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Interpreter? Translator?

Updated: Mar 7, 2019

The Difference between an Interpreter and a Translator

Though an interpreter and a translator have many similarities and they convey the same meaning, still there are many dissimilarities between these two.


First of all, what is the difference between an interpreter and a translator. An interpreter interprets spoken words while a translator translates written words. Interpreter’s role is often to facilitate dialogue exchange between two persons who speak different languages, they work directly with people. A translator’s role involves working with documents ( websites, scripts, legal documents, technical writing, medical documents, manuals, etc.).


An interpreter needs to translate two persons who speak different languages; that is, from and into a particular language. As an example, an interpreter in the hospital might need to translate from Spanish to English so that the doctors can understand the a Spanish speaking patient’s condition and simultaneously, from English to Spanish so that the patient can understand the doctor’s treatment procedure and guidance. This is different from the role of a translator who might do a one directional translation into one specific language. They may not have to translate from that language back into the original source language.


Interpreters are required to interpret on the spot in various settings i.e at conferences, meetings, TV coverages, etc. They need to grasp the essence of the message being delivered and interpret it into the target language to facilitate a dialogue. With document translations, time sensitivity can be much less of a concern and thoroughness, structure and often deeper meanings can also be brought into the targeted language .


An interpreter is required to use their own skills, expertise, knowledge and experience since the interpretation is fairly immediately. But a translator can seek help from dictionaries, glossaries, online tools, or maybe from others to make their translation more impeccable and perfect.


A translator can take help from technology i.e they can use software tools to deliver the best possible work. But an interpreter doesn’t get any such facility as he needs to translate everything immediately.


The translators are required to maintain a very high level of accuracy for their work. But interpreters are not required to have such a high accuracy level. Slightly lower accuracy is also accepted for the interpreters.


A translator needs to maintain different writing formats for different types of writing. There are different styles of writing for technical documents, legal documents, user manuals, medical reports, film scripts. But an interpreter doesn’t need to face all these things as no writing is involved in interpretation.

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