Many people often confuse translation and interpretation. Newcastle interpreters receive many enquiries that mix the two up. But whilst the tasks are similar, the setting or context is quite different. Interpretation is based on spoken material, usually in a live setting although occasionally after the event, whereas translation is applied to written materials only.
On the surface, then, it would appear that the difference between interpreting and translation is the mode of expression. Interpreters deal with spoken language and translate orally (often at the same time), while translators deal with written text, transforming the source text into a clearly understood target text. Both interpreting and translation require a deep knowledge of more than one language, but this is where the similarities tend to end. The differences in the training, skills, and talents needed for the two professions are vast.
Different skill sets
The main skill of a good translator is the ability to write well and express yourself clearly in the target language. That is why professional translators almost always work in only one direction, translating only into their native language. Even highly fluent bilingual individuals can rarely express themselves in a given subject equally well in both languages, and many excellent translators are far from being bilingual. This is not essential.
The key skills of the translator are the ability to understand the source language and the culture of the country where the text originates, and, drawing on reference materials, convert that text into the target language. An excellent translator has strong writing skills.
An interpreter, on the other hand, has to be able to translate in both directions, without the use of any dictionaries, on the spot, either through consecutive or simultaneous interpretation. As it suggests, consecutive involves following part of a speech with the interpretation, so that the speaker stops to allow for the interpreter to interpret that portion of the speech; simultaneous interpretation is where the speaker carries on talking. In both cases the ability to think quickly is absolutely vital.
Translators work on a myriad of materials, from newspapers, articles and books to websites and legal contracts. Interpreters can be required in a number of settings, including conferences, meetings, and in person or over the telephone. The classic images of interpreters at work can be seen in the rows of headsets at European conferences – or meetings of the European Parliament – and also at sports conferences, where the interviewee’s comments are translated from their native language into the audience’s language (usually English).