Translators vs Interpreters

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 10:27 Erika Baker

Translators vs Interpreters

Translator-vs-InterpretersYesterday there was an item on the news about a Dutch man who needed "translators" in hospital to communicate with the medical team.

Did you hear the collective sigh from the linguist community? Did your Twitter feed burn with exasperated comments?

Were you amongst those who sighed in exasperation or were you one of those people who wondered what all the fuss was about?

So what is the difference between translators and interpreters and why does it matter? Translators vs Interpreters


Translators are people who translate written text into another language, whereas interpreters interpret between two or more people, telling one what the other said.

Both need to be fluent in their source and target languages.  But apart from that, their skill profiles are quite different.

Translators must understand the source language and the culture a text was written in. Using dictionaries and online reference materials, they then transcribe that text accurately into the target language. The most important thing is that the finished text does not read translated but that it reads as if it had been written in the target language. Good research and writing skills are the most essential criteria.


Interpreters must have excellent communicating skills. Most importantly they must be able to switch from one language to the other on the spot, replicating what has been said in one language without using any reference materials at all.

Both must be aware of cultural differences, of transforming sayings, colloquialisms and cultural-specific references, poetry and jokes successfully into the other language. However, these tasks are a particular challenge for interpreters who don’t have the luxury of plenty of time to think!


This is important for our clients because our training and qualifications are quite different and not many people are qualified as both, translators and interpreters.

The search facilities databases of the Chartered Institute of Linguists and the Institute of Translation and Interpreting both differentiate between translators and interpreters. This will save clients a lot of time by avoiding a search in the wrong category and then contacting the wrong people.  Translators vs Interpreters