Have you had the chance to see an interpreter at work? If you have, you were probably in awe of their remarkable skills and capability. Both interpreting and translation are key language services and these two jobs share some similarities, but major differences as well. The medium is the main difference between translation and interpreting, as the translator interprets what is written, while the interpreter translates words orally.
For a translator, one of the main skills is to be a good writer; to be able to express yourself well in the target language. This is the reason many translators often work in one direction, translating written text into their own language. The ability to express oneself equally well in two languages is not very common even in bilinguals. Many professional translators are not even bilinguals and may not be completely fluent in the source or original language of the text they have to translate.
For a translator, another important element is to understand the source language and the culture of the country of origin of the text. With the help of reference materials and several dictionaries, they can then render the source document into another language. An interpreter must have the ability to translate in both directions on the spot and without using dictionaries.
There are two forms of interpreting: simultaneous and consecutive. For simultaneous interpreting, the interpreter is usually inside a booth, speaking into a microphone and wearing headphones. The task of an interpreter is a very difficult one. They must wait until they understand the general meaning of what the speaker is saying before starting the interpretation.
This depends on how far the subject and verb are located in the sentence and, in some cases, it means the interpreter must wait for the sentence to be finished before he or she can interpret into the target language.
Can you imagine how difficult it is to listen to what is being said and simultaneously translate it into another language while trying to comprehend the next sentence?
That’s why a simultaneous interpreter needs to be decisive, as there’s no room to think of variant translations or the right idiom to use. The interpretation has to be done smoothly and without any delay so that no words or important thoughts are lost.
Consecutive interpretation is slightly easier as the speaker makes a pause every one to five minutes, or even after every paragraph, after which the interpreter renders what’s been said into another language. There’s some leeway here, as the interpreter can take notes. However, it’s normal for the interpreter’s notes to be quite different from what any note-taker or a stenographer would normally do.
It’s very difficult for the interpreter to write the notes in the source language and then translate them. Therefore many professional interpreters have developed their own style of note taking, which helps them to render the speech into something more idiomatic.
Now you can see how the job of translators and interpreters is vastly different and why interpreting is a profession that requires exemplary skills. Both these professions require a profound love for and deep knowledge of languages.
Interpreting also requires experience, and a good interpreter must be knowledgeable in the subject matter of the speeches that he or she will be interpreting. The interpreter must be intimately familiar with the cultures of both languages and must possess an extensive vocabulary in both the source and target languages.
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