Translators and Interpreters Are Not Interchangeable

A question that I get asked on occasion is, don’t translators and interpreters do basically the same thing? Other times, I notice people using the terms translation and interpretation interchangeably. Here’s a quick look at the difference between the two.

Interpreters are fluent in more than one language and are typically highly-trained in a particular area of expertise (i.e. health care, legal, etc.). Interpreters specialize in spoken dialogue and relay information from one language into another. There are a variety of modes including telephonic, simultaneous and consecutive, among others. Not only must an interpreter be able linguistically capable of rending messages into a second language, but they must also do so in a way that expresses the equivalent tone, emotion, and cultural considerations.

Translators are also fluent in multiple languages and tend to specialize in industries such as medical, manufacturing, business, and legal. Translators must be good writers, as they work specifically with written text. Strong grammar, spelling (including accent marks!), research, and time management skills are essential. As well, most translators have a high grasp of technology and software programs, including terminology management tools (not the same as machine translation programs).

While it may be tempting to use the terms translator and interpreter to indicate the same thing, as you can see from the descriptions able, they are two separate tasks requiring different skill sets. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in on this topic and has confirmed the distinction!


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