Depending on what kinds of movies you watch, two very different images may pop into your mind when you hear the word “translator”: a person sitting at their desk surrounded by dictionaries and works of literature, or someone standing at the back of a United Nations meeting speaking into a headset. In all honestly, neither of these depictions is 100% accurate, but there are a lot of significant differences between the two.
Translators work with written (and sometimes, audiovisual) content. This includes not just books, but also documents, graphic design components, websites, subtitles, and pretty much any other kind of file that you could save to your computer. Interpreters, on the other hand, work with spoken content directed at a concrete audience, usually in real time. They are present at both in-person and remote conferences, school meetings, medical appointments, court proceedings, and so on.
Most people outside the industry assume that every translator is also an interpreter, and that every interpreter is also a translator. However, while the basic skills needed for these two roles are quite similar (namely, proficiency in at least two languages), the more specific competencies required are worlds apart.
Translators must be comfortable with technology, be very detail-oriented, and have excellent research and organizational abilities. Interpreters, on the other hand, must be quick on their feet, comfortable working in front of audiences, and able to recall a large amount of specific vocabulary in a matter of seconds. And while there are cases of language professionals who perform both translation and interpreting tasks as part of their job, most tend to specialize in, or at least have a strong preference for, one or the other.
Here at PILA, it should be noted that we fall firmly into the translation camp. We love having the opportunity to spend a whole day debating the best way to translate a specific term or tweak the formatting on a social media post to make it as beautiful as the English version. However, we absolutely recognize and value the important work done by interpreters and, as language access advocates, always encourage our clients to invest in both.
Reach out to us today at firstname.lastname@example.org for translation assistance, or allow us to recommend one of our favorite interpreters!