Interpreter vs Translator

Navigating the Language Bridge

Before I began working in schools, I was not wholly aware of the differences between being an interpreter and a translator. I frequently served as an interpreter for my parents, unaware that, as a minor, I was unintentionally violating the code of ethics rules and guidelines outlined by the Office of Civil Rights.

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I remember being introduced as an interpreter sometimes and as a translator other times. It was then that I decided to figure out the difference between being an interpreter vs translator to understand its original meaning.

As a teenager, I learned the importance of learning languages. I often helped my family and friends around by interpreting for them every day life events. I interpreted for my parents at restaurants, banks, over the phone, and in supermarkets. I was an interpreter even though my English language skills were not fully developed.

I also translated for my parents and friends whenever they had a document they could not read or understand. I learned early on that there were key differences in what I had to do to interpret either or translate. I felt a lot more pressure when interpreting because I had to constantly switch back and forth from English to Spanish in front of others. I felt more relaxed when I translated because I had more time to process how to explain written text in spoken language.

Understanding Interpreters

Interpreter Meaning (Definition)

According to Google Dictionary, interpreting is the action of translating orally or into sign language the words of a person speaking a different language. An interpreter is someone who provides spoken interpretation during a live conversation. An interpreter’s role is crucial in ensuring effective communication in various settings, such as school meetings, conferences, medical appointments, legal proceedings, and more.

Sight Interpretation

A new term now used in place of interpretation is “sight-translation.” Sight translation refers to live or in-person interpretation. State departments use “sight translation” to refer to the interpretation of a student test. A professional interpreter understands the difference between sight translation and when to render such a service.

Simultaneous Interpretation

A commonly used mode of interpretation is the simultaneous interpretation mode. During simultaneous interpretation, a conversation is interpreted into another language while the speaker is still speaking. When this happens, the interpreter speaks to the person who requires the interpretation in a lower voice.

Simultaneous interpretation mode is often used where there is an immediate need to communicate information. Some events that fit well with the simultaneous interpretation mode are conferences, international meetings, and large events. This interpretation mode is best appropriate when a presenter or speaker is unaware that someone is interpreting or is not pausing to wait for the interpreter to relay the information. This type of interpretation often requires specialized equipment, such as soundproof booths, headsets, and microphones. Interpreters work from these booths to avoid disrupting the ongoing conversation.

Another benefit of simultaneous interpretation is how it caters to audiences who speak different languages. Each participant can choose a headset with the language of their preference, allowing for a diverse and inclusive communication environment.

Some challenges of simultaneous interpretation pose the potential for fatigue among interpreters due to the high cognitive load and the need for precise and rapid communication that it requires.

Consecutive Interpretation

Another commonly used interpretation mode is consecutive interpretation. In consecutive interpretation, the speaker pauses at regular intervals to allow the interpreter to convey the message in the target language. This mode of interpretation entails a sequential process. For instance, the speaker delivers a segment of their speech, and then the interpreter translates it into the target language.

Consecutive interpretation does not require specialized equipment like soundproof booths or headsets. This is because the interpreter and the audience can be in the same room without the need for additional technology. For this reason, the interpreter can sit in front or next to the person needing interpretation.

One benefit consecutive interpretation offers is the opportunity for precise and clear communication that it renders. Participants also experience a more personalized interaction, making clients or parents feel more comfortable.

Consecutive interpretation is well-suited for one-on-one interactions, small group discussions, negotiations, or settings where the speaker and the interpreter can be close. This interpretation mode causes various challenges to keep in mind. For instance, pausing to allow interpretation tends to make a meeting longer. This can cause some difficulties in maintaining the flow of the conversation.

Escort Interpretation

Escort interpretation, also known as escorting or liaison interpretation, is a type of interpretation service where an interpreter accompanies an individual or a small group in various situations, facilitating communication between them and others who speak a different language. For example, escort interpretation is more informal and takes place in casual, day-to-day activities.

