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Do you know the difference between interpreting and translation?

Imagine that you’re going on a business trip to China, and you realise that actually, your Mandarin is a bit rusty, and you could probably do with someone to accompany you to help you ensure that you don’t accidentally order your favourite stir-fried noodle dish when trying to close a deal with a prospective customer.

Do you: a) look for a translator? b) look for an interpreter? c) look for either, because they’re the same thing, aren’t they?

If you chose b) then you’ll probably end up with a confused translator wondering why you want to meet them in person. If you chose c) you have a 50/50 chance of closing the deal, and if you chose a) then, congratulations! You’re on your way to excellent business relations.

So, what’s the difference? They can both speak the languages, can’t they? Why can’t a translator interpret, and vice versa?

In short: translators focus on written communication, and interpreters focus on spoken communication. Both are highly trained professional linguists, but their skill sets are vastly different.

Think of it this way: some people write eloquently and beautifully, and can think of just the right way of describing things to bring words to life on a page and capture their reader’s attention. But ask them to give a speech or just talk to them on the phone and suddenly they’re not so articulate. Conversely, some people tell amazing stories out loud and can hold an audience captive with their anecdotes for hours, but ask them to write anything down and their prose is full of grammatical and spelling errors, half-formed ideas and possibly verging on incoherent. I’m not saying translators are inarticulate and interpreters can’t write – just that they specialise in two separate forms of communication, and aren’t interchangeable.

Interpreters need to be quick-thinking in both languages, as all their communication is done live with the client; there’s little time for research except perhaps if they have preparation materials to read through before an assignment, so they need to make sure they can communicate fluently in any given situation, and must also take into account body language and facial expressions to accurately convey intended meaning. They also need to be extremely flexible; one day they could have two interpreting appointments in London, the next they could be flying to Paris for a 1 hour meeting, before popping to Glasgow for a week-long conference. Additionally, they also likely need to have a CRB check, possibly undergo security clearance checks, and need to have a few specialisms up their sleeves in order to secure assignments.

Translators have it a tiny bit easier in that they’re able, in most cases, to take a bit more time to research terminology, and unless they work with direct clients, it’s not often, if at all likely, that they’ll meet the end client in person. It’s not a walk in the park, however; translators still need to have plenty of specialist knowledge and work experience, and know exactly how to communicate the message of the source text with their target audience. Even when the source text is badly written or poorly conceived, it’s their job to polish it up and make it shine in their language.

Lingua Translations specialises not only in translation services, but also interpreting services. Our interpreters are vetted in the same way as our translators and have at least 5 years industry specific experience, so you can always guarantee they’ll be working to your best advantage.

So, if you’re looking for a Chinese linguist to help close that deal, give us a call – we’ll find you an interpreter to ensure it all goes to plan.

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Ian Chapman – Director of Holiday Experience –

“Lingua Translations provides instant multi-lingual options for TUI’s 24/7 Holidayline, so 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year TUI’s customers are connected to an interpreter instantaneously. This service is designed to help holidaymakers who find themselves in difficulty and require non-English language assistance.

The service offered by Lingua Translations provides us with instant translation for every destination we travel to, and has proved invaluable.”

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