Interpreter vs. Translator: What’s the Difference?

The average person might refer to interpreters and translators interchangeably, not recognizing the differences that separate these professions. But when your business is in search of professional language services, it’s important to understand these distinct roles and the value they offer your organization.

Whether you’re working with an interpreter or a translator, these experts must be proficient in the language or languages through which your business seeks to develop its messaging and/or communication channels. And while there’s plenty of overlap in the function and value of these services, most language experts specialize in either interpretation or translation, rather than both.

Here’s an overview of the key differences between interpreting and translating.

Written vs. Oral

The most obvious difference between interpreters and translators is the medium used to perform their work. Translators typically operate in a written medium, translating text from one language into another, and can do this work from the convenience of their desks. 

Interpreters, by contrast, provide their language services orally as they translate the speech of one or more parties, typically in a real-time environment.

Accuracy vs. Intent

Translation services place an emphasis on accuracy. Many times, translations involve legal or professional documents where highly specific language and information needs to be translated with the greatest possible degree of accuracy. Contracts, terms of agreement, technical documents, and other business materials require precise translations to ensure their content and validity are preserved through the translation process.

Interpretation services are more flexible in terms of their language needs. Because they’re delivered in real-time, the level of precision offered by interpretation isn’t a practical option. Instead, interpreters focus on conveying the intent of speeches, conversations, Q&A sessions, and other oral communications to quickly and correctly communicate messaging and context to an audience—with the understanding that there’s always some margin for error.

The Role of Technology

Because translators can work at their own pace, and because the accuracy of their work is so important, they often use technology to support their efforts and enhance the quality of their finished product. In addition to workflows that manage overall translation projects through each stage of the process, this technology can also include machine translations and translation memory (TM) management. These solutions can help expedite certain translation tasks while ensuring consistency through client-specific glossaries and style guides.

Interpreters don’t have the luxury of this technology. Since they work in a live environment, human interpreters must provide their language services without the use of software or other reference tools.

Instant vs. Delayed Delivery

While interpreters provide their services on-the-spot, translators take time to complete projects through the use of workflows and other processes that provide quality assurance to the end product. This means that translation projects can take days, weeks or even longer to deliver to clients, based on the size of the project and the agreed-upon timeline for completion.

Single Direction vs. Bi-Directional Service

Translators typically work in a single direction, translating from the source language into the target language. Because of this, they only need to be able to translate text in one direction—from the source to the target language. However, a minority of translators specialize in translating bidirectionally. 

Interpreters may go back and forth translating conversations and exchanges between individuals in two languages, which requires the interpreter to be equally fluent in the localized contexts of both languages.

The Role of Non-Verbal Communication

Translators need to consider only the text when translating language. Interpreters, on the other hand, must take into account non-verbal communication, as well as the speaker’s tone and inflections in the speaker’s voice, gestures, facial expressions, as well as general body language to better understand the context and provide a precise interpretation of the speaker’s intent.

Language Services for Any Business Need

Whether you need translation, interpretation, or both, you should search for a language services provider with extensive experience providing these services across hundreds of different language pairings. 

For more than 45 years, Protranslating has maintained a vast network of translators and interpreters, offering professional language services to business clients around the world. Contact us today to learn how our translating and interpreting services will serve your needs and exceed expectations.

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