What is the difference between a translator and an interpreter?

Difference between interpreter and translator

You’ll be pleased to know there is one very simple difference between a translator and an interpreter:

  • Translation is written and interpreting is spoken.

So, if you have a document that you need to be written in another language, seek the help of a translator. Examples include website copy, subtitles, voice-over scripts etc.

And if you require somebody to translate what another person is saying, then it’s an interpreter you’re looking for. Examples include medical appointments, conferences and events, court hearings etc.


How do they work?

You can expect both translators and interpreters to have extensive knowledge of the languages and cultures that they work with. However, there will be differences in:



  • can take anywhere from 2 to 8 hours to produce a 1,000-word translation, depending on the complexity of the text, and the client’s needs and quality expectations. The deadline is usually agreed with the translator or translation company in advance;
  • take the time to perfect their punctuation, grammar and formatting, and often have the text proofread by another linguist.

Simultaneous interpreters:

  • usually sit in a booth and translate into a microphone whilst the person is speaking. This target language is transmitted to the audience almost simultaneously via headphones or speakers. Simultaneous interpreting demands a very high level of concentration and therefore requires more than one interpreter so that they can alternate every 20-30 minutes.

Consecutive interpreters:

  • are positioned right next to the person they are interpreting for. The person says a few sentences and then pauses whilst the interpreter relays what they have just said in the other language.




  • often use computer-aided translation tools to automatically translate anything that they or their company have already translated before;
  • have access to dictionaries and other reference material, and may carry out any research that may be required for clarification.


  • don’t have the time to refer to any dictionaries or other resources when they are interpreting;
  • may request relevant material beforehand to allow them to prepare. This can include PowerPoint slides or other relevant documents.


In a nutshell
  • Translators work with written texts and take the time to carry out research and consult dictionaries and other resources.
  • Interpreters translate spoken language and are quick-thinking to produce a spoken translation almost instantaneously.


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