Many people use the terms interpreter and translator interchangeably. But although the two perform similar tasks, there is a vast difference in skills, training and between the professions.

A woman and a man looking at a computer screen

What is an interpreter?

Interpreters deal with spoken language and translate orally. They listen to a speaker in one language, understand the content and context of what is being said, then explain it for the target audience in a second language. 

Typically, they are engaged by public institutions such as hospitals, police and immigration agencies. But they are also used a lot in the private sector, for multilingual business meetings – in video or in person – by law firms, and in a range of international markets. And they are also used by individuals who need to communicate with others in a language they don’t speak.

Which skills do interpreters need?

An interpreter must possess extraordinary listening skills and be able to process and memorise the words that a speaker is saying, while simultaneously outputting the translation of the words the speaker said five to ten seconds ago. It is also important for interpreters to have social skills that enable them to read situations on the spot and keep their neutral standing at all times.

Since interpreters translate on the spot without dictionaries or other supplemental reference material, they must have thorough knowledge of the subject at hand, be intimately familiar with different cultures, and have extensive vocabulary in both languages. 

In Norway there is only one official certification for interpreters. Many interpretation agencies offer internal courses for interpreters, but these are very different from an official certification. You can read more about education for interpreters in Norway here (in Norwegian), and about TikkTalk’s openness about all interpreters’ qualification levels here.

Illustrations of a man and a woman greeting a female interpreter

What is a translator?

Translators converts written words from one language to another. They use dictionaries or other reference materials to translate original material clearly and correctly so the target audience will understand it.

A translator must understand the source language and culture of the country where the text originated, as well as the target language. Where interpreters are able to add additional explanations if something is unclear in a spoken conversation, translators only have one opportunity to get their meaning across.

Which skills do translators need?

Since the goal of a translator is to have the target audience read the translation as if it were the original text, the translator needs to write well and clearly, all while keeping facts and ideas accurate. 

Aside from all of the differences in skills, interpreters and translators both have a love of language and a passion for conveying meaning to people who would otherwise not understand the information at hand.

TikkTalk logo, slogan "let's tikktalk" and a picture of a smiling interpreter

So, many people have a misunderstanding as to what interpreters and translators are. The terms are often used synonymously without realising the difference between interpreters and translators.

Unfortunately, we don’t work with translators, but if you are an interpreter searching for new opportunities and assignments, take a look around the TikkTalk website.

With TikkTalk you can connect to businesses and individuals in need of interpretation services. Become part of our growing community of interpreters and exchange your ideas and expertise with colleagues: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1805933676347115/

Be part of the future. Let's TikkTalk

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