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Spotlight: What Do Translators And Interpreters Do?

Translators and Interpreters
Spotlight: What Do Translators And Interpreters Do?
on July, 05 2017

You know by now that translators and interpreters are pretty good with languages. But did you ever stop to ask the question of what translators and interpreters do?

I mean, how exactly do they go about their tasks? What tools do they use? What training do they need? Which languages are requested most often?

How much do translators and interpreters make for a living and is it a healthy industry to get into? Let’s take a closer look.

Related Post: Translator Facts: Everything You Need to Know About a Career in Translation


Translators And Interpreters Are Not One And The Same

While many people use these words interchangeably, translators and interpreters are not one and the same. If you’ve watched a politician being spoken over by an English voice on television, you may have said, “that translator is great!” or “how does that translator keep up when Obama, Trump, or Johnny Depp are speaking so fast?”

It’s certainly a hard task, but voice translation, or rather, interpretation, isn’t a job for a translator. And it’s important to make the distinction between translators and interpreters.

A translator, at a grass roots level, converts one language to another in written form. An interpreter, on the other hand, works in spoken languages.

While both translators and interpreters need a clear understanding of the source and target languages, the skillset is not the same and neither are the tools of the trade, compensation, or places of work.

Translators And translators and interpreters Job


What Does a Translator Do?

Generally speaking, a translator takes materials, whether a written document or an internet site, and converts the language in question into the equivalent in the requested target.

A translator may work freelance, for a translation agency, or even in-house. And there really is no limit to the language pairs that they work in.

You can easily be a translator from Farsi to Urdu, or French to Portuguese. However, of course, there will always be some languages that are more in demand than others. So, if you’re looking to get into a career in translation, keep in mind that the most requested languages, besides English, include:

  • Spanish
  • French
  • German
  • Portuguese
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Japanese
  • Russian
  • Cantonese Chinese
  • Arabic
  • Japanese
  • Hindi
  • Korean

Related Post: What Are The Most Important Languages of The 21st Century?


Generally speaking, a translator will translate into their native tongue, as it will always be their strongest language, unless they were raised completely bi or multilingual.

So, if your first language is English, but you’re fluent in Spanish, your best port of call is to offer your services as a Spanish to English translator, rather than the other way around.

The text will always sound more fluid and you’ll naturally know when something isn’t quite right, whereas these subtle nuances may get lost when translating from English to Spanish.

Different Languages in The World


What Skills Does a Translator Need?

If you’re looking at becoming a translator, you’ll need to be able to be fluent in at least two languages, speaking, reading, and of course, writing.

Translators and interpreters alike must also have a strong knowledge of the culture of the countries that they work with and keep up to date with latest trends.

Day Translations English to Spanish translator, Luci, says:

“Understanding the two cultures of your language pair is strongly linked to the quality of your work. I love traveling whenever I have the money to do it. I am a HUGE fan of movies and series as well, and I read a lot of novels in English to make sure I keep up with the culture.”

Related Post: Meet Day Translations Top Translators in Our Anniversary Feature


Languages are living and thanks to social media and the internet, new words are often invented. Translators and interpreters must know how (and whether) to translate these in your text. Some words, like WIFI and internet, are pretty much universal.

Beyond your passion and skill in languages and culture, you’ll need to have good people skills, if you want to get more clients. You’ll have to be adept at time management and be able to deliver when promised.

Translators and interpreters are generally good listeners. You must understand what is being requested from a particular job, or risk incorrectly carrying out the translation, upsetting the client and working overtime!

You’ll also need excellent computer skills, as all your work will be carried out on a computer and many clients will ask you to work with a particular software. Sometimes translators type directly onto the platform, and you’ll need to learn the most popular ones, like Transifex and PhraseApp, fast.

Above all, your goal as a translator should be in producing a translated text that does not feel like a translated text. To the person reading the poem, article, or working document, they should feel as if it were created in the language it is presented, not like it is a stilted translation from an original.

