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  • Writer's pictureLara Fasoli


Updated: Nov 14, 2023

I thought it would be a good idea to start my client’s guide putting our best foot forward and discuss the difference between translation and interpreting. Is there actually one, you might ask? Indeed there is, and a big one. “Translation” is nowadays used as an umbrella term for any act of relaying a message from one language to another, with the internet full of such examples, and you might have come to my website looking for a translator, when in reality what you needed was an interpreter all along!

For those searching for language services, it's crucial to understand the nuances between an Italian translator and an Italian interpreter, especially in London, as the market is very crowded and it's easy to make mistakes with so many choices available!

So, what’s the big difference between an Italian translator and an Italian interpreter?

To put it simply, translation is the act of rendering the written word from one language to another one, whilst interpreting happens when it’s the spoken word that is relayed from one language to the other. In practical terms, you can translate a book, a document, some slides or a certificate, and you can interpret a speech or a conversation, but not viceversa.

The same difference applies to the person carrying out the act of translation or interpreting: if you need your product description translated, you’ll need to look for a translator, whilst if you’re looking for someone who can assist you with the multilingual conference you’re organising, then you definitely need an interpreter.

Can’t one person just do it all?

It is true that you can find people who are able to offer both services, but that’s not always the case. I define myself as an Italian translator and interpreter, a colleague who studied with me on the same course and attended the same lessons only describes herself as an interpreter, as even if she studied and learnt translation skills, she doesn’t offer that service. So, going back to the question: technically, yes; but the reality is a bit more complex. Translation and interpreting might both entail the transformation of one language into another, but they do so in a completely different way as the medium they work with is completely different: written and spoken. This is why these two tasks are similar but not quite the same, and therefore need different skills to be carried out. This is also reflected in the fact that there are different courses taught for translation or interpreting: the latter is usually taught at an MA level or higher, and interpreting students more often than not will have studied translation on their BA or have some translation modules on their MA. This is why, to put it simply, most interpreters will also be translators, but translators usually aren’t interpreters.

Translation or interpreting

What are the skills you’re talking about?

Translators are taught writing skills, creative writing, stylistic differences between genres, registers and tones of voice, as well as research skills for content and terminology, terminology management, CAT tools proficiency and are equipped with in-depth knowledge of their own native language when it comes to grammar, spelling and punctuation best practices.

Interpreters on the other hand are trained in the note-taking technique for consecutive interpreting and in the simultaneous technique, needed at conferences and big events. This training focusses on active listening, multitasking, splitting their attention between listening and talking, public speaking, quick vocabulary and terminology recall as well as memory retention.

Understanding the specific skills required for translation and interpreting is vital for clients seeking language services: you might end up wasting your resources on the wrong professional!

What can a translator do for you?

  • Any type of document, and they specialise in different fields: technical, general, creative, medical and legal are the main ones.

  • Novels, poetry and non-fiction: this field is called literary translation and it’s a highly specialised sector of the industry.

  • Websites: for websites you will need to look for a translator specialised in localisation, who will be able not only to translate the copy of your website but also adapt it according to the culture and expectations of the target audience.

For those embarking on translation projects, understanding the diverse capabilities of a translator is essential for achieving the desired outcomes!

What can an interpreter do for you?

Interpreters enable communication between people who speak different languages in a host of different scenarios, from the humblest to crucial international summits. For those in need of interpreting services, recognizing the wide array of situations in which an Italian interpreter can be invaluable is crucial. Just to give you a few examples:

  • Multilingual conferences and meetings

  • Institutions: EU bodies, UN, NATO, multilingual parliaments

  • Diplomacy: state visits, presidential meetings

  • Medical appointments

  • Legal appointments

  • Business meeting

  • Training workshops

  • Factory visits

So, do you need me as your Italian translator or as your Italian interpreter? If you require language services, whether for translation or interpretation, my expert team is ready to meet your specific communication needs.

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