This informal mode of interpretation happens in casual or unstructured settings, such as shopping, medical appointments, or social events. These types of interpreters accompany an individual or small group to help them communicate with people who speak a different language.

One benefit that escort interpretation offers is real-time assistance to individuals. These interpreters need to adapt to the environment they are in real time. In addition, cultural sensitivity is an essential aspect of escort interpretation.

Interpreter Skills

A skillful interpreter possesses various skills. Here are key interpreter skills: Language proficiency, active listening, speaking skills, cultural competence, memory and recall, note-taking ability, technology literacy, willingness to continue learning, emotional resilience, neutrality and impartiality, crisis management, and ethical conduct.

Interpreters with a well-rounded combination of these skills can excel in various settings, ranging from educational settings and legal and medical environments to conferences and community events, ensuring effective communication across language barriers.

How Much Does an Interpreter Cost

Bilingual services costs can vary depending on the language and the type of services, such as interpretation or translation. For instance, Spanish interpretation is often less expensive because it is a language that is much more available and easier to find. Other languages, such as Hindi, Swahili, or Farsi, cost twice as much and are harder to find.

A not-so-common language such as Farsi can cost up to $150 an hour. Schools must pay for the provision of interpreting services, which has proven very beneficial to parents.

Interpreters in Schools

In schools, interpreting is a service provided to non-English speaking families during parent-teacher conferences, IEP meetings, parent events, and school-related meetings. Interpretation services must be prearranged so that an interpreter is secured and scheduled ahead of time. 

Simultaneous interpretation is the mode of interpretation that is recommended for a school setting. The consecutive interpretation mode is most appropriate during large school events.

Non-English-speaking families benefit from interpreting services and have a right to request this service as necessary. Interpreting services bridge a communication gap that helps students’ education. Families should feel empowered to request interpreting services when required. One key difference between translating and interpreting is that interpreters must be excellent in note-taking and process excellent communication skills. 

Over-the-Phone Interpretation

Many schools use over-the-phone interpretation companies for on-demand interpreting services. Hence, over-the-phone interpretation is a more modern service that allows schools to provide immediate interpreting services over the phone. It is a great resource to use in case of an emergency, parent walk-ins, addressing immediate concerns, or scheduling meetings with parents who may need an interpreter.

Interpreters who are familiar with in-person interpretation can also become over-the-phone interpreters. The same confidentiality and interpreting etiquette apply to over-the-phone interpreting services. This service is growing along with online interpreting services.

Unraveling Translators

Translators Meaning

According to the Google dictionary, translating is to express the sense of (words or text) in another language. This translation process refers to the process of expressing written communication from one language to the other. In some school districts, staff members do document translations. A translator is a person who provides written meaning from one language to another in a text.

Literal Translation

Literal translation involves rendering the source text into the target language word-for-word without considering cultural or linguistic differences. One crucial fact is that literal translation suits technical or scientific documents where precision and accuracy are crucial. However, it may lead to awkward phrasing or lack of fluency in more creative or idiomatic content.

Idiomatic Translation

Idiomatic translation focuses on conveying the meaning of phrases or expressions rather than translating them literally. It aims to capture the idioms and colloquialisms of the target language. The idiomatic translation is ideal for creative or literary works, as well as in everyday communication. Idiomatic translation ensures natural and culturally appropriate language, allowing the target audience to understand the intended meaning.

Cultural Adaptation (Localization)

Cultural adaptation involves translating words and adjusting the content to align with the target audience’s cultural norms, preferences, and expectations. For instance, cultural adaptation is essential for marketing materials, software, websites, and content where cultural nuances play a significant role. Localization ensures that the translation resonates with the cultural sensibilities of the target audience.

Translator Skills

In addition to bilingual proficiency, a translator shall possess research, writing, cultural competence, attention to detail, time management, adaptability, technological proficiency, confidentiality, problem-solving, communication, and cognitive skills. A translator should be willing to continue learning new technology and strategies to become a better translator.

