What are the differences between being an interpreter and a translator?

Interpreters and translators are two different things that are often conflated into one by many! The two share many similarities and are often performed in conjunction to aid communication by converting messages or text from one language (typically called the source language) into another language. Interpreting and translating still have a fair share of differences. Whereas interpreters work with spoken communication, translators work mostly with written communication

What is an Interpreter?

The goal of an interpreter is for people to experience the target language as seamlessly as if it were the source language. Interpreters are typically fluent speakers or signers of both languages because they serve as the line of communication between people who do not share a common language. Interpreters can provide their services remotely as well as in person, depending on their personal preferences.

What is a Translator?

Translators convert written materials from one language into another language. The translator’s goal is for people to read the target language as if it were the source language of the written material and therefore, they must be fluent and have a high level of understanding in both languages. The translator must be able to maintain or duplicate the written structure and style of the source text while also keeping the ideas and facts accurate. This means that translators must have a strong understanding of cultural elements, references and nuances as well as slang and other expressions that may not have a literal translation

The three most common modes of interpreting are as follows:

Simultaneous interpreters:

These interpreters work to convey a spoken or signed message into another language while someone is speaking or signing. Simultaneous interpreters must be highly familiar with the subject matter and maintain a high level of concentration to convey the message as accurately and completely as possible.

Consecutive interpreters:

Consecutive interpreters aim to convey the speaker’s or signer’s message in another language right after the person has stopped to allow for interpretation. Note-taking is generally an essential part of consecutive interpreting.

Sight translation interpreters:

These interpreters aim to provide translation of a written document directly into a spoken language for immediate understanding. This form of interpreting is typically done with little time and preparation and is therefore not for the purpose of producing a translated document in writing.

Source: American Translators Association

Due to the need for a high level of accuracy in the work of translators, it is beneficial to use software such as computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools which assist translators in being efficient and consistent. This is because due to the additional time given to translators as compared to interpreters, they are expected to produce work of a much higher quality.

Here are some examples of roles for interpreters or translators?

Community Interpreters

These interpreters work in a variety of public settings to provide language interpretation for individuals or groups. Community interpreters are often required at business events, parent-teacher conferences, community events, social and government agencies, and in many other work and community settings

Conference Interpreters

Conference interpreters work at events that have non-English-speaking attendees and are commonly seen in the field of international business or diplomacy. Conference interpreters generally need to be fluent in two or more languages as they engage in simultaneous interpreting.

Healthcare or Medical Interpreters/Translators

Healthcare or medical interpreters and translators typically work in healthcare settings and help patients communicate with doctors, nurses, technicians, and other medical staff. Interpreters and translators in this field must have knowledge of medical terminology in both languages. They may translate patient consent documents, patients’ records, pharmaceutical and informational brochures, regulatory information, and research material from one language into another.

Legal Interpreters/Translators

Legal or judicial interpreters and translators typically work in courts and other judicial settings. They assist clients at arraignments, depositions, hearings, and trials and therefore must have a solid understanding of various legal terminology.

Literacy Translators

Literary translators work to convert forms of literature like books, poetry, and other published works from the source language into a target language. Literary translators must work closely with authors to capture the intended meaning, as well as the literary and cultural references, of the original publication.

Sign Language Interpreters

Sign language interpreters have an important role due to their ability to facilitate communication between people who are deaf or hard of hearing and people who can hear. Sign language interpreters must be fluent in both the source/target language and American Sign Language (ASL).

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