Your exhibit is coming up soon…You picked your international partner and all your logistics seem to be covered, except one: conveying your message from one language to the audience of another language. That part seems to be a piece of cake, right? Well, not so much.... As communication across the globe and across language barriers can easily leave you “lost in translation”. So, you think you need a translator? Or... perhaps… an interpreter?
This is where the confusion begins for some. So let me break it down for you.
Translator vs. Interpreter
Translators and interpreters are not interchangeable professions - as many people may imagine. Each of the two professionals has their unique work environment and set of rules to follow. And the same goes for the tools they use. Although, both are considered linguists (as their main duty is to convey messages from one language into another), there is a key difference:
Translators work with written communication only and often use dictionaries for the work they do – typically - in one direction; on the other hand, interpreters work either in spoken or sign language and they must be able to orally translate in both directions - in real time - without using any reference materials.
Let’s go a little further….
So, if one knows a foreign language and is considered fully bilingual, does it mean one can effectively translate and interpret? Not so much!
Interpreters always speak fluently in both languages they work with. Also, they read and write, in at least two languages – and to your surprise, English doesn’t have to be one of them; furthermore, they use their cognitive abilities in the work they do; while translators do not need to be orally fluent in two for doing their job. Plus, they often reach for Computer Assisted Translation Tools (CAT Tools). Both professionals are considered experts in rendering their cultural knowledge, whether their core responsibility is interpreting or translating. Some people can do both: interpret and translate, but this is actually quite rare in the linguistic industry.
The most appropriate choice
So how does one determine whether he/she needs a translator or an interpreter, in order to build a cultural bridge? Allow me provide a few hints:
1. Interpreters work on conveying messages, from one spoken language (source language) into a different spoken language (target language). If one needs to interpret in sign language, then the message is rendered between the spoken language and a sign language (both directions). The sole purpose of an interpreter is to present a message, in real time, as if it was rendered in the original language. To accomplish this task, interpreters must be fluent speakers in both languages they work with. The main reasons are: the back and forth communication with the audience - which may not share a common language, and - even more important - the cultural differences that play essential role and contribute to the process greatly. Interpreters work in both directions: from and to mother tongue. Worth mentioning here are three most common ways of interpretation:
Simulated sight translation (yes, you read it well: I used the “translation” term for highlighting a way of interpretation, and I will shed some light over the “why” behind it in the explanation below).
The first one, consecutive interpretation, is the most commonly used for general settings, such as office meetings, exhibits, doctors’ visits, etc. It allows the linguist to take notes, as well as rendering the message, from one language to another, with short pauses between the sentences. Remember that the interpreter works with two speakers of two different languages and the objective is to overcome the communication barrier between them, in real time.
The second one, simultaneous interpretation, is typically used in a conference setting, with a large audience and more than two speakers involved. The interpreter simultaneously renders the message in one language, while listening to it in another language. Often, such a setting requires a pair of interpreters and a moderator. Why? For two reasons: the intensity of the task associated with this type of interpretation and the mental fatigue that may occur, due to long periods of brain stimulation.
Simulated sight translation consists of translating a written document into a spoken language, in real time as well, so that the audience instantly understands it. (As an example, think about explaining the brochure used for the exhibit, without being able to check the actual translation of the document).
When choosing an interpreter, his/her expertise on the subject is as important as the interpretation experience itself. Interpreters must not only have the extraordinary listening abilities in order to convey the message; they also need a strong intellectual capacity, to instantaneously transform colloquialisms and idioms into the corresponding statements the target audience will understand clearly. They become cultural brokers while performing interpretations between the parties involved in the process.
2. Translators work solely with written texts. They must read the source language fluently and they only translate into their mother tongue as a target language. In other words, any brochures, pamphlets and likewise materials that need to be distributed for the exhibit in a variety of languages, need to be translated. Therefore, such a task ought to be done prior to the event, as it requires time, research and cannot be performed on the spot. Translators use computer based tools. They also apply a translation memory system (TM) to the text they work on (a specific system that is being built based on their previous work).
Translators often edit the work of another person (or of a computer), to ensure accuracy in the meaning. Many translators work closely with the authors of the texts they translate, in order to capture the cultural characteristics of the original text, as per author’s preferences. This is why I like to call them remote “word wizards”.
Interpreters work either on site (directly with the audience or in a booth settings), via phone or video connection, while their colleagues (the translators) can deliver their work electronically, from home. Interpreters are like painters as they truly need to know how to “paint pictures with their words”, in order to ensure that the message they convey is clearly understood in the target language, with all cultural differences that may occur. Interpreters must possess high listening and speaking abilities to perform their duties. Whereas, translators must have great reading and writing skills to deliver their work. A translator’s written words need to capture the content for the recipient and take under consideration cultural disparity as well.
Neither profession is considered to be easier or less challenging than the other. Both; the translator and the interpreter must have clear interest in languages, as well as in facilitating the communication between different cultures.
Now, since you know the differences between the two…
Do you still need a translator for your exhibit? Or were you thinking about an interpreter that would render your message accurately and clearly to the audience?