When ordering language services, clients often ask for "a translator," not knowing that what they really need is an interpreter. It is a common misconception that these two services are interchangeable. Rather, they are completely separate skill sets.
At its core, the difference between interpreting and translation is the medium it uses. Interpretation refers to spoken-word encounters. The Interpreter will explain the foreign message to the Listener in the language they understand. There is no communication through written word – instead, that’s translation. Translation is the transformation of written word from one language into another.
In even easier terms, just remember:
Although many linguists can be both an interpreter and a translator, not all are equally effective in both fields. If an interpreter offers to translate a project for you, be sure they have experience with translation, and vice versa. To understand the different skills needed, consider the following situations:
- If asked to elaborate about something, would you rather write out an explanation, or discuss the topic in person?
- Likewise, do you learn best from written instructions, or one-on-one training?
Everyone has a unique preference; we either feel comfortable in writing or in interactions. Here lies the difference between the skills of an interpreter or a translator. Although both involve the transformation of language, linguists embrace their strongest style.
Congratulations on raising your standards and knowing the difference between interpretation and translation!