Posts in English,  Translation

Translators and Interpreters

I know this topic has already been widely discussed, but educating our clients is (and will always be) a matter of the utmost importance.

A few days ago, when I visited some relatives of mine, we talked about my intention of getting an MA in Translation. I’ve been asked: “So, you’re going to work at conferences, aren’t you?”. It wasn’t the first time that somebody asked me if I’m going to work as an interpreter. I had to explain my relatives what’s the difference between the two professions. I came to the conclusion that lay people often confuse translators with interpreters: not only did I take my personal experience into account, but also posts I read on other translation blogs.

While translators deal with written texts, interpreters work with oral texts (speeches, conversations and utterances in general) and render them orally, either consecutively or simultaneously (with the exception of the so-called “sight translation”, which is the oral rendition of a written text, done immediately and without using dictionaries). There are also people who both translate and interpret, but a good translator doesn’t necessarily make a good interpreter, and vice versa. It’s just a matter of skills. According to James Nolan:

The translator relies mainly on thorough research with background materials and dictionaries in order to produce the most accurate and readable written translation possible. The interpreter relies mainly on the ability to get the gist of the message across to the target audience on the spot. […] However, in practice, the translator is usually held to a higher standard of accuracy and completeness (including the ability to reproduce the style of the original), while the interpreter is expected to convey the essence of the message immediately. The translator’s activity is more like that of a writer, while the interpreter’s performance is more like that of an actor. A good translator will spend much time searching for the correct technical term or the right choice of words, but a good interpreter must come up with a satisfactory paraphrase or a rough equivalent if le mot juste does not come to mind, in order not to keep the audience waiting.

(“Interpretation Techniques and Exercises”, Multilingual Matters, 2005, pp. 2-3)

Julia K. Barbalace of English Russian Translations wrote:

In my opinion, the professionals who work with interpreters and translators should be aware of the difference between these two terms and use them appropriately. At the same time, we interpreters and translators, should also take a proactive approach and try to clear the misconceptions and promote our professions.

You can read the rest of Julia’s article (very useful and written in detail) about the difference between translators and interpreters here.

I'm an English and French to Italian translator, and I've been a blogger since 2009.

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