Cultural diversity and multilingualism have increased the demand for language services, prompting people interested in the industry to think of becoming an interpreter or a translator.
Translation and interpreting are the primary services the translation industry provides for a wide range of clients around the world. These two services are related, but they are different as well. Each one is a separate discipline, which requires specialization. It is sporadic for a person to be both a translator and an interpreter.
The disciplines are different in training, skills and aptitude. Even their knowledge of the language is different.
Many people who are not too familiar with linguistic services think that translation and interpreting are the same. They both deal with different languages, with translation working on the written text while interpreting handles languages orally. In this aspect, the two disciplines are the same. But the skills a person needs when he or she thinks of becoming a translator or an interpreter are different.
Interpreter vs Translator: Skills Required
When you’re thinking of your future career, it is essential to look into the positive and negative characteristics of a profession. It might take some time to make a decision. If your thinking of becoming an interpreter or a translator, here are some of the vital things you need to know about each discipline.
Skills of a translator
For a more comprehensive look at the translation services industry, check out our Translation Services Guide!
A translator understands the source language and the culture of the place where it originated. The translator can use reference materials such as books and dictionaries while working on the translation project. Using references allows the translator to render the work distinctly and accurately into any target language. A good translator should have excellent writing skills. When thinking of becoming an interpreter or a translator, understand at the onset that writing skills are critical for a translator. While the ability to speak two or three languages is an advantage for a translator, it is rare for them to write about a subject at an equal level in all the languages they speak.
It is vital to note here that many translators are not fundamentally bilingual. It’s a limitation, although it allows the translator to specialize. It means he or she will only translate into the language he or she natively speaks. It helps render their translation accurately.
Skills of an Interpreter
If you think that being a translator is demanding, you’ll be in awe once you know the skills an interpreter should possess.
An interpreter should be able to translate into two directions immediately. While interpreting, the person must understand the source language (from the speaker) and explain it into the target language (for the listener) without using any reference material or dictionary. Several types of interpreting services are available, with simultaneous interpreting and consecutive interpreting being the most common. Large meetings, seminars and conferences that foreign participants attend typically use simultaneous interpreting. Consecutive interpreting is more suitable for smaller meetings and gatherings.
In simultaneous interpreting, the interpreter listens to the speaker and starts to interpret after a few seconds. In consecutive interpreting, the interpreter renders what was said into the target language after the speaker pauses.
The main characteristic that an interpreter possesses is excellent listening capabilities. A good interpreter must be able to process, memorize what the speaker is saying immediately, and provide the translation of the words into the target language after a short pause. The process typically takes about five to ten seconds.
Interpreting is more demanding. Aside from being an excellent listener, he or she should be an excellent public speaker. An interpreter should have the intellectual capacity to translate and interpret the information he or she receives immediately into another language. The information may include colloquialisms, idioms and other culturally related references into words and phrases that the target listeners will easily comprehend.
Translators and interpreters share a similar characteristic – the ability to paraphrase. While some translation projects require word-for-word translation, paraphrasing is essentially what a translator or an interpreter does. The interpreter listens to the speaker, processes the message quickly and translates it into the target language within the time allowed.
A translator does the same thing but has more room to produce the translation, with the help of several translation tools, such as reference books, dictionaries and computer-aided tools like translation memory. Just the same, the translator grasps the meaning of the source document and paraphrases the written text into the target language. With more time in their hands, translators can find the right words or phrase to replace culturally referenced words, colloquialisms and idioms from the source language with something more culturally appropriate in the target language.
Differences Between a Translator and an Interpreter
You already know the core skills that each discipline requires. To help you make the right decision, whether becoming an interpreter or a translator is the best career choice, learn the differences between the two.
You already know the primary responsibility of a translator and an interpreter. Both handle various languages. The translator deals with the written word, while the interpreter renders the spoken word into another language for a particular group of people.
Aside from the above, several more aspects differentiate the two.
1. Status as a worker
Most translators work on their own if they decide to go freelance. They do all the phases of the translation process themselves, from writing to quality control. Many find constant work from one translation agency. The agency typically forms a team, with a project manager, proofreader, editor, quality assurance and desktop publisher to ensure high-quality translation output.
An interpreter often works directly with other people. A conference interpreter doing simultaneous interpreting usually works with a team comprising two or more interpreters. On the other hand, some interpreters work side-by-side with their client.
Translators can work anywhere as long as Internet connection is available. They can be traveling the world and still do their work. They can receive client requests for translation through email or other means. They can do research when needed, use online references and connect with the client for clarifications. They can later upload or send the final translation work according to the preferences of the client.
Often, interpreters have to be physically present while executing their job. They have to be in a translators’ booth when translating for a forum, conference or seminar. They have to be near the client when performing other types of interpreting work, such as consecutive interpreting, whisper interpreting or escort interpreting. They have to attend court hearings and legal procedures if they are legal interpreters. The only time an interpreter is away from the client is when doing video remote interpreting and over-the-phone interpreting, a service that hospitals and medical centers usually use.
3. Pacing of work
Both interpreting and translation require focus and dedication. Both involve complex processes. But interpreting is more stressful. The work is more demanding, as interpreting requires real-time job performance. Interpreters do not have the time to review and edit their work. The interpreters’ linguistic facility should be excellent. Their listening skills and paraphrasing expertise should always be on point. They have to deliver the message across to a particular audience a few seconds after the speaker’s delivery of the information. Their knowledge of the subject matter and terminology is above par because they have to understand what the speaker is saying in the source language and render it in the target language immediately.
Translators have more time to execute their work. Although they have a deadline to meet, they can set their work schedule. They have the time to research, translate and edit their work. Translators can use reference materials, dictionaries and other computer-aided tools that make their job easier and faster. If they work alone, they also act as the editor, proofreader and quality assurance person. If they work for a translation agency, they typically have a translation team that helps ensure that the translation’s format is correct and the output is 100 percent accurate.
Interpreters have to focus on the job, because they have to listen intently to the speaker, quickly process the ideas and thoughts they receive and relay them in the target language. At the same time, the interpreter has to listen to the next set of information the speaker is delivering.
A translator can translate chunks of information from the source document, stop and do other things before going back to the translation project. Interpreters do not have the luxury of extra time when they are at work. Translators can even choose to listen to music while they work.
If you have the option to choose between becoming an interpreter or a translator, try out both options. For example, you can listen to the news and try to interpret it in another language. You can read something, such as a news article, a magazine article or a passage from a book and try translating it. It’s one way to gauge whether you are comfortable with translating or interpreting.
These are the characteristics and key differences between translation and interpreting. We hope that these pointers can help you decide which profession weighs more – becoming a translator or an interpreter.
Get Professional Interpreting or Translation Assistance
Whenever you need language services, keep in mind that you can immediately connect with our professional interpreters or translators from Day Translations, Inc. by calling 1-800-969-6853 or sending us an email at Contact us. We are available 24/7, 365 days of the year, so you can get in touch with us anytime