<img src="//bat.bing.com/action/0?ti=5257384&amp;Ver=2" height="0" width="0" style="display:none; visibility: hidden;"> Interpreter or Translator: Challenging the Traditional Definition


Interpreter or Translator: Challenging the Traditional Definition

Posted by Winnie Heh on June 12, 2015

The difference between interpreter and translator. On the surface, this sounds like it should be an easy question.  And most people would answer, “is there one?  Aren’t they really the same?” Yet, in the language access industry, this question is   answered with strong conviction and the difference is quite clear.

An interpreter works with the spoken word, verbally interpreting one language, in a conversation, to another on demand via telephone, video remote or in-person, by appointment.  A translator, on the other hand, works with the written word.  They translate, according to a predetermined schedule, documents such as letters, forms and correspondence and localize complex documentation and media such as technical manuals, websites, multi- media offerings and software so they are culturally relevant to the consuming audience.

Traditionally, language professionals feel very strongly that they be identified by the proper term since the training, skill set and career paths for interpreters and translators have been very different.  The single unifying factor between interpreters and translators has been the need to command more than one language.    

But, like many traditions, that is beginning to change and the line between an interpreter who works on demand over the phone or through video remote and a translator is beginning to blur as technology influences the language access industry.   

Interpreters are increasingly communicating not only with their voice (traditional role) but in writing as well – and here’s a key – often in the same conversation.  In essence, they are being required to communicate the way the world at large communicates via voice and text.  Technology has changed the way we communicate and voice and text together are the new norm for conversations. 

Think about it.  When you need to quickly let someone know where to meet up, or to tell your spouse to pick up more milk on the way home, do you call?  Most likely not. These days, a text is easier, faster, and more efficient. You get your message out and move on.

We’re constantly texting instead of calling, whether for convenience, or because circumstances require it.  For that reason, professional on demand interpreters, whether by phone or video remote, who used to only handle verbal interpretation may just as readily receive the same incoming message via text and be required to respond in kind.

So, at that point, what are they?  An interpreter or a translator?

The answer is: both. 

When an on demand interpreter is called on to handle on demand simple translation they’ve crossed the traditional line into written. At LanguageLine those interpreters who have the ability to cross that line are called linguists.    

The modern linguist must have a new set of skills.

The ability to be a modern linguist means professional interpreters need to take their skills to a whole new level. The same education and experience that was sufficient even five years ago isn’t enough today.

For example, in the past, a qualified on demand interpreter needed the following core skills to succeed:

  • Spoken proficiency in both working languages
  • Voice quality
  • Facial control (video remote)
  • Confidence
  • Short term memory recall
  • Cultural specific idiosyncrasies
  • Proper protocols and role of the interpreter
  • Consecutive/simultaneous interpreting skills
  • Note taking skills

Those skills would allow them to successfully facilitate multilingual conversations.

But today, in addition to those core skills, on demand interpreters can continue to progress in their career have by embracing the new skills their callers expect them to be able to use.  They need to be fully capable of more than just the strict interpretation skill set they had before.  A linguist must also have these additional skills:

  • Computer / Internet / Mobile / Video literacy
  • Written language proficiency — vocabulary and spelling
  • Keyboarding/typing skills for accuracy and speed in both working languages
  • Advanced Multi-tasking skills: listening, interpreting, data collection, video presence

At LanguageLine we have a longstanding commitment to provide professional training and development to all of our interpreters and translators so that our clients and their customers enjoy the quality language access services they deserve.  As the language access industry evolves our commitment to professional development remains steadfast. 

If you’d like to discuss the new hybrid skill set of the modern professional linguist, please lets us know how we can help take your language access program to the next level.

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