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Translators and Interpreters; Differences and similarities

Many people get confused between translation and interpretation. If you are one of these, please read on!

Today (30th September) is International Translation Day, an occasion to celebrate the work of language professionals, and we want to take advantage of this celebration to clarify the main differences and similarities between these highly skilled and creative jobs.

Main Similarities between Translators and Interpreters

Both Translators and Interpreters require

  • deep cultural and linguistic understanding

  • expert knowledge of subject matter

  • the ability to communicate clearly

  • and also require professional qualifications (long training, practice, and experience)

They work as an intermediary between two languages ― They bridge the gap between two people using different linguistics to understand each other.

Main Differences between Translators and Interpreters

  • The main difference is that Interpreters translate spoken language orally, while Translators translate the written word.

  • Translators are generally not required to translate on the spot, while Interpreters deliver the message in real-time with the original speech (known as Simultaneous Interpreting) or immediately afterward (known as Consecutive Interpreting).

  • Translators use technologies and reference materials to generate accurate, high-quality translations, while an Interpreter's only resources are experience, a good memory, and quick reflexes.

How does it apply in Sign Language?

When we talk about languages many people often forget to mention Sign Language. There are millions of people in the UK who use British Sign Language (BSL) every day and so, in this case:

  • a Sign Language Interpreter would transfer meaning from one spoken or signed language into another signed or spoken language,

  • whereas a Sign Language Translator would transfer written language into sign language or from sign language to written language.


If you have a meeting with a Deaf person, you will need to book a Sign Language Interpreter. The Interpreter will sign everything you say and will tell you everything the Deaf person is saying. This will ensure full access to both parties during the meeting.

If, however you have a written document (letter, form, leaflet, website...) that you want to make accessible, a Sign Language Translator will take the meaning from the source text and translate it into British Sign Language.

To consider: Deaf people who use BSL as their first language. may not understand written English.

We trust this brief post has made it easy for you to understand the difference between translating and interpreting and will help to avoid any future confusion. Basically, the general principle is that an Interpreter is used for the spoken word and a Translator is used for the written word ㋡


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