If a translator fails to produce a fluid text, they have failed in their job. That’s why being a translator is hard and requires special skills. Just because you speak several languages does not mean you’ll make a good translator.

Related Post: 7 Skills Every Translator Should Have


Translator Skills

It’s a Balancing Act

Translators have to strike a balance between producing a text that flows freely while remaining faithful to the source document. This is no easy feat! And it’s one of the major reasons why human translators will always have the edge over machines.

They can adhere to their wealth of cultural knowledge. They can make judgment calls and thay can find the best way of presenting a sentence so that it conveys the meaning, without being a word-for-word translation that sounds ridiculous in the target language.

Just consider the German idiom “Tomaten auf den Augen haben.” What does it mean? Literally, “you have tomatoes on your eyes,” but if you see that written in a text, you’ll have to know the best way to portray it in English.

Talking about tomatoes in eyes will sound out of place in an English text. The real meaning is about not being able to see what’s in front of you, or what other people can see. 

Translators and interpreters often find humor and idioms among the hardest things to translate.

Related Post: 5 Reasons Why You Need a Human Translator


A Specialty

While it’s not essential for a translator to specialize in any given subject (there’s plenty of work available for those who can translate a variety of texts), having a specialty will often give you access to more clients and a greater compensation.

The average annual salary for a translator is $46,120. Legal translators or specialized medical translators can expect to make significantly more, especially when working with large clients or laboratories.

Your salary will also vary depending on your experience, location and the languages you translate. It’s a good idea to strike a balance between a language that is in high demand and one that is rare.

While rare languages may be requested less often, the payout is higher, since there is lower competition. Common languages like Spanish and French will see you battling it out for jobs until you consolidate regular clients. Both translators and interpreters are wise to consider this, when thinking about learning a new language.

What do translators and interpreters do

A Translator’s Workplace

So how glamorous is the life of a translator? Frankly, not very. Most translators work from home. This can often make it a great career for women who wish to balance their career with their family life. However, it can also make for a lot of distractions and challenges.

If you are working from home, try to find a space that you can close the door on and establish and respect your working hours. Some translators may work with CAT tools to assist them and speed up their translations, while others find this process only slows them down.

As a human translation services agency, Day Translations translators work only with their human brain and knowledge garnered through the years.

Related Post: Do Women Make Better Translators Than Men?


What Does An Interpreter Do?

Here is where you soon realize that translators and interpreters have very different jobs. Interpreters don’t do a lot of writing. They convert spoken languages from one to another, sometimes into sign language.

Both translators and interpreters must have excellent listening skills, but an interpreter must also have a great memory. They have to process spoken information quickly and relay it in the target language as accurately as possible.

Interpreters are often on stage, in plain view, whether they specialize in conference interpreting, court interpreting, diplomatic interpreting, or medical interpreting.

Because of this, they must always consider their personal appearance and their voice projection skills, as well as their ability to keep up with the cultures of the languages they work with.

Translators and interpreters alike generally find themselves working from their second or third language into their native one. Unless you plan on interpreting for business meetings, tours, or travel, being an interpreter will usually require a specialty.

If you’re going to be working with legal languages, you’ll need to be familiar with legal terms. The same applies to politics and medicine.

Interpreters are pivotal to ensuring that effective communication occurs between two speakers of different languages.

They must have the ability to isolate their own personal feelings from those of the speaker. This is often one of the hardest aspects of being an interpreter. When you have to be the voice of a person you disagree with, you must still provide a faithful and accurate interpretation of their speech.

Related Post: 7 Things Every Interpreter Hates


Interpreter Working

What Skills Does an Interpreter Need?

Depending on the area of specialty, an interpreter needs to have pretty much the same skills as a translator. Translators and interpreters both need to be masters of at least two languages, to begin with.

Not all interpreters' jobs are the same. There are several different types of interpreting and they involve a different level of skill. What they all require, however, is a higher degree or specialist training in interpreting techniques.

