A great many confuse interpretation and translation. After all, these are two common and essential linguistic services. They are, however, quite different despite their fundamental similarities. In a few short minutes, you’ll know the difference between interpretation and translation and what qualifications are required of an interpreter versus a translator. You’ll also learn how to make the best choices for projects requiring interpretation services.

The key differences between interpretation and translation

1. We translate written content, but we interpret spoken content.

2. A text is translated after it has been written and submitted for translation, whereas interpretation is performed in real time, or near real time, while the parties are speaking (simultaneous interpretation) or a few minutes later (consecutive interpretation).

On what sort of occasion is interpretation used?

Small meetings or major events

  • For conferences or large events, interpreters work either in a booth or a separate room, where they hear what is to be interpreted and see everything the speaker shows on the screen (this is key to understanding the context). They interpret simultaneously, meaning at the same time the presenter is speaking. Participants in the audience can therefore listen in the language of their choice (on-site or online).
  • For meetings or conference calls involving small groups, interpreters—like participants—attend either in person or remotely (by phone, for example). They usually interpret in a consecutive manner, meaning between the sentences of participants, who pause regularly throughout the discussion to allow others to understand. If they are in the same room, interpreters could be asked to whisper discretely in the listener’s ear.

Delivery of social services

  • As part of a trial before a court of law or related discussions, court interpreters help judges, lawyers, police officers, accused persons and other individuals understand each other. They perform simultaneous interpretation (at the same time as the speaker) during trials, and consecutive interpretation (between sentences) during other discussions.
  • When citizens need help understanding people they are doing business with during immigration processes or hospitalization, for example, community interpreters assist them in person or by phone, thus helping deliver the services required.

Interpreter and translator: Shared and distinct traits

What they both have

  • A very high level of proficiency in at least two languages, one of which is their active language (mother tongue) toward which they translate or interpret. Those who grew up in a bilingual or multilingual environment may have more than one active language. Some also have more than one passive language that they understand perfectly and from which they are able to interpret or translate into their active languages.
  • A high degree of general knowledge coupled with a particularly broad familiarity with certain areas of specialization. Such expertise allows them to understand the passive language and express in their active language notions or remarks that are often incredibly diverse and complex.
  • Extremely solid research skills, which they leverage to inform themselves before or during a mandate and while searching in reputable sources for any information they don’t already have.
  • A strong ability to see the big picture and absorb the messages of the passive language in order to quickly express them in a clear and natural manner in the active language, often without using the same words or the same expressions.

What’s unique about interpreters

  • Their acute sense of hearing allows them to understand a wide variety of speakers, who often speak too quickly and whose elocution may leave much to be desired.
  • Their composure and excellent response time. They must interpret words as they hear them and have no time to make corrections, which is quite a challenge, even when they are aware of the subject matter beforehand.
  • They have quite an infallible memory for retaining what is being said, while taking notes as needed without missing any key points. This is especially important in consecutive interpretation, where speakers sometimes go on for several minutes before stopping to allow the interpreter to speak.
  • Their voice—always clear, steady and pleasing to the ear―is projected at a volume that is appropriate to the situation at hand.

Training and accreditation

Although translators and interpreters must generally have at least one university degree, their training differs after their first diploma.

Translators can practise as soon as they have completed their undergraduate studies in translation, although many go on to obtain a graduate degree (master’s) to consolidate their skills before or after embarking on their career.

Specialized interpretation programs are usually offered at the graduate level. Before they are accepted, candidates must already have a university degree in either translation or another relevant field and successfully complete an aptitude test.

New programs that attest to the diversity of needs

  • Some schools now offer undergraduate programs to those who are interested in working as sign language interpreters for deaf people.
  • Post-secondary programs have also been established for community interpreters (who assist with immigration matters or hospitalization situations, for instance).

Some translators or interpreters do not complete specialized studies in their field, but have at least one relevant accreditation, awarded by a recognized professional order or industry association. Accreditations are different for translators and interpreters.

How to hire the right interpreter for your project

Whatever your project, if you require the services of a professional interpreter, a recognized multiservice translation agency is in the best position to assist you from start to finish, to your complete satisfaction.

Choosing the right interpreter in an industry where qualified professionals are few and far between, and where too many call themselves interpreters without having the necessary skills, is no mean feat. A serious translation agency relies on a vast and solid network of experts, of which seasoned interpreters are an integral part.

There are also technical considerations that come into play. Interpreters often need specialized facilities, particularly for conferences or meetings involving a large number of participants. Just providing for such arrangements requires a certain expertise.

And let’s not forget the vital role of efficient, comprehensive management in the success of projects that require interpretation, alone or in combination with other linguistic services.

There are many aspects to consider, including the following, to ensure that everything runs smoothly, with no delays, misunderstandings or mishaps:

  • Skills management
  • Resource management
  • Client relations management
  • Cost management
  • Deadline management
  • Schedule management
  • Emergency management
  • Local, regional, national or international level organization
  • Problem resolution

Versacom takes care of everything

Interpretation is just one of the many services provided by Versacom, which has been contributing to the success of its clients’ projects for more than 20 years. Our experts provide comprehensive, professional solutions for a wide variety of situations and in numerous language combinations.

Request a free, no-obligation quote or consultation.

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