Translators and Interpreters: similarities and differences

01 March 2018
Differences between translators and interpreters

“Dear Adelina, I’ve just come across your website and read you offer translation services from English into Italian”. I’ll be in Italy next week for a business meeting with potential new clients and I need someone who helps me communicate with them. Could you tell me how much do you charge for this kind of service?”

Very often I receive emails and requests like this. The need for an interpreter is confused with the need for a translator and vice versa. For some strange reason, many people do not understand or are not always aware of the difference between these two professions; in other cases, people seem to know that translators and interpreters do a different job but use these terms interchangeably.

Are these jobs similar? Are they different? Do they have anything in common?

Similarities and differences

  • MODE OF EXPRESSION: Translators work on written documents while interpreters work with spoken word.
  • DIRECTION: A professional translator usually works in only one direction (for example from English into Italian), from a source language (English) to a target language (Italian). This target language is the translator’s native language. Interpreters might have to work bi-directionally, i.e. both into and from their native language.
  • TIME: Translators can manage time based on each different project and making relevant agreements with clients, while interpreters work in real time situations – as conferences and business meetings – (simultaneous interpreting) or must deliver the message shortly after the time of the original speech (consecutive interpreting).
  • CONTEXT: Translators usually work from home or at the office, tending to be more place-dependent. On the other hand, interpreters move based on their clients’ needs.
  • RATES: Translators charge on a word, page or project basis, while interpreters usually charge per hour or per day

These professional categories usually have peculiar skills.

A good translator must:

  • Have an excellent command of the source and target language and must know the relative culture of both languages to give the translated text a meaning as much as possible equivalent to the original one.
  • Have excellent written skills and pay attention to style, accuracy and significance of the terms used within a translation.

A good interpreter must:

  • Know how to speak in public and have very quick reflexes, as well as a good memory and speaking voice.
  • Be able to translate in both directions.
Do you have any further questions or curiosities about the profession of the translator and the interpreter? Check my FAQ page or send me a message. I always answer.

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