Interpreter vs. Translator: What Are the Differences?


black interpreter headset agains yellow background and white translator pen and paper against pink background

"We need a translator for an in-person client meeting."

"Can you provide us with a quote for an interpretation project? It's about a 4,000-page user manual."

In the business world, there is often a lot of confusion about the difference between interpreters and translators. While they may seem similar, these two professions have very different roles.

In this blog post, we will break down the interpreter vs. translator dilemma.

In a nutshell, an interpreter translates spoken words while translators convert written words into a different language.

But there are other differences.

Let's dive in.

The job of an interpreter

pink interpreter bidule against purple background

Interpreters are professional linguists who render spoken language from one language to another in real-time or near-real-time. They are employed in various settings, including business, government, and social services. Typically, they translate in both directions: Language A (source) and language B (target).

Professional interpreters must quickly understand the speaker, catch possible culturally specific references and nuances, and immediately provide an oral rendering in the other language. 

However, not all interpretation is made equal. Let's look at the different types of interpreting.

Consecutive Interpreting Services

hands and notes during business meeting shot from above

In consecutive interpreting, the interpreter speaks after the speaker has finished speaking. It is often used in business meetings, conferences, and court proceedings. Consecutive interpretation can be challenging because the interpreter must remember everything that has been said and interpret it on the spot. However, it allows the interpreter to provide a more accurate translation and ensure that essential details are not lost in translation. 

When to use it

  • In one-way communication (e.g., speech in front of an audience). That's because, if it were a two-way communication, there would be too much time lost between the speech, the interpretation, the reply, and yet another interpretation.
  • "Physical limitations." In other words, when the venue cannot accommodate setting up professional interpreting booths, which are required for simultaneous interpretation.

Simultaneous Interpreting

vintage image of simultaneous intepreter

Simultaneous interpreting is a process where the interpreter listens to the speaker and simultaneously translates into another language. This allows audience members who are not fluent in the source language to follow along in real time. 

Simultaneous interpreting is best used in settings where there will be a lot of speaking, such as conferences or lectures.

This is because simultaneous interpreters can listen and interpret at the same time, so they don't miss anything that is said.

Additionally, simultaneous interpretation requires special equipment, such as soundproof booths and headphones, which may not be available in all settings.

When to use it

Simultaneous interpretation is often used in international conferences and meetings, where multiple languages may be spoken. It is also sometimes used in court settings, where providing immediate access to interpretation services can be crucial. It is also an essential service for multilingual organizations like the United Nations or the European Parliament.

Chuchotage (Whispered Translation)

pop art illustration of a woman whispering in another woman's ear on pink background

Chuchotage, also known as whispered interpretation, is interpreting whereby the interpreter whispers a translation of the speaker's words to a maximum of two-three listeners. 

Chuchotage has the advantage of being less disruptive than other modes of interpretation, such as consecutive interpretation. It also allows the audience to follow the interpreted message more efficiently.

When to use it

This mode of interpretation is typically used in small conference settings where the audience is seated close to the interpreter and where there is little or no background noise.

Remote Interpretation (Video & Phone)

google meet icon in duotone

Video remote interpretation (VRI) is a type of interpretation that is done over a live video stream. This can be done using Zoom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, or another video conferencing platform.

VRI is best used in situations where there is a need for an interpreter, but it is not possible or practical to have an interpreter present in person. For example, VRI can be used for medical consultations, business meetings, or other types of appointments or conferences. 

Over-the-phone interpretation (OPI) is similar to VRI. But instead of using a video link, the interpreter and the person communicate over the phone.

OPI can be used when there is not a good internet connection, or it is not possible to have a video call. However, OPI can be more difficult than VRI because it can be harder to hear what is being said and to understand the context without being able to see facial expressions and body language.

3 Benefits of Remote Interpretation (RI)

There are several benefits of using RI.

It eliminates the need for participants to travel long distances or leave their homes or office to have an interpreted conversation.

RI provides greater flexibility in scheduling, as there is no need to coordinate commuting time.

RI can be used in situations where an on-site interpreter is not available.

Technologies & Reference Materials Used in Interpretation

closeup of colorful wires

When working in interpretation, there are a variety of technologies that may be used to facilitate communication. 

This can include headsets and interpreting booths for simultaneous interpretation, which can help reduce noise levels and make it easier to hear the speaker. 

Additionally, video conferencing tools can be used to connect with individuals who are not in the same physical location. 

Other technologies that may be used include linguistic software (glossaries, dictionaries) and telecommunication relay services.

When Does Your Company Need an Interpreter?

three question mark badges against pink background

In a globalized economy, more and more companies are doing business abroad. As a result, the need for interpreters is on the rise. Here are a few of the most common contexts where interpreters are used:

Business meetings 

Interpreters can facilitate communication between executives from different companies who may not share a common language. This is essential for ensuring that everyone understands what is being discussed and that agreements can be reached.

Conference calls 

In an increasingly connected world, it's not uncommon for businesses to hold conference calls with participants from around the globe. Interpreters can help to ensure that everyone understands what is being said during these calls.

Trade shows and conventions

These events allow companies to showcase their products and services to a global audience. Interpreters can help people from different cultures understand what is being said, making it more likely that they will do business with the company.

Training sessions 

When companies are training employees from different countries, interpreters can help to ensure that everyone understands the material. This is especially important when safety is a concern.

Court appearances 

Suppose a company is involved in legal proceedings in another country. In that case, interpreters can help to ensure that everything said in court is accurately translated. This is essential for ensuring that justice is served.

