What Are the Differences between an Interpreter and Translator?

N. Madison
N. Madison

Often, people get the tasks performed by an interpreter and translator confused, possibly because these jobs both deal with language and are so similar. The two jobs are different, however, in terms of how each deals with language. An interpreter usually works with speech whereas a translator focuses on writing, but both work to convert one language to another. For example an interpreter might attend a business meeting in which the attendees speak two different languages and verbally translate the discussion so that everyone can understand each other. A translator, on the other hand, might translate books, websites, contracts, and other written materials from one language to another.

A translated book.
A translated book.

The main difference between an interpreter and translator is in the type of language each one converts. Interpreters convert verbal language, and they may do so in person, by phone, or even via the Internet. Translators, however, convert language in written documents from one to another. Both have an important role to play in helping individuals who speak different languages understand each other.

Another difference between an interpreter and translator involves the amount of contact each one has with the people for whom he is converting language. An interpreter typically has a good deal of contact with clients, as he will usually interpret while a conversation is occurring. He may do this by interpreting words at the same time as they are spoken or by interpreting after a speaker has finished a sentence, a group of sentences, or a complete thought. In such a case, the speaker usually waits for the interpreter to finish relaying his sentence or sentences before he goes on to speak again.

As far as translators are concerned, a person with this title often works independently without requiring the presence of his clients. He generally translates a wide variety of written material, including books, newspapers, and magazines. He may also translate website content and materials related to software.

Sometimes interpreting is identified as more difficult than translating. An interpreter must be fluent in both languages in order to interpret from language A into language B and then from language B back to language A. A translator, on the other hand, often translates from language A to language B, but not from language B to A. Additionally, a translator often has more time to convert language while an interpreter must typically provide the conversion very quickly. Both an interpreter and translator need an excellent understanding of two languages to perform well, however.

N. Madison
N. Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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