Interpreters vs. Translators – Knowing the Difference

With globalization affecting all aspects of our lives, the demand for services of interpretation and translation is on the rise these days. However, there seems to be a certain degree of confusion when it comes to what interpreters and translators actually do.

Namely, although both are using their specialized skills to achieve effective communication between people speaking different languages, it is not that common for one person to provide both interpreting and translating skills.

This is due to the fact that though similar, these two professions still require different sets of skills.

Therefore, in this article, we will point out the main similarities and differences between these two professions and help you decide whether you need to hire an interpreter or translator to help you deal with communication in another language.

What is an Interpreter?

An interpreter is a person who specializes in conveying spoken messages from one language to another in the shortest amount of time possible.

Namely, his or her job is to maintain message content and context, while conveying it in a second language simultaneously as you talk, or consecutively, right after you finish talking.

An interpreter may also whisper the message in the ear of a client, which is a method usually used in face-to-face business meetings. Alternatively, he or she may use sign language, if the situation requires that type of interpretation as well.

Furthermore, interpretation may be done in various ways – in person, over the phone, or through a video call. A good interpreter needs to be a linguist specialist to be able to listen carefully and process information quickly.

In addition to that, he or she must be extremely focused and ready to interpret in both directions at the same time.

Therefore, it is of utmost importance for the interpreter to possess eloquence and accuracy of body language. Moreover, he or she needs to be able to set the right tone in order for the message to be accurately conveyed to the audience.

What is a Translator?

A translator is a person who takes written messages and translates them from one language to another.

Thereby, it is important that the essence of the information is preserved and the message is conveyed in another language in such a way that it corresponds to the original as much as possible.

Therefore, the translator’s work is very complex and responsible, as he or she needs to adapt the message beyond literal word-to-word translation in order to make sure it will make sense to the reader, correspond to the writer’s ideas and be true to the original text at the same time.

Due to the nature of service they provide, translators rarely work over the phone or face-to-face. However, they still need to work as quickly as they can, as the deadlines are usually tight and the demand for their services is high.

To become a translator, a person needs to have a degree level in foreign language and preferably a postgraduate qualification in translation.

Moreover, as translation services are very much diversified, translators often choose to specialize for a particular industry, to be able to understand terminology and business practices inherent to them.

A good translator needs to not only have a basic understanding of the foreign language and text written in it, but has to have excellent writing, editing and proofing skills as well.

Furthermore, as many of the documents that need to be translated contain sensitive information, a translator must be discrete and able to cope with the responsibility of dealing with them.


Interpretation and translation are, in essence, very similar, as both of them represent a process of conveying a message from the source language (the original language) to the second language (target language), making sure the meaning and context of the message stays intact.

In addition to that, both the interpreter and translator need to understand the spirit of the original message and be able to keep it in the process, paying attention to the cultural context as well. Therefore, they do not translate words literally, but rather aim to preserve their original meaning.

On top of that, both of them are also able to suggest to the creator of the original message a different approach that will give the best results.

Lastly, both interpreter and translator are linguist experts and require professional qualifications in form of degrees and specializations to be able to provide their services to clients.


The main difference between the two is the fact that an interpreter deals with messages that are spoken or conveyed in sign language, while a translator works with written words only.

Furthermore, interpreters need to be able to work on the spot, through simultaneous or consecutive interpretation, while translators have some more time on their hands, as they usually do not have to provide their services in real-time.

On the other hand, a translator works with the original message and transposes it into his or her mother tongue, while an interpreter needs to be able to convey messages both from and into his or her mother tongue at the same time.

Translators and interpreters use different tools to provide their service as well. For example, a translator has the ability to consult literature, dictionaries and computer programs when in doubt and in search for the best solution, while an interpreter has to react more quickly.

Therefore, he or she has to have a profound understanding of the colloquial language and be familiar with the idioms and proverbs that people use when they speak.

As we have already said, an interpreter has to be able to memorize a lot of information quickly, but many times, equipment such as a microphone, headphones, or even a simple pen and notebook can come in handy.


Even though interpreters and translators both convey messages from one language to another, the main difference between them is the way the messages are received. Namely, the first one works with spoken words, while the other one deals with the written ones.

There are also some other key differences and thus, we hope that this article has helped you make a clear distinction between the two.

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