Translators vs Interpreters

When I tell people what I do, I often get suggestions from well meaning individuals about where I can look for work and which organisations would have work to offer me. I appreciate the spirit of the advice because I know people mean well. It’s very kind of them to offer and I love the heart behind that but most of the time (I say that in the kindest way possible of course), the advice is not very much use to me. The reason for this is that most of the time these well-meaning nuggets are offered based on a complete misunderstanding of what I do. You see, most people think that the terms translator and interpreter are interchangeable. I have some bad news guys. They aren’t. While both translators and interpreters use foreign language skills to communicate, the truth is, we still do very different things. If you will permit me, I’ll explain it in the simplest way I know how.

Interpreters speak. Translators write.

So. That time you went to that huge conference that was being given in a different language and you had to wear bulky, uncomfortable headphones while an unseen language-converting superhero whispered an English equivalent of the main speaker’s discourse into your ears…that language-converting superhero was an interpreter! Applause please! Interpreters are really great individuals who deserve to be recognised for the indispensable work that they do: interpreting. I think they’re amazing but that’s just me.

Now. Remember the time when you found that really great document with all the information you needed to complete your report/assignment or to learn how to play the trombone, but it was all in French? You had to find someone to convert that written French into written English so you could read it. How else would you have learned to play the trombone? Well, the language-converting superhero you hired to create the English version of that all important document was…you guessed it…a translator! Translators are also amazing individuals who deserve to be recognised for the indispensable work that they do: translation.

At the end of the day, we’re all language professionals. Some of us use our skills in oral language conversion and become interpreters while some of us prefer computers and CAT tools so we become translators.

There you have it. The difference between translators and interpreters. Both awesome. They just do different things. For the record, if you didn’t already know, I’m a translator 🙂

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