Translation and Interpretation

By Al Tamehi
In Translation
Apr 17th, 2017

Translation and Interpretation: an in-depth view


Translation and interpretation; close linguistic skills, different jobs, rarely done by the same people!

At a first look it seems logical that a professional translator with some training and work experience can be a good interpreter too. Superficially it’s only the question of differing medium where the two work. One is interpreting next to a politician in a conference and the other is translating the speech text of the same politician behind his desk.

However the differences in expertise, aptitude and training are so significant that very rarely you find someone capable to do both tasks effectively at a professional level. Here I present a comparative vision between different aspects of these two linguistic services.


Basic differences between written translation and oral interpretation

  • – When you translate, there’s a written record of your job

Interpreters do their part once and no one will read or analyze it later. However written translation is, well, written! And it can be read or analyzed over and over again. So accuracy is key and you will need to collaborate with a proofreader or an editor to make sure your translation is free from mistakes.


  • – Two different toolkits

The interpreter’s tools are basically their own comprehensive knowledge of the source language, and a notepad. On the other hand translators can make use of CAT tools, dictionaries and a huge data base of reference material at their disposal.


  • – Time factor is very different

Simultaneous or even consecutive interpreting leaves minimal time for interpreters to think, they should react immediately when the speaker starts his or her sentence. On the other hand written translation leaves much more time for the translators to think and re-think about the output, obviously according to the deadline set by the client.


Skills of a Professional Translator


Translation is about two distinctive types of activities. The first is understanding the source text and the second is verbalizing it in the target language.


To hire a good translator there are some specific indicators to look for.

Firstly, translators should have an in-depth understanding of the source language including its cultural aspects.

Secondly, they should have the ability to translate the text accurately into the target language in a way that all the cultural aspects of it are incorporated.


Here are the qualities a good translator should have:

  • Adaptability: A professional translator should be able to face the challenges of tight deadlines and the last minute text changes.
  • Ability to research: A translator should be able to research on specific technical concepts she/he might not be 100% familiar with, and never get tired of studying more.
  • Linguistic brilliance: You rarely see a top quality translator to translate into several languages. A skilled translator should have mastered her mother language and the target language from the start of her educational history, and develop their writing ability to create a text that’s pleasant to read. Ultimately, a translator is also a writer.
  • Humility: Even top-notch translators can make mistakes. After finishing a translation, a professional translator takes some time off, and then goes back and proofreads it. Then she passes to a proofreader. There is always something to correct.


Skills of a Professional Interpreter


In this case a different set of skills and expertise are needed. Having the ability to listen, process, translate and reproduce the sentences in a few seconds during hours of sensitive meetings is totally different from translation.


Here, apart from qualifications and linguistic skills, experience and resilience to stress count.

  • Accreditation: Accreditation is an acknowledgement that an interpreter has demonstrated the ability to meet the professional standards required by the translation and interpreting industry. To be accredited as a capable and professional interpreter there are several accreditation companies, such as NAATI (
  • Specialization: We have at least 5 kinds of interpretation including: Simultaneous, Consecutive, Whispered, Relay and Liaison. Interpreters who specialize in simultaneous work often are able to do the consecutive translation too. However the other way round is not always true, as simultaneous interpreting can be overwhelming if someone is not used to it.
  • Preparation: Translators have the chance to consult their references and dictionaries, however interpreters have no such luxury. Therefore rigorous preparation before the event is essential. Interpreters often need to research a list of relevant keywords before the meeting, to familiarise themselves with the specific terminology that might be used during the event.


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