Interpreting and translating are two completely distinct professions. Some may say that the nature of these jobs is similar: i.e., both of them convert speech or text from one language into another. Although both the interpreter and the translator are language experts, each one brings a different skillset to the task at hand.

The most striking difference is where they perform their jobs and the media in which they work:

Translator: A translator’s job is to translate written text from one language into another in the written form. This includes such tasks as translating business documents from a variety of industries, immigration paperwork, legal or medical documents, etc. Although some translators work on a freelance basis, most work for a translations agency or an organization that employs its own staff of translators.

Interpreter: An interpreter converts oral speeches or conversations from one language into another. Interpreters typically can be found interpreting for conferences, high-profile business meetings, or political delegations, for example.

Apart from the differences in where these professionals perform their jobs and the media in which they work, there are other ways to differentiate an interpreter from a translator:

The Time Frame

The time available to an interpreter before translating one language to another is much different than the time available to a translator:

• Interpreters don’t have much time to think about their translation. They have to be quick and precise with their choices. They must know how to convey the message of the speaker in the shortest window of time possible.

• On the other hand, translators have much more time to think about their translations and have the luxury of choosing their words more thoughtfully. They can devote more attention to the nuances of language, thereby allowing more opportunity for the original intent and flavor of the message to be conveyed in the translated document.

The Tools

Interpreters and translators use different tools to perform their jobs:

• The best tool available to an interpreter is his or her skill. Interpreters need to have a good memory, vast knowledge of the languages they are interpreting, and a lot of experience in order to do their tasks properly. Moreover, interpreters need to pay close attention and respond quickly.

• Translators can use dictionaries, style guides and other reference books while translating. This allows translators the luxury of providing a translation that is not only precise and accurate, but also grammatically correct and consistent in style – attributes that are very much valued in professionally translated documents.

The Method of Payment

Another thing that differentiates an interpreter from a translator is how they’re paid:

• Interpreters are usually paid hourly or by the day.

• Translators, on the other hand, get paid based on the number of words or pages translated.

It may be surprising to learn how these two seemingly similar jobs are actually quite distinct from one another. While both of these language professionals need a full and comprehensive knowledge of language, their jobs and the skillsets required to perform those jobs are totally different.