People who do not deal with translation and interpreting services very often are confused about the translator’s and interpreter’s different roles. The two professions are often erroneously considered as the same, but this is not true: the roles of a translator and interpreter do not always coincide.
Interpreting services differ from translations, as they take place in real time and in the presence (whether physical, televised or telephonic) of the speakers and recipients for whom the interpreter provides the service.
Since the skills involved in the two processes are different, translation and interpreting services should always be considered as two different things. The main requirement of a translator is the mastery of his/her mother tongue (TL – Target Language) and its usages in any kind of register and context. Obviously, an excellent knowledge of the foreign language from which he/she translates (SL – Source Language) is also important, even if it is secondary compared to the importance of using resources for translation (dictionaries, glossary, CAT tools, Internet, etc.).
On the other hand, the immediacy of language interpretation requires a more in-depth knowledge of the SL, from both colloquial and technical points of view. Concentration, quick reflexes and a good level of calm and self-control are essential requirements for all professional interpreters.
Because of the difference in skills involved, not all good translators are good interpreters, and vice versa. For example, some translators who are excellent in translating written texts might have many difficulties in taking over even the easiest interpreting job if they are not familiar with the spoken SL.
They both operate in the same field (the language and translation industry), but translators and interpreters represent two separate professional roles. Considering them as one would be like saying that violin and double bass are the same musical instrument. They both have strings and belong to the same family, but you would never ask a violin player to play double bass during a concert. Even if there is a virtuoso who is able to play both, that does not mean that every player can do the same.
Accordingly, being a translator does not necessarily mean being an interpreter as well. For more information about the difference, have a look at our interpreting services page.