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Translator and interpreter: learn the difference

Confusing two terms is very common nowadays, and when it comes to our line of work, that is the first mistake that leads people to get our activities wrong. But what does a translator do?

We (translators) have grown weary of complaining and repeating the same things. However, this time we have decided at Multitlum that the best way to finish the debate is to explain clearly and carefully this common mistake so that there is no room for doubt and everyone who’s not familiarised with our world will understand. Do you know the difference between a translator and an interpreter?


The main difference between translator and interpreter is the way they conduct their activity. Whereas a translator facilitates communication transcribing written language, an interpreter performs a similar task but orally, not in writing. Most probably one of the main reasons the confusion appears is because of the simple fact that both translator and interpreter carry out a transcription from one language to another. Another reason might be the fact that most universities offer one single degree or MA to become a translator and interpreter without separating both duties into two degrees. Nevertheless, translators and interpreters conduct their work in different ways, and within each of those categories there lie different sub-categories. Pay attention!


Translation is a transcription of one language to another on paper, that is, always in written form, and there exist different types of translation, such as literary, audiovisual, scientific, economic or sworn, among others. In all these cases the translation is conducted in written form with the help of various programs or computer-assisted translation tools (CAT tools), not to be mistaken with Google translate!


As we mentioned above, the biggest difference between translator and interpreter is the voice. An interpreter has to transcribe a message from one language to another orally, with their own voice. The most common types of interpreting are simultaneous interpreting (the interpreter delivers the message a few seconds after the original) and consecutive interpreting (the interpreter needs to take notes and a few minutes later the speaker will stop talking in order to allow the interpreter to convey the message in the target language), among others.

The difference between translator and interpreter is clear, isn’t it? However, Barcelona’s center back Gerard Piqué seems not to have fully understood.

This instantaneous translation of the #Oscars2016 does really bother me. I can’t follow neither Chris Rock nor the translator. Why not subtitles?

The footballer not only mistakes the terms translator and interpreter, but also makes reference to an “instantaneous translator”, which to this date is yet to exist! What would happen if some notorious personality published a tweet referring Piqué as a point guard? We are sure social networks would burn with banters. Why doesn’t it happen this time though? This gives us a lot to think about.

Come to this point we would be happy if you learnt the difference between translator and interpreter and that all of us start using the right terms for every profession. Do you know any other case of confusion among professions? Multitlum wants to hear from you!

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