Translation companies often hear the request ‘I need a translator!’ when they answer a client’s phone call.
However, when they ask for more information they actually discover that what their client really needs is an interpreter which is quite different to a translator. This is a fairly common and understandable misconception. Translating and interpreting actually involve two completely different skills and are usually not handled by the same person.
A translator works with written text which could consist of anything from the translation of a report or contract to some brochure or advertisement copy which requires translation into their native language. The text could be in any format from Word, Excel, Powerpoint, HTML to PDF or hard copy.
Most translation companies only work with native speaking, in-country translators who only ever translate into their own mother tongue. They are highly qualified and experienced professionals who have a post graduate qualification in translation and several years of experience. It is a skill which requires them to translate from a source language into their own target language in a way that appears natural in their native language whilst avoiding a literal translation. Furthermore, the translator needs to understand the nuances and idioms which might appear in the original source language and translate them into their own target language whilst at the same time keeping the original meaning in tact. They often have previous experience of working in these fields before they decided to embark on a career as a translator. Translation costs are based on the source word count, wherever possible, of the document to be translated and a translator can translate on average 1,500-2,000 words per day.
Translators tend to specialise in certain fields, for example:
Banking, finance and economics, engineering, government and politics, information technology, law, marketing, media and creative, medicine and pharmaceuticals, oil and gas and telecoms.
By contrast an interpreter works with the spoken word as a ‘consecutive’ or ‘simultaneous’ interpreter.
A consecutive interpreter will make a note of a speech or lecture and then present the content to the audience in their native language. This type of interpreting is often used for court hearings, GP and Hospital appointments, business meetings and delegate visits. City Councils, the NHS and local police forces rely on this type of interpreting as the number of migrant workers to the UK continues to increase.
A simultaneous interpreter will literally interpret what is being said simultaneously into their native language. Simultaneous interpreters are used mainly at conferences or at the European Parliament and United Nations for example, where the target audience needs to know simultaneously what is being said through the use of headsets. This type of interpreting is very demanding as well as tiring and usually entails a team of two working together to allow each interpreter to have a short break.
Interpreters usually charge by the hour, half day or full day and expect their travel expenses and the cost of any meals during the interpreting time to be paid by the client.