What is the Difference Between a Translator and an Interpreter?

I often get asked “What’s the difference between a translator and an interpreter? Aren’t they the same thing?” To many people, the terms translator and interpreter have absolutely no distinction, and can be used interchangeably referring to someone who receives information in one language and changes it to another. This however, is not the case. There is a big difference between translation and interpretation, the job descriptions for these professions, and the skills they entail. Today we’ll explain some of the distinctions between the two jobs and the unique aptitudes needed for each.


To begin, interpreting involves hearing a verbal statement in one language (the source language) and repeating it, verbally, in another language (the target language).  Translating deals with the written word. A translator receives a document in the source language and writes it out in the target language. A high-quality translation will not just be a word for word change from one language to another, a professional translator will make sure that the meaning is translated from the source to target language.

While both professions are quite different, they do share a few necessary characteristics for professionals to do them both efficiently and effectively. First and foremost is a deep cultural understanding and proficiency in two or more languages.  Secondly is an interest in language and in helping to facilitate communication between different groups of people.

Let’s take a closer look at some skill differences between a translator and an interpreter:


  • Has excellent listening skills: The interpreter is able to hear what the speaker is saying, not only verbally, but also the unspoken implications within the discourse.
  • Has excellent memory and retention: The interpreter remembers all that is being said in the source language and repeats it in the target language.
  • Is impartial and objective: The interpreter interprets what is said without adding any additional information, and is objective and does not give personal opinions.
  • Has strong interpersonal skills: The interpreter thrives on relating with individuals of different cultural backgrounds.

written translationTranslator:

  • Has excellent writing skills: The translator is a good writer. He/she excels in writing, not only in the source language, but also in writing in the target language. This includes reading and comprehension skills in both languages.
  • Is up to date on technology: While it is true that machine translation is widely available, it is not able to provide a high-quality, accurate, grammatically correct translation like a professional translator. But, there is software and technology that helps professional translators do their jobs, such as “translation memory” programs. Today many translators use software or TM programs to maintain consistency and improve accuracy. Top translators are able to learn new programs and tools to help them accomplish their goals and stay on top of the industry.
  • Is self-motivated and organized: Professional translators often work as freelance contractors so there is generally no direct oversight of the progress of their work. Freelance translators are self-motivated and organized to continually market themselves and meet deadlines.

In short, while seemingly similar, these two professions are very different. Most linguists do not specialize in both, but instead focus on one aspect or the other and are constantly pushing themselves to help develop their skill sets, stay on top of new methods/approaches and technology, and put themselves above the rest. Here at Rapport International we have professionally trained Interpreters and translators in over 200 languages ready to help you meet all of your linguistic needs.

Rapport International provides professionally trained Interpreters and translators in over 200 languages for all your interpreting and translation needs.  Translation services are available worldwide.  High-quality, professional in-person interpreting is available in Lincoln and Omaha Nebraska and surrounding areas, as well as in Massachusetts.  Please contact us for assistance and guidance with your interpreting and translation needs.

Have questions? Contact Us 


Categories: Project Planning & Management, Quality, Spoken Communications


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