Translating vs. Interpreting

Yesterday, I received an email from someone looking for a “translator for a deposition in ABC town on xx/2011.” As I had not yet had my cup of coffee, it took me a minute to realize that they were in fact looking for an interpreter.

For a minute there, I honestly thought that I would have to go to ABC town to translate documents in front of someone. My caffeine-free brain wondered, “Why on earth would they need a translator on location.”

So to avoid any confusion, here’s a quick breakdown:

Translating: Translators work with the written word. Translators translate documents, literature, brochures, books, websites, catalogs, diplomas…anything that is written. Translators often work from home and spend hours in front of their computers.

Translation is actually not so much about the words, rather it’s about rendering an accurate message from one language to the other. Sometimes that means adapting a expression to make it sound more natural and culturally appropriate.

Interpreting: Interpreters work with the spoken word. Interpreters have to relay a message and the speaker’s emotion. Simultaneous interpreters must speak and listen at the same time. The interpreters that you have probably seen work at the UN (and Nicole Kidman in “The Interpreter”), are simultaneous interpreters. Consecutive interpreters generally wait until the speaker is done with a thought or a sentence before they start interpreting.

Interpreters generally have to go to the location where the interpreting is needed: courthouse, office, conference, hospital…

Listen to this audio clip in which Judy Jenner and Corinne McKay clarify the difference on NPR’s All Things Considered.

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