The difference between translators and interpreters
Due to the fact they are closely related, interpreting and translation are often used interchangeably, yet the two professions are quite different.
The key difference between interpreting and translating is the medium of communication used: interpreting is oral (you interpret a speech) whereas translation is written (you translate a text).
The skills and competencies required to become an interpreter differ from those necessary to become a translator. Clearly, both interpreters and translators must have a perfect command of their mother tongue and of one or more foreign languages, as well as sound general knowledge and in-depth knowledge of one or more specialist subject areas, e.g. law or medicine. Interpreters must furthermore have a good memory, master the art of note-taking, be able to respond very quickly and solve issues in a matter of seconds, understand a wide range of regional accents and pronunciations and maintain extreme levels of concentration. For translators, the key element is the written word. Obviously, translators must employ perfect grammar and impeccable spelling, but they must also have an extensive and varied vocabulary and be able to adapt to different writing styles and text genres.
In summary, the mission of both translators and interpreters is to facilitate communication between individuals who do not speak the same language, but the means they use to achieve this are different: translators work with the written language whereas interpreters work with the spoken language.
- Translation: getting it right – A guide to buying translations (published by the Institute of Translation and interpreting)
- Interpreting: getting it right – A guide to buying interpreting services (published by the American Translators Association)
- Translation: buying a non-commodity
- Translation and interpreting – Languages in action (published by the European Union)
- About languages in Luxembourg (published by the Luxembourg government)