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Interpretation or Translation?

Catleen Grötschel | Conference Interpreter | Berlin

What exactly is the difference between
an interpreter and a translator? 

The brief explanation: Translators work with written language, whereas interpreters work with oral language. 

A translator transfers texts from one language into another. Depending on their specialisation, these range from websites and articles to contracts, instruction manuals, books, or anything else in written form. 

Interpreters, however, ‘translate’ spontaneously. Simultaneous interpretation means that the interpreters transfer a speech into another language while listening to the speaker, without a time lag. Consecutive interpreters take notes during a speech, and afterwards deliver it in the target language. Liaison interpretation is often used for bilateral negotiations. Generally, interpreters are often found at conferences, conventions, workshops and lectures, to name but a few. 

Of course, there are close ties between the two professions: Both interpreters and translators must have excellent command of their native languages as well as foreign languages. They must be eloquent and consider not only linguistic, but also cultural aspects in order to successfully bridge the gap between two languages. In-depth research and preparation on the subject at hand are key to a successful interpretation and translation. 

Other aspects that are crucial for a successful interpreting performance are the interpreter’s voice, presentation, and ability to improvise. Finally, the intense cognitive strain put on the interpreter is another major difference, which is why you should opt for competent, well-trained interpreters for your multilingual event.