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What Makes Translators Different from Interpreters?

Even if translators and interpreters are serving millions of people around the world, there is still some confusion between the two. Many clients are still requesting for interpreters when they are actually looking for translators. It seems like most people think there is no difference between the two.

Translators and interpreters

It is very common for people to interchange the two terms, but while they do have some similarities, it is not correct to use one term for the other.

To avoid confusion, here are the similarities between translators and interpreters:

  1. They work with a language pair — the source language or the original language, and the target language.
  2. Both of them work in their native language. For example, a translator or an interpreter may translate or interpret from English into their native languages, such as French, German, Spanish or any other language that is their mother tongue.
  3. The translator and the interpreter both get the message from the original language and convey it in the target or requested language.
  4. Both of them have professional qualifications and both are linguists.

To further show you that the two professions are not the same, here are some of their key differences:

  1. The translator handles written words. On the other hand, the interpreter handles the spoken words.
  2. The way they are paid is different as well. The translator either charges per page, per hour or per word. The interpreter charges by the day or by the hour.
  3. A translator normally works with (or translates) into the language they natively speak. An interpreter may be called to interpret from and into their native tongue. This type of interpreting work usually happens when the person is doing liaison interpreting for the courts, police or hospitals.
  4. The translator has more time to work on the project and can use reference materials while translating. It is very seldom that a translator will be asked to translate extemporaneously. An interpreter delivers the message almost at the same time as the original speaker (simultaneous interpreting) or a few minutes after the speaker (consecutive interpreting).
  5. Translators use computer-assisted translation tools (CAT tools), computers and dictionaries. Interpreters use headphones and microphones while interpreting, and may use pen and notepad to take notes. They rely more on their memory, experience, and knowledge of the topic to do their work.

The Roles of Interpreters and Translators

The main role of interpreters and translators is to see to it that proper communication and understanding happens.

Translators and interpreters are vital to our linguistically diverse world. Industries, organizations, and individuals all need the services of these professional linguists. They see to it that information is conveyed accurately. They both play a vital role in various fields, including business, finance, education, healthcare, and medical services, politics, the legal system, law enforcement, engineering, manufacturing, and more.

Here are some of the fields where the services of interpreters and translators are essential.

Medicine and Healthcare

With the increasing number of countries with a multilingual population, it is vital to see to it that communication between patients and healthcare providers are not hampered by the language difference. In the U.S. it is now mandatory for healthcare facilities to provide language access to patients who do not speak English.

Medical translation and interpreting services are not only for healthcare settings. They are vital for medical and healthcare discussions, conferences, forums and meetings. Medical translators help make sure that medical information, results of clinical trials, patients’ medical histories, and diagnoses are available in the languages users can understand.


Localization translators see to it that businesses and products conform to local culture and adapt their content to local target markets. They are experts in the field and have a deeper understanding of culture and local market demographics. They are vital for business and product marketing.


Different aspects of business, such as banking, economics, manufacturing, and finance need specialist translators and interpreters for information dissemination on a global scale. Business interpreters are essential for proposals, presentations, conferences, and summits. Business translators make sure that financial reports, regulatory statements, and other business-related information become available in other languages to see to it that all stakeholders are on the same page.

Legal System

The legal system covers more than just law enforcement. Translators and interpreters work with the business community, lawyers and law firms, law enforcement agencies, and regulatory boards. They are specialists who have a working background in the different aspects of the legal system and understand the special language each sector uses. They can help in mediation meetings. They are also critical during emergencies involving people who do not speak the local language, such as English.

Can You Be Both a Translator and an Interpreter?

The answer to the question is no. A linguist could either be a translator or an interpreter, but never both since the skill sets of each discipline are not the same. Initially, the translator works with written text. The interpreter translates words orally into another language.

A translator does not have to be an excellent speaker to render the text into the target language.

An interpreter should have good interpersonal skills. Their hearing should be excellent. They must have a good memory, attention to details and very good at paraphrasing. They use their interpreting skills and ability immediately, without using any reference books or dictionaries.

The interpreter works almost spontaneously, particularly when doing simultaneous interpreting. They have very limited time to render the speech into the target language. A translator has more time to work on the translation.

While both are expert linguists, translators do not need to be highly proficient in the second language. Interpreters should be very fluent in the source and target languages because they have to paraphrase and translate the spoken words instantly. The level of accuracy is higher in translation than in interpretation because the time available for each work is different. Moreover, the grammatical accuracy in written communication is always higher than the grammatical accuracy in oral communication. A translator has to choose the right words to use because they must understand and apply the linguistic and cultural nuances for creating excellent translations.

Interpreters work on live events. Translators work quietly in their office. They use different resource materials as well as tech devices such as computers.

Need Both Translation and Interpretations Services: eTranslation Services Offers Both, So CONTACT US!

You can avoid the confusion, as eTranslation Services offers both translation and interpretation services. Our networks of linguists live in-country, so we can provide you with the service you need, whether you want to hire a translator for your volumes of written documents or you need interpreters for your live event, such as a conference, meeting, discussion group or tour group. Our linguists are professional and experienced experts. Let us know what you need. You can reach us by phone at (800) 882-6058 or by email at [email protected].


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