“Dear Adelina, I’ve just come across your website and read you offer translation services from English into Italian”. I’ll be in Italy next week for a business meeting with potential new clients and I need someone who helps me communicate with them. Could you tell me how much do you charge for this kind of service?”
Very often I receive emails and requests like this. The need for an interpreter is confused with the need for a translator and vice versa. For some strange reason, many people do not understand or are not always aware of the difference between these two professions; in other cases, people seem to know that translators and interpreters do a different job but use these terms interchangeably.
Are these jobs similar? Are they different? Do they have anything in common?
Similarities and differences
- MODE OF EXPRESSION: Translators work on written documents while interpreters work with spoken word.
- DIRECTION: A professional translator usually works in only one direction (for example from English into Italian), from a source language (English) to a target language (Italian). This target language is the translator’s native language. Interpreters might have to work bi-directionally, i.e. both into and from their native language.
- TIME: Translators can manage time based on each different project and making relevant agreements with clients, while interpreters work in real time situations – as conferences and business meetings – (simultaneous interpreting) or must deliver the message shortly after the time of the original speech (consecutive interpreting).
- CONTEXT: Translators usually work from home or at the office, tending to be more place-dependent. On the other hand, interpreters move based on their clients’ needs.
- RATES: Translators charge on a word, page or project basis, while interpreters usually charge per hour or per day
These professional categories usually have peculiar skills.
A good translator must:
- Have an excellent command of the source and target language and must know the relative culture of both languages to give the translated text a meaning as much as possible equivalent to the original one.
- Have excellent written skills and pay attention to style, accuracy and significance of the terms used within a translation.
A good interpreter must:
- Know how to speak in public and have very quick reflexes, as well as a good memory and speaking voice.
- Be able to translate in both directions.