Interpreter vs Translator: What’s The Difference?

by | Dec 13, 2022 | Language, Localisation, Translation

An Increasing Demand For Language Services

Cultural diversity and globalization in the healthcare field have boosted the demand for language services, specifically interpretation and translation services. Interpreters and translators play a pivotal role in improving healthcare delivery and healthcare outcomes to ensure that patients of any background or native language can get the care they deserve. But when it comes to translating written and spoken words, which service do you need? Discover the difference between interpreter vs translator so you can hire the right service according to your needs.

What is Translation?

laptop keys with different flagsTranslation focuses on the written text and interpreting that into another language. Accurate translation is vital in various industries, especially in the healthcare field wherein patient safety and lives are on the line.

The translation process involves analysing a source text and then conducting additional research. In most cases, a literal translation isn’t enough because the translator must understand the context of the source text and consider that in writing the translation. Specifically, translators work to ensure that the tone of the voice and the intent of the source text is maintained in the translated text.

In-depth knowledge is essential on certain texts and reference materials. Some medical translators rely on their subject matter expertise to translate the same text into multiple languages. Meanwhile, others employ computer-aided translation tools to facilitate the accuracy of the written text and to omit human errors.

Technical and medical translation services are available in various areas of expertise. It’s important to work with professional translators because they also consider the subject matter and the target audience for the translated text. The goal is to deliver the closest possible match for the written text, even when there are terminologies used. Therefore, you need someone with background knowledge of the subject to understand the context and produce an accurate translation.

What is Interpretation?

Interpretation focuses on translating the spoken word orally. It involves processing the meaning of the spoken language from a source language into another language. Since the material is spoken, the interpreter speaks on-site. Professional interpreters are required in various settings, such as in the emergency room (or any healthcare setting) for medical interpreters or in the courtroom for a legal interpreter. There are various sub-categories of interpretation based on the specific field that they are delivering the service for and the background knowledge of the professional interpreters.

Woman giving a thumbs up and holding book with english flagWith that said, the interpreter speaks at the moment to translate a spoken word in the target language. There is a small time delay, which requires special skills such as quick comprehension and the ability to react spontaneously to deliver accurate and efficient interpretation.

Interpreters rely on their knowledge of the source language and target languages to interpret something simultaneously or consecutively. The goal of the interpretation is to be faithful to the original language even with the presence of idioms and colloquialisms. The interpreted message must maintain its social and cultural context.

Translator vs Interpreter

To understand whether you need to work with professional translators or interpreters, it is important to compare them side by side for an in-depth analysis. Here is a detailed breakdown of services from an interpreter vs translator.

Translators specialize in the written word, such as books, websites, research studies, clinical trial reports, contracts, forms, reference materials, etc. On the other hand, interpreters deal with spoken or sign language. They are present in interviews, conferences, medical appointments, and any other setting when a direct interpretation is required.

Using the above information, you can conclude that translators do the writing and interpreters do the talking. Translators have the luxury to go over the source document and analyze its cultural context and the meaning behind those contexts. Though professional translators deal with written text when working on a translation project, they also have to consider the style, tone, context, and intent of that text. Therefore, it requires more than just replacing a word from the source language with that of the target language.

As professional interpreters work with the spoken language, their goal is to convert speech from the source language into the target language. Just like the translator, the interpreter must consider the style, tone and context in doing the interpretation. The consistency of the message is crucial as it is interpreted from one language to another.

The interpreter’s job is bi-directional. It means that an interpreter is working with more than one language: the source and the translated language. There are various types of translation services that differ according to the specific setting.

Simultaneous interpreting is when the interpreter listens to someone speaking in a certain language (the source) and then interprets that into another language for the target audience (target). Professional interpreters can also provide consecutive interpreting. This type of interpretation service requires the interpreter to listen to the entire statement of the original speaker in the source language before the interpreter delivers the same message in the target language. Like translators, interpreters work in various subject areas depending on their specialization and expert knowledge.

To ensure accurate interpretation, most interpreters require that they can see the speaker and hear them clearly.

Here is a summary of the differences between translators and interpreters:

  • Interpretation deals with the spoken word while a translator deals with the written content or source document.
  • Interpreters translate back and forth, which means another party is involved during the process of interpretation. Translators work on their own and often require the use of tools such as translation memory and computer-aided tools.
  • The level of accuracy is another defining characteristic that differentiates translation from interpretation. Accuracy is a must with translation services because of the nature and purpose of the documents they work with. On the other hand, interpreters have a lower degree of accuracy because of the instantaneous nature of the delivery of interpretation.

Why is Interpretation Important in the Workplace?

Since we are living in a global economy, there are many challenges and opportunities that arise in the workplace and in business settings because of it. Language is one of the biggest barriers to communication and efficiency in the workplace. However, overcoming these language barriers can have a significant impact in the workplace as it could facilitate multilingual clients and more business opportunities.

