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What’s the difference between a translator and an interpreter?

As we mentioned in our previous post, Who is who in a translation company, sometimes clients will ask for a translation when they actually need an interpretation. And although these are closely related, they serve very different purposes and are usually performed by different professionals (although, in some cases, translators work as interpreters as well).

So, what is the difference between translating and interpreting?

The most obvious difference is the medium: a translator translates written language, whereas an interpreter deals with spoken language. There you go: now you know more about this than the average person.

A translator must be able to fully understand the source language and the culture of the place where the text was written. Then, he will use a number of dictionaries and reference materials, apart from his own expertise in the subject, to produce a text in the target language that clearly conveys the same message as the original text. A good translator must have the ability to write well and have good research skills. Many translators work in one “direction” only: they translate exclusively into their native language, but there may be exceptions to this rule as well, with some translators translating only into their “second” language, for different reasons. There are different kinds of translations and different criteria to classify them. Translations may be certified or non-certified, depending on the formalities required for their filing (we will go into more detail about certified translations in an upcoming post.) Also, depending on the topic of the text to be translated, translations can be categorized as, medical, technical, literary, business, legal translations, among others. Translators tend to specialize in one or a few of these categories, since the skills and knowledge required for one kind of translation do not always match those for another kind: translating a contract requires specific knowledge of legal terminology and legal usage, whereas translating poetry requires a much greater deal of creativity.

On the other hand.

An interpreter (I’m sure you remember Nicole Kidman… or not…) is someone who orally translates the words someone else is speaking. Most of you are probably familiar with conference simultaneous interpreting, with the interpreter sitting in a booth wearing a pair of headphones and speaking non-stop into a mic. Apart from conferences, there are other situations in which you may need simultaneous interpreting, and there is also another type of interpretation: consecutive interpretation, where the speaker will usually make a pause to allow the interpreter to speak in turns. Interpreting requires a different skill set: interpreters need to be very fluent in both languages; they won’t be able to rely on dictionaries or reference materials while they are working. They will obviously need to understand the subject matter of the text or speech they are translating, and will usually conduct their research beforehand, based on reference materials provided by the client, since they won’t be able to read any of this again on the spot. One of the key skills for a successful interpreter is the ability not to give in to stress, and to develop a highly trained memory: while translating one sentence, they have to listen to and comprehend the next sentence. Finally, there is a third type of interpretation, known as sight translation. Yes, although it is called translation, it is indeed a kind of interpretation since the rendering of the message is done orally. In this case, the interpreter is given a written text and is asked to translate it orally on the spot. Many times lawyers will have a translator read out loud a contract written in a foreign language, and translate it orally.

Whether you need a translator or an interpreter, at The TR Company we will be glad to assist you and answer any questions you may have.

If you need any information about our services, please contact us at We’ll be glad to assist you.


The TR Company S.A. is a translation company with more than 20 years of experience in the sector, with a consolidated and skilled team ready to give efficient solutions to language needs, meeting any required deadline.

We offer translations into Spanish, English, Portuguese, French, Italian, German, Dutch, Chinese, Japanese, Hebrew, and Russian. All these languages are generally combined with Spanish, although they may also be paired with English.

Our areas of expertise include: Legal, Energy and Natural Gas, Oil and Mining, Financial Services, Media & Entertainment, Healthcare, Medicine and Pharmacy, Technology and Telecommunications, Hospitality, Traveling and Tourism, Transport and Logistics.

We specialize in the translation of treaties, laws, decrees, resolutions, claims, witness statements, economic reports, press releases, user manuals, bidding terms and conditions, engineering plans, and medical papers and articles.


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