I’ve always used the word translator anytime a native speaker transformed words into another language. Maybe that’s because translator is easier to pronounce than interpreter. (It’s easier to spell, also.) But there’s a big difference between a translator and an interpreter. (This article is just a brief introduction to these professions; it’s purpose is to generate interest in them.)


translator is someone who converts (changes) the written word, such as a book, from one language to another. An interpreter is a professional who changes the spoken word from one language into another. You’ve probably seen interpreters at a news conference when a dignitary speaks in his or her own language, while an interpreter transforms the dignitary’s speech into the audience’s native tongue.


Many of you reading this article are bilingual or proficient (very fluent in all areas of a language--understanding, reading, speaking and writing.) If you’ve ever wondered what to do with your gift, we’re going to talk about these two noble but different professions. And maybe one of them is for you. Rarely, however, can one person be both a translator and an interpreter. They each require different skills and abilities. But it does happen.




First, let’s define two important terms used in translation. For the purpose  of explaining this interaction, let’s use German and French. For example, let’s say your native language is German and you are going to translate from French to German. German--your native language--is known as the target language and French is known as the source language (the French documents that you will translate into German), according to The Language Blog. The source language (French in this case) is also known as the working language. Translators can have more than one working language (or source language) from which they translate.


It’s possible that a translator will be asked to translate German (your native language) into French (the source language).  “...but a good translator will only translate documents into his or her native language, “ according to Language Scientific. Translating is much more than using Google Translation. “The goal of a translator is to have people read the translation as if it were the original,” according to Sokanu.com/careers.


Job opportunities for translators


Here are just a few of the job settings and opportunities that translators can take advantage of:


  • Freelancer--Most translators work as freelancers, just like freelance writers.  This means they have their own businesses and get clients through word-of-mouth (recommendations from satisfied customers) and other ways, like advertising.
  • Embassies--International ambassadors always need to have something translated into different languages.
  • Work in a hospital or medical setting. When people travel abroad and get sick, it’s necessary to have their treatment and medications translated from the language source (like French) to the target language (of the country where the patient comes from (like Germany).
  • Work with a business (German) that regularly interacts with French clients.
  • Legal offices that have lots of documents that need translating.
  • Courts of law where details of proceedings must be converted into another language.
  • Translators usually get paid per word.  This can be negotiated between the employer and the translator.  However, the annual salary of both translators and interpreters can range from  $31,610 - $61,130, according to Chegg Internships.




The main requirement is that the translator be fluent in both languages, especially in writing.  It is also expected that the translator have at least a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college.  Translators often specialize in one area--such as medical or archaeology. The specialities that translators can work in are endless.  In fact, many translators become well-known experts in their field.




This seems like a much more demanding profession than translating because the language must be converted on the spot (immediately) and often in front of or around other people.


“Interpreting ... is fundamentally the art of paraphrasing (using different words to convey meaning),” according to Language Scientific. The interpreter listens to a speaker in one language, grasps (quickly understands) the content of what is being said, and then paraphrases  from the language being spoken (the source language, like French) into the target language (like German). But in this case, the interpreter must be bilingual in both languages to adequately and spontaneously explain what the speaker is saying. The reason for paraphrasing is that it’s almost impossible to interpret the exact words from one language to another in so short a time.


It’s helpful to know that there are generally two types of interpreting:


  • Simultaneous--you interpret as the person talks.
  • Consecutively--The person talks for a few sentences and then pauses. During the pause, the interpreter explains what the person has said.

These types of interpreters require different skills. Therefore, it’s unusual for one person to do both types of interpreting. But both types require paraphrasing. “However, you never change the meaning of what [the person is] trying to say,” according to Chegg Internships.


Job opportunities for interpreters


As with translators, there are many places interpreters are needed. Here’s just a partial list of them, according to Language Interpretation, Wikipedia.


  • Airport--Foreigners are so relieved to find someone who understands their language and can help them with all the problems people encounter in an airport--missing a flight, lost luggage.
  • Conferences--More and more business meetings call for bilingual interaction. Interpreters are an integral part of these meetings.
  • Medical--Medical interpreters can be crucial between the communication between patients and doctors. There are several opportunities: in hospitals, clinics, and private practices.
  • Judicial systems--anything involving the law--police, immigration, court hearings--require interpreters.
  • Escort interpreter--Individuals or a delegation on a tour, on a visit or to a meeting or to interview a job candidate need someone to interpret from one language to another. It’s like being a tourguide of a language.

There are about four modalities (ways or methods) that interpreters use: the media, on-site, telephone and Internet real-time communication, like SKYPE or FaceTime.




To be an interpreter, you must have a college degree and be bilingual in the source language (i.e., French)  and the target language (i.e., German). It’s also good to have a specialty--law or medicine--for which you must be critically familiar with the profession’s terminology.


There is a whole other type of interpretation called sign language for the hearing impaired. This specialty requires training in universities or private school programs. You must be certified to be a sign-language interpreter.


Translators and interpreters are very much sought out in today’s world. They require dedication, training and a natural set of skills. If you’re amazed at how translators and interpreters perform, it’s because of their love of language.


So, look into it. This is the most exciting part of a language--using it for someone’s benefit. (And you're paid for it, too!)




What can you do as an interpreter?

What can you do as a translator?

What are the differences between and translator and interpreter?



Ilene Springer is a long-time italki tutor in English. She teaches intermediate, upper-intermediate and upper-level students, including advanced and proficient. She has been a writer for national magazines, such as Cosmopolitan and author of The Diary of an American Expatriate.  Please visit her website at Chocolate.English.eu


Hero image by rawpixel.com on Unsplash