If an interpreter is a simultaneous interpreter, they will often carry out their work in isolation from a booth, listening through a headset. This is to keep distractions down to an absolute minimum.

They must convey the speech at the same that the speaker is speaking, which requires a very high level of concentration. It’s clear that translators and interpreters require very different skills. Not everyone is cut out to think on their feet and interpret at the speed of thought!

Consecutive interpreting is often considered easier, as the interpreter has a slight pause to convey what has been said. However, this requires intense memory skills, as the speaker may deliver a few sentences before pausing.

The interpreter must remember what has been said and deliver it in the same order and intent with which it was spoken. These interpreters are in plain sight and need to know that they are in the public eye, so fidgeting or slouching must be put to one side.

Liaison interpreting is rather more a two-way system of interpretation, where the interpreter delivers the words after a certain appropriate pause. This is common in telephone interpreting.

Sign language interpreting clearly requires the interpreter to understand sign language and is generally carried out simultaneously, converting the spoken word into sign.

A Specialty

Interpreters, unlike translators, will generally need a specialty. They must decide if they want to pursue a career in court, medicine, diplomacy, or business.

They will also need to hold a higher qualification in simultaneous and consecutive interpreting to learn the tricks of the trade and how to speak while another person is speaking; and still hear what they're saying!

Macarena Cafrune, English-Spanish sworn translator and interpreter from Salta, Argentina, shares:

“I was always interested in languages and I started learning English when I was seven years old. Then I got a first in my degree at university as a technical translator, and after a year, I got my sworn translator degree in English and Spanish. But I wanted to learn more, so a few months after my training was complete, I decided to take a course as a conference interpreter. It was many years of study.” 

Related Post: Translators & Interpreters: Touching Life's Many Aspects


Study Books

Work Activities and Duties of an Interpreter

Interpreters' duties can vary greatly depending on their area of focus and their career path. However, in general, interpreters need to assimilate words quickly. They must understand how to translate the acronyms and jargon of the setting in which they work.

If that is a courtroom, for example, they will also need to study some Latin. The best interpreters will quickly build up a specialist bank of vocabulary needed for their trade.

Interpreters will often need to write down notes as a memory aid, where this is possible, and get comfortable with different types of software.

Unlike translators, interpreters will also need to use microphones and headsets. But both translators and interpreters alike need to be tech-savvy enough to work with evolving equipment and platforms.

They may need to do a lot of preparation work in advance before a conference or court hearing and work to a strict code of conduct and ethics, maintaining client confidentiality at all times.

The Demand for Translators and Interpreters

Languages is a pretty good industry to get into. As the world becomes more globalized, there will always be a need for translators and interpreters to break down language barriers.

The translation services industry is expected to increase to $38 billion by next year and $45 billion by 2020. This means that it’s a growing industry and demand is steady for good translators and interpreters. Furthermore, employment rates are expected to grow by 29 percent until 2024.

Fun Translator and Interpreter Facts


  • The most translated, non-religious book is Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi
  • The most translated poem is Be Like a Child, by Indian poet, Sri Chinmoy, into 204 languages
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the most translated text on earth

If this article has given you some food for thought on the life of translators and interpreters, don’t stop your learning here. If you're serious about working in the translators and interpreters field, start working towards your career goals today.

Translators and interpreters have one of the most satisfying careers on earth. They can increase understanding about the globe and help bridge the communication gap, deepening bonds between our neighbors. Now that's a noble career, if ever there was one.

Christina Comben

Christina Comben is Content Manager at Day Translations. Qualified to MBA level and motivated by challenge, change, and continued learning, Christina has lived and worked her way around the world, garnering in-depth knowledge of diverse office environments and varying industries, from media and entertainment to education, health, and information technology.

  • Very Illustrative Tips!! Thanks for sharing. A professional translator is an expert of translating the document into specified language. He must be expertise in at least any of two languages. Translator and interpreters both are different professions. For any medical document translation requirement visit

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