spanish for the patient to understand.
Read more about this topic on Back Translation Definition – What is it and how does it work?.
Translators however, usually only translate into a specific language – they don’t have to translate from that language back into the original source language.
3. Real-time Translation
Interpreters are required to translate in real-time on the spot; at conferences, meetings, TV coverage, signing for hearing impaired individuals, diplomatic mediations between nations, voice or video calls, on and so on. They have to listen very carefully to what the person is saying, retain it, and immediately translate it into the target language.
A translation can be delivered long after the creation of the source text. So a translator gets much more time to perform the translation, and can be more thorough and precise, and deliver high quality work.
Interpreters have to rely on their learning, knowledge and experience as they have to translate immediately. They don’t have the convenience of any reference materials.
Translators, with more time on their hands can search online, use dictionaries, style guides, glossaries… They can even ask for help to other colleagues to deliver an impeccable translation.
Once they have completed translating a document, translators often pass it on to an editor, who will check the document for accuracy.
No such process happens in interpretation, as live-translation leaves no time for editors.
6. Software and Technology
Translators often take the help of technology; they make use of software like translation memory, and other computer aided translation tools to deliver the best possible work.
An interpreter has no such facility. They have to deliver the translation right away, and have no way of accessing any tools – there simply isn’t enough time. At the most, they may have a pen and paper, and headphones. There usually isn’t time to even do a quick search on their Smartphones.
Translators are required to maintain a very high level of accuracy in their work.
Interpreters are not required to have such a high accuracy level. It is acceptable if the accuracy is slightly lower; the emphasis is on conveying the message without altering the meaning in any way.
Interpreters often convey the gist of what was said – they paraphrase it; often because there is no time, and sometimes because it is not really necessary to translate the entire speech; they have the liberty to leave out certain parts they deem unimportant to the main message an anecdote, for example.
A translator on the other hand, MUST translate the source document in its entirety; they do not have the freedom to choose what to translate and what not to.
9. Format and Style
Translators have to maintain a particular format and style of writing; there are different styles of writing for technical documents, legal documents, user manuals, medical reports, film scripts and so on; the translator also has to be careful with punctuations.
However, an interpreter does not have to bother with all these things; they have something else to worry about: they need to match the tone, the modulation and inflections of the speaker, because they are vital in spoken communication. These are verbal cues which convey a lot to the audience.
Interpreters are usually paid by the hour or the day, whereas translators are normally paid by the word or page, or in some rare cases, by the hour.
Also read on machine translation vs human translation.
A translator is a professional who works with speech, and relies on their own knowledge and experience to deliver a paraphrased translation in the target language immediately and on the spot.
A translator often uses technology and several reference materials to deliver accurate translations of written documents in their entirety.
Whether you need a translator or interpreter depends on the situation you want the professional for. If it’s a live, on the spot translation for spoken communication, you need an interpreter. If you’re looking to translate written works you need a translator.
Often clients ask for an interpreter when they need a translator, and viceversa. So it is important to know how interpreter and translators are different, and what their roles are.
In this article you can know some of best translations tools.
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