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Specialised in Written Translation

An Interpreter is not the same as a Translator

Versión en español: Traductores e Intérpretes no son lo mismo

- Interpreting (oral translation) is a service which is characterized by immediacy. That is, the moment between receiving the text to interpret and the moment when the translation should be delivered can be counted in seconds. That doesn’t allow weighing different options and selecting the best, but instead, delivering the first option that comes to mind. This means that imperfection, although not desired, can be an integral part or even a necessity of Interpreting. For this reason, if you need a translated copy of a speech, you should get the speech translated, don’t get a transcript of the interpreter’s version.

- Translating (written translation) is a service characterized by the search for quality. Although perfection is not expected, it is desired, and the translator allots time for weighing the different options so that the best are selected. This is the best reason why urgent translations and translations expected in an unreasonable time are quality risks. Responsible translators will not accept a deadline that puts a minimum quality level, and their own reputation, at risk. Immediacy is detrimental for written translation.

- Interpreting is oral, so those factors involved in oral communication (i.e. good hearing, eye contact, translating body language, responsiveness to the environment, understanding and judging oral expressions, identifying key points, reflexive listening, oral conciseness, transferring stress and intonation into another language and culture, improvising) are mostly social abilities, abilities acquired by social interaction. Also the interpreter should be equally proficient in the colloquial use of the language as well as its formal uses, as the features of the speaker, his style, usually is unknown till he starts speaking, unless a transcript is delivered beforehand. This is mainly an interactive activity. If you want to evaluate an interpreter a written assessment can be a limited choice.

- Translating is written, so those factors involved in written communication (i.e. good sight, attention to detail, abilities for analysis and synthesis, understanding and judging written expressions, identifying meaning and purpose, information mining and lexicological research, language structure cognition skills, ability to express clearly ideas in writing, transferring nuances into another language and culture, reasoned decision-making and choosing, etc.) are mostly personal abilities, abilities acquired by individual work through training and exposure to written texts. This is mainly a solitary activity. If you want to evaluate a translator, an oral interview can be a limited choice.

It is my belief that these two factors are (broadly) mutually exclusive as they respond to different psychological traits, different personalities. I enhance “broadly” because personality traits come in different degrees and can be an oversimplified explanation of the complex human mind, with all its variety, and individuality outperforms any dogma. As well, people can learn and adapt to external requirements with varying ability, upgrading their weaknesses and expanding their strengths in degrees that vary from person to person. However, top quality results, in any discipline (sports, engineering, science, etc.) are dependent of three factors: talent, effort and specialisation. Maybe in this case, where the requirements are very distinct, specialisation should deliver the best results.


February 15th 2014

Some weeks ago I discovered a book in the Internet that is a must read for all translators/interpreters, independently of their experience: “Becoming a Translator” by Douglas Robinson. In this book you’ll find very detailed descriptions of theories related to learning and translation that are great food for thought. Without doubt you’ll find yourself there. I’d just like to copy here some excerpts (pgs. 88-89) which somehow are related to the topic above:

"Impulsive-experimental learners respond to new information through trial and error: rather than reading the instructions or asking for advice, they jump right in and try to make something happen. Impulsive-experimental learners often become interpreters, especially simultaneous and court interpreters, because they love the thrill of always being forced to react rapidly and spontaneously to emerging information."

"Analytical-reflective learners prefer to respond more slowly and cautiously: their motto is "look before you leap." They take in information and reflect on it, test it against everything else they know and believe, check it for problems and pitfalls, ask other people's advice, and only then begin carefully to act on it."

"Analytical-reflective translators are probably best suited to freelancing, since working at home enables them to set their own pace, and do whatever pretranslation textual analyses and database searches they feel are necessary to ensure professional-quality work. Because they tend to work more slowly than impulsive-experimental translators, they will have to put in longer hours to earn as much money; but they will also earn the trust and respect of the clients and agencies for whom they work, because the translations they submit will so rarely require additional editing."


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