Woman using a megaphone with flags flying aroundIn a traditional workplace setting, the impact of interpretation is more profound. This begins in the recruiting process. Companies that are devoted to providing language support to employees and their applicants are more successful in promoting diversity and fighting discrimination. Providing language support can overcome difficulties in job search interviews and provide equal opportunity for all applicants based on their skills and experience, not on their native language.

The access to interpretation of the target language is also going to help resolve common workplace issues, such as isolation, lack of career progression, discrimination, and exclusion from the workplace.

For employees with special needs, such as those with deafness or hearing disabilities, the use of sign language delivers additional communication support for workplace communication.

Industries With the Biggest Need for Interpreting Services

Interpreting is a large sector and there is a high level of demand for these services across numerous industries. The rise of globalisation has fueled the demand for professional language services since people who speak various languages require linguistic services to bridge the communication gap in these industries. Whether you are working with international clients or business partners, it is important that your team deal with two languages or more.

Take time to explore the various applications of a global interpreter for the following industries, and how companies can use a good interpreter as a valuable business tool.

Medical and Healthcare

The medical and healthcare fields are primary sectors that rely on a professional interpreter for various settings. Communication between the healthcare provider and the patient is critical. And language plays a vital role in effective communication.

Patients need to understand the diagnosis of the medical provider in order to adhere to any medication or treatment instructions. The ability of a health practitioner to speak another language is crucial in ensuring that even patients whose native languages are not English can understand the physician’s instructions. It will ensure that treatment and follow-up care is followed through. It is essential in situations wherein the patient is referred to a specialist or must undergo hospitalization and additional care methods.

Healthcare facilities and private clinics are investing more in the use of simultaneous interpreters to empower patients who speak their mother tongue. The better understanding they have of their condition and the recommended treatment, the better the prognosis is for their health condition or diseases. Simultaneous interpreting is necessary because it works like a whispered interpretation and patients will be able to interpret the message in real time. It is valuable when the physician or healthcare provider requires an immediate response from the patient about the suggested treatment, or if they have follow-up questions.

As technologies continue to expand, interpreters will have more tools in their arsenal to deliver the most accurate interpretation in the healthcare setting. This type of language service is most crucial because these professionals want to interpret the message in the target language as accurately as possible as it can be a life-or-death matter for some patients, especially in medical emergencies.

Woman reading a book in front of a board with foreign wordsLegal

The legal field is also another industry where interpreter services are in high demand. People from all ethnic and racial backgrounds go to court and are involved in various legal proceedings. Therefore, it is crucial to provide interpretation support for the target language to ensure that all individuals are comfortable expressing themselves as they participate in various court proceedings.

The demand for legal interpreters far outweighs those who specialize in the legal industry. The services of professional interpreters are vital in ensuring that cases are handled fairly and equally. In fact, many cases are delayed or postponed when there is a lack of adequate language service.

Banking and Finance

Effective communication is essential in the banking and finance industry. The global economy relies on banks and financial institutions to remain stable and maintain economic activity. However, banking and finance professionals use a lot of technical banking language that many consumers are not familiar with. Using an interpreter proves valuable in making sure that clients are on the same page with the banking personnel about the products and services offered by these financial institutions.


The tourism industry also relies heavily on interpreters and translators because this is an industry that deals with clients from all over the world. If you are running a travel and tourism business, you should be able to provide interpreters and translators when your clients require them.

headphones, notebook and different flagsWhether these clients are traveling for business or leisure, it is your duty to ensure that culturally specific references and their language needs are considered. It is vital for you to earn their trust as it will help you generate more business leads.

Scientific Research

The field of scientific research deals with complex medical and scientific terminologies that are often difficult for the layperson to understand. With more research studies and trials conducted in developing countries, it is crucial to work with high-quality interpreting services to ensure that you can relay the context of your study to a global audience with higher efficiency and accuracy.

For research studies with global impact, it is important to work with an interpreter that has experience with different cultures and languages. Translators typically use context clues and other culturally specific references to the interpreted message without losing the original meaning and intent of the spoken word.

Medical Interpreter vs Medical Translation

Medical translation and interpretation are the practice of translating written or spoken language into other languages for various purposes in the medical field.

Medical interpreters require certification to showcase expert knowledge in the medical field and terminology. They should be able to demonstrate the ability to understand complex health information and interpret that for the average patient to easily understand.

Medical translation involves the translation of written medical documents in a different language, which is commonly targeted at a particular audience. Medical translators must meet the fundamental requirements for certification. They have to demonstrate a high level of language proficiency and medical knowledge to avoid errors during the translation of healthcare and medical documents. Translators seeking to practice in this field must obtain training, education, and practice first. You will also be required to take language proficiency tests in your target language.

Person looking at a dictionaryConclusion

No matter the industry you require translators or interpreters for, it is crucial to find professional service providers with expert knowledge, especially in the healthcare and medical field. Ideally, you must work with a language provider with professional certification to ensure proficiency in multiple languages. In-depth knowledge of the specific subject area of the written or spoken text is also necessary, especially if you want to promote trust, patient engagement, and safety.

My Language Connection is an accredited translation agency working across a range of technical industries. We are a specialist language services provider in the medical & life sciences sector. Contact us today to get a quote.

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