Translating and interpreting are very closely related linguistic skills – so why is it you rarely find someone who can offer both services?
Spot the difference?
Taken at face value, the only difference between translating and interpreting is that a translator interprets written language while and interpreter translates orally – in fact, both disciplines require different skills, training and even a different approach to the knowledge of language.
And while it can safely be assumed both translators and interpreters have an inherent love and knowledge of a language, that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
What is a translator?
A person who translates written text from one language into another.
The key skills of a translator are to not only have a good understanding of the source language of the text, but also an appreciation of the culture of the country it came from.
This knowledge is then used alongside dictionaries and other reference materials to translate that material clearly and accurately into the target language – the ability to write well in the target language is just as important as linguistic and cultural knowledge.
When a translator can’t express themselves equally as well in both the source and the target languages, they are best off just translating the text into their native language as this should greatly decrease the chance of errors.
And it’s worth remembering accuracy is the key to effective translating, so if a document isn’t accurately translated it’s literally not worth the paper it’s written on – nor will the reputation of both the translator and the translation company they’re working for.
But while accuracy is important for translations, it’s not quite as vital for interpreting.
What is an interpreter?
A person who interprets and translates speech orally or into sign language.
The key skill of an interpreter is to be able to translate in both directions on the spot, orally, and without using dictionaries or other reference materials.
Whereas translators can take their time over a text, interpreters must be spontaneous and have an exemplary understanding of both the source and the target languages, especially if they are interpreting two languages at the same time – simultaneous interpreters need to process and memorize words the source-language speaker is saying, while at the same time speaking the translated version in the target language of words the speaker said about five seconds earlier seconds ago.
Interpreters must also have exceptional listening and public speaking skills and the ability to instantly transform culturally specific references, slang words and colloquialisms into statements the target audience will understand.