Difference Between a Translator and an Interpreter

Discover the differences between translators and interpreters, so you can find the right solutions for your business or education language needs. 

Translators and interpreters perform similar job functions. Both need to translate words and phrases from one language to the other — but there’s an even clearer distinction between the translators and interpreters. 

Do you need a translator or an interpreter? Discover the difference between a translator and an interpreter and explore a few options for hiring both translators and interpreters. 

What Is a Translator?

Translators translate text from one language to another. This often includes large bodies of text (such as books or manuscripts), but the written text may also be a shorter piece (such as a restaurant menu or flyer). 


Translators may use reference materials to translate the source language to the target language. This is a complex process where he or she needs to be sure of the exact meaning of the written word or phrase before choosing a translation. 


Some of the most common professional translation services are technical translation and medical translation. 

What Is an Interpreter?

Interpreters are similar to translators as they translate one language to another. The biggest difference is that interpreters translate spoken word and spoken language — often in real-time.


Whether interpreting a different language for a diplomat, politician, or business associate, interpreters need to be able to think quickly and digest lots of information very fast. They need to have a deep understanding of colloquialisms and figures of speech and be able to translate a phrase’s non-literal meaning into a different language.


Interpretation services can be pretty expensive as a result. 


Difference Between a Translator and Interpreter

The main difference between a translator and an interpreter is the way language is translated — oral or written. 


While these are two very different skill sets, the jobs are often confused for each other or considered more similar than they actually are. 


The key differences are that translators work independently (usually alone) and aren’t often worried about the same challenges interpreters may face in a live setting. 


Key differences between translators and interpreters include:


  • Translators often work independently
  • Translators translate written words — not spoken ones
  • Translators don’t need to work on the spot; they can take their time referencing figures of speech
  • Interpreters need to translate words, phrases, and colloquialisms at a moment’s notice
  • Interpreters work with oral language (as opposed to language in its written form)
  • Interpreters work closely with the people they’re translating for and often interact with clients on a personal level


Appreciation for these different skills is often overlooked! Yet, understanding the difference before hiring a translator or interpreter is obviously extremely important!

When Would You Need a Translator Vs. an Interpreter?

The largest industries that hire translators and interpreters are:


  • Educational institutions
  • International organizations
  • Large corporations (usually international) 
  • Government organizations
  • Healthcare providers


Educational institutions often need to hire both translators and interpreters. They often need to provide both oral services for students (translating oral lessons) and written translation (translating textbooks into a different language).


Many educational institutions are required to hire translators and interpreters for students that don’t speak the local language.


International organizations often need to hire both translators and interpreters because of the very nature of their business. They often need to communicate with people who live in all areas of the world. These organizations generally need both translators and interpreters.


Large corporations that do business throughout the world often need to hire professionals to translate business English into other languages. 


Both government organizations and healthcare providers need both types of language translation — oral and written. These organizations often need to communicate with people that don’t speak English as a first language and need brochures, flyers, texts, and ads translated. 

Machine Translation Software

Finding a good translator and professional interpreters for high-quality translation can be pretty tricky. Depending on the subject matter and the native language of the reader or listener, translation services can cost hundreds of dollars. 


Our advice? Opt for computer-aided translation programs. These programs can translate and interpret languages quickly and accurately. 


We recommend using machine translation software that can easily translate text to speech, such as the Vocre app, available on Google Play for Android or the Apple Store for iOS. 


Software such as Google Translate or Microsoft’s language learning app doesn’t offer the same accuracy as paid apps. 


Most paid programs allow you to type in the words you want to translate (or copy and paste them) and some even allow you to speak into the app to get an oral translation. This is especially useful when translating for educational purposes (especially if the educational institution doesn’t have enough money to hire a translator or interpreter) and translating less-common languages, such as Khmer, Punjabi, or Bengali

While the differences between translators and interpreters may seem subtle, they’re very important when trying to determine which to hire.

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