By: Alison On: August 13, 2019 In: Interpreting, Translation Comments: 2
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What is the difference between translation and interpreting?

Both translating and interpreting aim to communicate across languages, but being proficient at one doesn’t necessarily mean you’re proficient at the other.

Here’s a look at the key differences between a translator and an interpreter, as well as a few things they have in common.

A Translator Works With the Written Word

Translation essentially consists of taking a text in one language and rendering it into another language.

Did you catch that word “text”? The key characteristic of translation is the fact that it works in the medium of the written word.

A literary translation might consist of the translation of a novel from German to French, for example, while a technical translation could be the translation of a cellphone owner’s manual from Japanese to English. In either case, what’s being considered is written text.

[Read about 5 of history’s most famous translations]

An Interpret Works with the Spoken Word

Interpreting, like translation, takes one language and renders it into another. The very important difference is the medium: while you translate a written text, you interpret orally.

For example, a medical interpreter at a hospital could interpret between a Spanish-speaking patient and an English-speaking doctor.

The interpreter acts as a facilitator in this oral communication, relaying the patient’s Spanish to the doctor in English — and vice versa.

[Learn about 6 famous interpreters]

Can a Translator Serve as an Interpreter and Vice Versa?

It’s quite rare for a linguist to work equally well as both a translator and an interpreter. This is because each role requires a specialized skill set.

A professional translator, for instance, will not necessarily have the interpersonal skills and quick tongue needed to be a fast, excellent interpreter, and a skilled interpreter will by no means have the attention to linguistic style needed to render a compelling literary translation.

Because the jobs of translators and interpreters are so different, it’s important to distinguish between these two labels (and never ask a translator to do an interpreter’s job and vice versa). However, the one label translators and interpreters share is “linguist.”

This term applies to those accomplished in the use of language, so if you’re not sure what to call a room full of interpreters and translators, you can safely refer to all of them as linguists.

Common Skills Needed to Translate or Interpret

Translating and interpreting are very different jobs requiring different skill sets, but there are a couple essential characteristics that both good translators and good interpreters share:

  • A deep understanding and near-native, if not native, proficiency in two or more languages
  • An interest in languages and in the facilitation of communication between different languages

Although translators and interpreters may differ in the media they work in, these two characteristics are always necessary for anyone who wants to translate or interpret professionally.

Get the Right Help

Whether you need an interpreter or a translation, Accredited Language has you covered. With more than 35 years experience providing language solutions in 200+ languages and dialects, we are the premier source for linguistic support. Contact Accredited Language today to learn more.

Call us at 1-800-322-0284 or simply fill out our free quote form.

And if you have any questions about the differences between translators and interpreters not addressed above, let us know in the comments!

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Danielle youatou
Danielle youatou
4 years ago

Thank you
Please, clearly establish the possible relationship between the current events shaking the world and interprétation.

James Norton
James Norton
1 year ago

Thanks for sharing this valuable information. The blog conveyed the differences between translators and interpreters very clearly. The common skills between translators and interpreters were very helpful points.