It’s an age-old question. It is also an honest one, and still increasingly common in the world of translation services. The question relates to translation, interpreting and the main difference between the two. Many still struggle to distinguish between the role of a translator from an interpreter. Let’s investigate, what is the difference between a translation and an interpreting?
If you have found yourself wondering the same thing on occasion, worry not. Linguistic professionals from all walks of life are accustomed to explaining the verifiable lines of demarcation separating interpreters from translators, and the most important factors necessary when compartmentalizing the differences.
So, you’re in good company.
To be sure, translation and interpretation are two sides of the same coin. Both skills require the ability to speak more than one language, naturally. Plus, at least when dealing with any reputable firm, these pros are well-trained and well-educated individuals who passionately focus on their respective fields of expertise — and, just as importantly, hold a firm appreciation when it comes to delivering accurate work.
From there, areas of divergence are easily discernible once you understand the goals of each discipline and how they function relative to their associated skills.
Difference #1: Medium
When most people think of an interpreter, they might picture someone standing next to a politician or government official in a public forum relaying verbiage in another language. This is certainly the most common arena from a layperson’s perspective pertaining to an interpreter, and it is an appropriate one. The key with interpretation is that it is oral. Interpreters specialize in the spoken word. Whether live and in-person or on pre-recorded video (or audio, for that matter), an interpreter is summoned to ensure that the audience for one language can comprehend what is being said from another. Precision is vital, and interpreters strive for verbatim, but that is sometimes not possible given the circumstances.
Meanwhile, translators dive a little deeper. Though it can be true that an interpreter is passionate about a language’s origins and the culture from where it is derived, such attributes are more closely aligned with those of a translator. This is due to the fact that translators concentrate on text. Whereas interpreters have to speak, translators have to write. And in order to accomplish their tasks, they are also called upon to gain an intimate degree of familiarity with a language and its associated dialects along with the regions where it is spoken. Often, there are critical stakes involved. Government documents, medical reports, and legal findings are rendered differently in various parts of the world, even if all of these locations have the same native language. Just the tiniest deviations in syntax and nomenclature can carry severe consequences, making the responsibilities of a translator actually quite serious.
Difference #2: Time
When a translator goes to work a variety of resources are at their disposal. Databases, dictionaries, and an assortment of reference materials are within arm’s reach if necessary. In addition, many firms are increasingly using machine translation software that is capable of expediting turnaround for clients. Machine translation is currently not as accurate or dependable as a human touch, but it can be a valuable tool for comparing and contrasting difficult material when beholden to a tight deadline.
And if a translator is required to learn more about how their assigned language is rendered among a specific demographic, they can conduct the appropriate research in observance of localization concerns, which is a process that accounts for regional and culture nuance in conjunction with how a language is rendered on a larger scale.
Unless on a recorded video, interpreters do not have the luxury of time. They have to be quick on their feet and ready to, in an instant, absorb what one person is saying and deliver it to an audience without delay. It is an extremely impressive skill. Regardless of what the source-language speaker is attempting to discuss, the interpreter has to remain in the moment and equipped with enough background information in case a pivot is necessary.
On a micro level, the goals for an interpreter and translator are not the same. A translator is focused on converting language in a textual format and, even with a short deadline, enjoys extra runway to supplement their research in order to render translated material that is free of errors. An interpreter needs to be sharp, focused, and prepared to provide an audience with a detailed, accurate oral version of what a source-language-speaker has to say.
Both skills do share common ground with regard to the most important concept of all: facilitating comprehension. As the digital age continues to evolve, the world becomes smaller. Information makes the rounds across the globe on a minute-by-minute basis in what has become a 24/7 news cycle. We’re connected to one another now more than ever before, and language is no longer the barrier it once was.
Interpreters and translators are a big reason why. Despite largely operating in the background, the work of devoted linguistic professionals has played an enormous role in the way media and governmental information is consumed. We wouldn’t be where we are without their contributions, and their influence is only growing stronger.
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Timothy Hands – Writer at The Language Doctors