What is the Difference Between an Interpreter vs. Translator?

th..cogeMan speaking while wearing headphones, many country flags, image represents a multilingual individual, perhaps an interpreter or a translator.

When discussing language services, people outside of the industry may use “interpreter” and “translator” interchangeably. However, the terms refer to two different specialties, each with unique functions and capabilities. If you’re wondering about the difference between an interpreter vs. a translator, here’s what you need to know.

Interpreter and Translator Defined

If you want to understand how interpreters and translators differ, it’s easiest to begin by looking at the terms’ definitions. That gives you a solid overview, making it easier to see where the two specialties differ.


What Is an Interpreter?

An interpreter is a language services provider who relays spoken statements between two parties who lack a language in common. After listening to what one person shares, the interpreter restates it in the other person’s language.


What Is a Translator?

A translator is a language services provider that primarily works in writing. In the simplest sense, they take written text and convert it into another language to create a new document in the target language. However, translators may also take extra steps to ensure the two documents align in other ways, such as matching up the formatting for consistency.

What’s the Difference?

The primary difference between interpreters and translators is the fact that interpreters focus on the spoken word while translators specialize in written text. However, how they operate also differs.

Interpretation is generally a real-time activity. As one party speaks, the interpreter listens to what’s shared and quickly relays the information in the other language either after the first party is finished speaking or as the original speaker talk, depending on the interpretation style.

Translators aren’t dealing with real-time communications. They recieve a previously created text and they convert that text into a second language on whatever timetable makes sense for the project.

What Do They Have in Common?

Interpreters and translators do have quite a bit in common. Both language services specialists are experts in a minimum of two languages. Additionally, they may be familiar with several dialects within a language, ensuring they can accurately interpret or translate for a specific audience.

Another commonality these language service specialists share is that neither interpretation nor translation involves word-for-word conversions between the two languages. Representing the core message of the statement correctly is the goal instead. Translators and interpreters may require a paraphrasing approach instead because languages are highly nuanced; idioms, slang, and similar verbiage add even more subtle differences in meaning.

Can You Use an Interpreter as a Translator or a Translator as an Interpreter?

Interpreters and translators have in-depth understandings of two or more languages; so, many people assume that an interpreter could serve as a translator and vice versa. However, knowing the languages is just part of what each role involves.

Using interpretation techniques properly in conversation often takes a significant amount of practice. It takes expertise to ensure you’re fully hearing what’s shared and can accurately – and quickly – relay it to another person in a different language. Additionally, the ability to listen to difficult or personal information without reacting is something that often has to be developed.

Translation requires a deep understanding of the two languages in a functional sense and also a technical one. The ability to ensure correct punctuation and grammar is essential, as people don’t often write how they would speak. In some cases, knowledge of specific document formatting is also a must, particularly for translations used for immigration or certain other legal purposes.

Interpreters and translators need expertise beyond the languages used; assuming one can step in for the other often isn’t wise. Instead, it’s best to secure specialized language services that align with your particular needs, ensuring you’re working with a highly skilled professional who can do that specific task as well as possible.

Are You Looking for Dependable, Professional Interpreters and Translators?

At Acutrans, we understand that having a dependable, professional language services provider is essential. That’s why we adhere to the highest standards, ensuring the quality of our team’s work on both fronts.

If you’re looking for a reliable language services provider, Acutrans provides industry-leading services on-site, video remote, and over the phone in over 200 languages and in specialty niches like medical or legal. Additionally, Acutrans can provide certified document translations in 24 hours or less. That includes legal, medical, or technical documents.

The right language services provider by your side is crucial. You can ensure that all of your needs are met quickly and efficiently while maintaining the highest level of quality. If you need language interpretation or translation services, the Acutrans team can provide a fast, reliable, and professional solution. Contact us for a free quote today.