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The Difference Between Translators And Interpreters


Translators and interpreters are all part of one family of paraphrasers whose goal is to deliver a message from one language to another.

Both professions have to have a good grasp of different languages. Even better, to interest themselves with the culture that follows that particular language.

But to become a translator and interpreter would require you to have a different set of skills.

What is the main difference between translators and interpreters, and why do they both need unique skills?

  • A translator is a professional who translates written content
  • An interpreter is a professional who translates spoken messages (often in real-time)

Even though the difference is clear as daylight, people still confuse these professions.

Almost every company will need help from a translator and/or interpreter in its’ life cycle.

And if you are looking for ways to deliver your marketing or branding message to the global audience, you will need help from either one of these professionals.

What is translation, and who is a translator?

I believe many of you have had a chance to work with a translator (or a translator app).

It’s quite simple, actually.

The translation is an act of transposing content from the source to the target language while maintaining the meaning of it.

To rephrase what you just read, translation is written content.

Translators are professionals who work with written content, may that be a legal document, marketing message, medical record, or a single article. These people understand the source and the delivering languages on a professional (or native) level.

Apart from being fluent in both languages in written form, they should be able to maximise the use of dictionaries and reference materials.

Most of the better ones also have a strong connection with the culture of the language.

Details may differ by source, but the research of Language therapy and bilingual aphasia by Ansaldo, A. I., Marcotte, K., Scherer, L., & Raboyeau, G in 2008 states that around 50% of the world’s population is bilingual.

And yet, not all of them can work as translators. It requires a particular set of skills that we will discuss next.

What skills should a translator have?

Translators all over the world share a set of skills that help them work in their industry.

Here’s the set of skills that a professional translator should have:

– Knowledge of two (or more) languages, one of which would be their native.

– Understanding of both cultures (in case there are two languages present) and their phrasings.

– Knowledge of proper writing – Grammar, tone of voice, spelling, etc.

– Dealing with cultural differences and barriers – While translating from one language to another, it’s hard to transfer the emotional message. Translators should have in-depth cultural knowledge of both parties before engaging in translation.

– Specialized knowledge of one or two fields/industries – Some translators only work in one industry. For example, medical reports and documentation need a specific type of translator).

– Computer skills – Nowadays, everything is done digitally; therefore, a translator should have excellent computer skills to find information and communicate with the client).

– Research skills – Sometimes finding the correct word or a phrase might take hours. A great translator should have excellent research skills and know dictionaries and other helpful content like a map.

If you’re Singapore-based business, the easiest way to get a hold on translators with such skills is to find agencies that provide certified translation services in Singapore.

What is interpreting, and who is an interpreter?

Interpreting is the act of translating verbal messages, often in real-time.

Interpreters are translators who need to communicate face-to-face with the parties of conversation. It usually happens at a conference, business meeting, political meeting, over the phone, etc.

In other words, interpreting is a real-time translation, a bit extreme in comparison to written translation.

Interpreting is more complex and time-demanding in general.

Here’s how it works:

  • The interpreter listens to the first party who’s speaking the original language.
  • While listening, they are also grasping the content and translating them to the second language in their mind.
  • Finally, they deliver a verbal message to the second party in the second language.

What’s complicated about interpreting is that a professional interpreter needs to be very cautious and careful.

They need to translate what they hear on the spot without dictionaries, online help, or reference materials, and try not to stumble or stutter.

While translation comes in one form, there are six major types of interpreting:

  • Consecutive Interpreting
  • Simultaneous Interpreting
  • Escort/Travel Interpreting
  • Whisper Interpreting
  • Scheduled Phone/Over-the-Phone Interpreting
  • On-Demand Phone Interpreting

What skills should an interpreter have?

Translators and interpreters share some skills, but they differ when it comes to the specification of these two professions.

Here’s the list of skills an interpreter should have:

– Listening skills – Interpreting won’t happen without blurry mind and low listening skills. Professional interpreters need to be fast in thinking and listening.

– An extensive vocabulary of two (or more) languages – Interpreters should have years of experience speaking in two or more tongues to catch the idea, cultural meaning, and idioms of on-the-spot translation.

– In-depth knowledge of cultural barriers and differences – It’s the same with translation, but interpreting requires more caution when translating something live. Professional interpreters should have a perfect grasp of cultural emotions and phrasings.

– Show emotional stillness – A professional interpreter should not project their emotions onto the translated message.

– Grasp of the industry – Translators can have industry knowledge, but interpreters MUST have industry knowledge; otherwise, it’s impossible to translate verbal messages correctly on the spot.

– Be resistant to stressful situations – Translation process for interpreters can take place in prison, political meetings, or elsewhere — a professional needs to keep their cool and be emotionally stable.

And while translators and interpreters can come as one family, they differ from one another.

Chances are, your business will need a translator more often than an interpreter. So, it’s important for you to know what you’re actually looking for.

Human translation is priceless.

Look for high-quality and fast work for your business. Remember, translation services can help you develop your company and deliver your branding message to the international masses.