Interpreter vs. Translator: Which Should Your Business Use?

What if different languages didn’t exist? Wouldn’t business be so much simpler? Although this may be true, the existence of many languages provides the opportunity to create a competitive advantage in a worldwide market. With the rise of globalization, overcoming the language barrier is more important than ever for businesses, and sometimes the only option is to use an interpreter or translator to reconfigure information across two different languages.

Once you are aware that you need someone to assist with translation for your business, you must figure out whether you need translation services or interpretation services. There are distinct differences between the two, and specific scenarios call for one or the other. So when should you turn to an interpreter and when should you look for a translator?

Generally, interpreters and translators both start off at a university studying language and taking most of the same courses for their Bachelor degree. After this point, they tend to split. The interpreters must pass an entrance exam including a spoken portion that tests their language skills, cultural skills, mimicking the pressure of live interpretation. If this is passed, it is followed by verbal translation classes where they can earn a Masters degree in Languages, and an Interpreter’s Diploma. Those interested in becoming a translator continue taking translation classes after earning their Bachelor degree to receive a Masters in Languages and a Translator’s Diploma.

What is the difference between an interpreter and a translator?

Translators convert content that has been written from one language to the next, while interpreters translate changes from one language to another verbally. Translators are not interpreters, but most interpreters do translate. Simultaneous interpretation takes years of training and practice to become successful. It is a specific skill set that does not always come naturally, so if a translator took on a simultaneous interpretation job without enough experience they would most likely struggle to keep up with a speaker. Many translators specialize in specific fields, making them a great choice for certain translation projects depending on the subject matter or industry.


Typically, translators work with written documents such as paperwork, literature, newspapers, marketing material and websites with a deadline. The charge for such documents is usually calculated per page or per word, and translators are given specific deadlines for each translation project.


In most cases, interpreters work at international conferences, workshops, meetings, or other events with multiple languages being spoken. Simultaneous interpretation is performed with equipment (such as headphones) and the interpretation occurs as a person is speaking. When an interpreter listens to a part of a speech then interprets it while the speaker silently waits, this is called consecutive interpretation. If the interpreter is not interpreting remotely, they will often travel to the event and the charge for such services is usually calculated per day.

As you can see, there is quite a difference between an interpreter and a translator and the work they are capable of doing. Although there are people all over the world that speak more than one language, it does not mean that they can translate effectively from one language to another. Companies must find a provider that hires professionals with degrees in translation or interpretation and that specialize in a certain relevant field to obtain quality work.


About Global LT

Global LT, formerly Langua Tutor, was founded in 1979 and for over 35 years, our mission has been to empower corporate employees to live and work successfully anywhere in the world with our language and cultural training, translation and interpretation services as well as expatriate destination and global workforce talent development programs.

Headquartered in Troy, Michigan, with representatives in Boston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, London and Shanghai, Global LT employs over 100 corporate employees worldwide, with a dedicated network of over 2000 teachers, translators, trainers and specialists who deliver our services.

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