Many people think that interpreting and translating are the same, and some are confused when they are told that the two are different. Interpreters and translators do perform the same task, which is to translate one language into another, although the settings are different. A translator exchanges a written source material in one language into a target language. An interpreter, on the other hand, changes the spoken language into another language. In a nutshell, an interpreter works with spoken language while a translator works with a written language.
Interpreting is done in various ways, including over-the-phone interpreting, meetings and conference and could either be done simultaneously, where a speaker delivers a speech while the interpreter directly translates it into other language. Interpretation could also be consecutive whereby an interpreter listens first to a portion of the speech and interprets it while the original speaker keeps quiet and resumes the speech after the interpretation had been delivered.
In the same manner, translation could also be done in different settings, although it is written. Translation could be in the form of web site localization, software interfaces, contracts, documents, newspapers, and literature.
For a translator the key skills are the ability to be a good writer and the capability to clearly express oneself in whatever target language, thus in most cases, a translator normally works in translating a document into their native tongue. Even bilinguals usually are not capable of expressing themselves in both languages and surprisingly, a number of top-caliber translators are not bilingual.
What is more important for a translator is being able to understand the source language and the culture of the country where the document originated. He or she should make use of a good set of reference materials and dictionaries to render the source language into the target language accurately while capturing the tones and nuances of the language. A translator is likewise required to translate the tiniest detail found in the source document and must possess linguistic excellence and thorough knowledge of grammar and subject matter because reviewing and editing are required in their work.
An interpreter performs translation work in both directions on the spot, without using any reference materials or dictionaries. This is where the major difference between the two tasks differ. Interpreters must also have excellent listening skills, which is very important during simultaneous interpreting, since they have very little time to process and memorize what is being said by the source language speaker and immediately translating that into the target language. The time allocated for a simultaneous interpreter to translate the source language into the target language is about five to ten seconds only. Interpreters must have excellent skills in public speaking. Moreover, they must have the intellectual capability to immediately transform culturally-specific references, colloquialisms and idioms into equivalent statements that would be understood by the target audience.
Professional training is required for interpreters and translators. While translators are required to be detail-oriented, organized and analytical, an interpreter is trained to have precision, spontaneity, functionality and speed.
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