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.

Read more on Best Online Translation Tools recommended by Translators.

Interpreter Vs Translator: What Are The Differences?

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.

Similarities between Interpreters and Translators

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.

3. Goals

They both translate a message from one language to another. We can say they have the same primary goal.

4. Multilingualism

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.

6. Qualification

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.

4. Resources

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.

Interpreter Vs Translator

5. Editors

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.

7. Accuracy

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.

8. Paraphrase

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.

10. Payment

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.

In Conclusion

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 viceversaSo 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. 

TranslateDay provides Legal Documents Translation for all kinds documents. It has been able build an untarnishable trust with their prompt and accurate interpretation. It has become a fast rising player in the translation industry. Transalate Day employes the most experienced translators to bring clients a thorough translation with a touch of expertise.

4 Comments. Leave new

I would like to thank you for sharing this amazing article with us. Many of us don’t know the difference & similarities between Interpreter VS Translator. The most knowledge giving point in the content was the ‘biggest differences in their role’s’, this also cleared my doubts.

January 29, 2019 7:28 am

Thanks James, it is always important to know the differences when assessing your linguistic needs. In not only we provide translations, but also interpretation services.

Aberto Carlos
May 22, 2019 1:57 pm

Warm regards for sharing this amazing and informative manual with us. I would say that the content is full of information and useful for us. Most informative point is ‘biggest differences in their role’s’. Many of us don’t know the difference & similarities between Interpreter VS Translator. The interpreter translates orally and the translator translates in the written.

May 27, 2020 12:48 pm

Thnx indeed for your thorough explanation on the differences and similarities between translators and interpreters .


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