Translation Costs

The translation of documents is often much more expensive than interpreting services. The translation of a written text is more time-consuming. Most individuals and companies charge a specific rate per word count. The cost per word depends on the language. The translation of a document can sometimes cost up to .35 cents per word.

Translation services often use The Microsoft Word processor to do a word count.s are done by using Microsoft Word processor. They then multiply the number of words by the standard rate of that target language to come up with a translation price. Some schools use Bilingual staff members to translate documents. Computer-assisted translation has proven to be more cost-effective; however, it presents certain communication risks that must be considered.

Translation Services in Schools

An effective translator possesses excellent writing skills and a deep understanding of cultural implications. Most schools provide certain documents in other languages. These may include the school registration forms, emergency cards, brochures, flyers, field trip forms, school code of conduct, and sometimes parts of the district website. These documents and forms are often the most used documents by families in schools.

Not all languages are easy to translate. Bilingual translators are difficult to find; some languages take much longer to translate than others. You will often see that most documents are available to families in Spanish. This may be because, as of 2014, there were 39.3 million Spanish-only speakers in the US.

There are some shortcuts or free options that schools use to translate. Google Translate is one of the most known translation tools. Another well-known tool is Microsoft Translate. You might recognize Google Translate because it is a tool that some families use to support with homework from home. There are some risks we take when we use translation tools.

Although online tools are sometimes necessary, they are not always the best option. For instance, online tools are known to provide translations that are occasionally offensive or impossible to understand. As a result, anyone using an online translation tool should read and review the translation. A disclaimer may be necessary to inform of the usage of an online tool. Most families will understand that you intend to help, not to offend.

Difference Between Interpreting and Translating

There are two main differences between interpreter vs translator. The primary focus of interpreters is to provide oral communication during spoken conversations. Interpreters facilitate oral communication between individuals or groups who speak different languages. The primary focus of translators is to provide written communication from text.

Some people confuse the words interpreting and translating but note that interpreting refers to oral language, and translation refers to written language.

Interpreting and Translation Certification

Not everyone who’s bilingual can interpret or translate. Some people are comfortable with just oral language interpretation and may not be proficient in written translation. Others may shy away from providing in-person interpretation and prefer to translate.

The Certification to become an interpreter is not the same as the certification to become a translator. A person must have separate professional qualifications to be certified in interpreting and translating. Some schools use professional translation services to secure professional translators with certifications. Some agencies focus on only written or interpreting certification and not always both. 

Below is a list of factors and resources to consider to become certified in interpreting or translation:
  1. American Translators Association (ATA):
    • Website: American Translators Association
    • Offers certification programs for both translators and interpreters. The ATA certification is widely recognized in the industry.
  2. National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI):
  3. Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI):
  4. Court Interpreter Certification Programs:
    • Check with state or national court interpreter certification programs, such as those offered by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) or individual state court systems.
  5. International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC):
    • Website: AIIC
    • Offers information on conference interpreting and resources for those seeking certification.
  6. Educational Institutions:
    • Many universities and language schools offer certificate programs or degrees in translation and interpretation. Check with institutions in your area or those offering online courses.
    • For school interpreting, try the Community Interpreter Certification
  7. Language-Specific Certification Programs:
    • Some language-specific organizations or communities may offer certification programs. Check with organizations relevant to the languages you work with.
  8. Certification Program:
  9. National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT):
    • Website: NAJIT
    • Provides information and resources for judiciary interpreters and translators.
  10. Language-specific Associations:
    • Explore language-specific associations that may offer certification or information on certification requirements for interpreters and translators working with specific languages.


Although there are differences between interpretation vs. translation, the one important similarity is the goal of maintaining the original message of the original language. My native language, Spanish, has allowed me to support many non-English-speaking families.

I hope this information has given a better understanding of the difference between translation and interpretation. It is always rewarding to see how my bilingual services can help bridge a communication gap that impacts the education of bilingual students in the US.

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4 thoughts on “Interpreter vs Translator”

  1. Hi this is great information since I getting involved into translating and interpreting to Spanish. Is good to know that the rate for each is completely different. Didn’t know

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