Working with Deaf or Heard of Hearing

To foster inclusion and accessibility, you should provide an American Sign Language interpreter any time you are dealing with individuals who have a hearing impairment.

The job of a translator

hands of female translator in yellow sweater typing on a laptop with coffee cup and phone nearby against a yellow background

Translators convert written text from one language to another. This is different from interpreters, who convert spoken language.

Translators typically only work in one direction, from the source language into the language they are translating into. Professional translation services providers ensure that the target language is the translator's native language. 

Translators often specialize in a particular subject area, such as law or medicine, to be able to translate specific terminology accurately. In addition, they must have a strong command of both the source and target languages and an understanding of the cultural nuances of both cultures. 

But translation services come in many different forms, each designed to serve a specific purpose. Let's look at a few examples.

Document translation

heap of documents in folders stack on each other against pink background

Document translation is perhaps the most straightforward service involving the direct translation of documents from one language to another. It consists in translating written documents from one language to another. This includes legal documents and contracts to financial reports and manufacturing spec. 

When translating a document, it is vital to ensure that the original text's meaning is accurately conveyed in the target language.

Sometimes, a literal translation is not possible or advisable, and translators must use their linguistic skills to convey the text's overall meaning. As a result, document translation is a highly skilled task that should only be entrusted to experienced professionals.


Local gflavor written in chalk against green background

Localization services are a type of service that helps businesses to adapt their products or services for a specific regional market. This can involve translating content (text, images, multimedia) into the local language and culturally adapting it to ensure that the products or services are relevant and appealing to the target audience. 

Localization services can be particularly important for companies looking to expand their operations into new markets, as they can help to reduce the risk of cultural miscommunication or misunderstanding. 

In addition, localization services can help improve the overall quality of a product or service, as they can ensure that it meets the specific needs and preferences of the target market. As such, localization services play a vital role in helping businesses to succeed in new and unfamiliar markets.


orange cut in half painted blue outside against blue background

Transcreation is a type of translation that involves adapting the meaning of a text to suit the target culture better. This can include changing the wording, tone, or even the concepts represented in the original text. 

Transcreation is often used for marketing materials, such as ads or website content, where it is vital to create an impactful and culturally relevant message. Transcreation does require a deep understanding of both the source and target cultures, not just languages.

3 Key Technologies Used in Translation

The three main types of technology and reference materials used in translation are CAT tools, translation memories, and glossaries. 

CAT tools, or computer-aided translation tools, help translators to work more efficiently by creating a database of previously translated phrases and sentences. This type of software also helps maintain the correct formatting and layout of the target-language document.

Translation memories store previously translated versions of documents, which can be used as a reference when translating similar texts in the future. 

Glossaries are databases of terms and phrases used in specific subject areas, which can be consulted when translating technical or specialist texts. These three technologies play an essential role in modern translation, helping translators work more quickly and accurately.

When Does Your Company Need Translators?

illustration of various worldwide country flags

Companies usually need translators when they are dealing with written documents such as contracts, manuals, websites, and marketing materials. 

Interpreters can provide verbal translation services. They may provide translation services "on the side" but this isn't a rule.

6 Key Differences About How Interpreters and Translators Work

newspaper pen and recording machine


Interpreters generally establish their fees by the hour/half-day/day, while translators typically charge by the word/page/line.

Source language & target language proficiency

An interpreter usually works in both directions, translating from one language to another and then interpreting the translation back into the original language for the person who needs it. Translators, on the other hand, usually only translate into their native language.


The main difference between interpreters and translators is that interpreters work on the spot, while translators work after the source document has already been created.


Interpretation, especially simultaneous interpretation, requires complete immediacy as interpreters have to render the meaning of the source text almost instantaneously into the target language. 

On the other hand, translation is not usually time-sensitive in the same way. As a result, professional translators have more time to consult dictionaries and other resources to ensure that their versions are as accurate as possible.


An interpreter works in a more formal environment, often within close quarters with the speaker, such as in a courtroom or diplomatic setting. They generally need to be very familiar with both languages and cultures. They may be called upon to interpret on short notice, and there is often little time for research. 

Translators work in a more informal environment, often from home. They are typically given more time to research the subject matter. They need to have a good command of the source language but are generally not expected to be fluent in it. The important thing is their command of the target language. Ideally, they should be native speakers of the language into which they are translating. 


Both language experts are mobile, but rather differently. 

Interpreters travel a lot, but because of work. They go wherever the meeting or conference is taking place. 

Translators work from home or home office. This allows them to be mobile in a different way: being geographically independent, they can work from wherever they want.

What Do Interpreters and Translators Have in Common?

indigo equals sign nailed on gray concrete wall

Both types of language experts must be extremely proficient in the target language. Interpreters need to be able to understand the nuances of spoken conversation, while translators must be able to read and write with complete fluency.

Secondly, both interpreters and translators specialize in a field, whether it be medical translation, technical, or legal translation. Therefore, they ensure that all translations are accurate and conform to the specific field they are working in.

Lastly, rates for interpreters and translators can vary greatly depending on their expertise. For example, legal interpreters may command a higher rate than business interpreters because of their greater specialization and expert knowledge.


Despite some similarities between interpreters and translators, the two professions are used in very distinct situations. 

One thing is true: They both require a masterful command of the language and in-depth knowledge of a particular field. 

Reach out to us any time to get more information on how our LingPerfect linguists can help you ace your next business meeting or get that financial report translated into major languages worldwide.

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