So you're thinking of becoming an interpreter. There are several things a person should consider about interpretation before deciding to make a career change; maybe most importantly, before starting down the interpreter path, be sure you understand the differences between an interpreter and a translator. This article provides some options for a person to consider before deciding to pursue a career as an interpreter or a translator.
An interpreter provides verbal language interpretation. They may provide in person interpretation - for a person who speaks one language into a second language for another person or audience. An interpreter may also provide interpretation services over the phone - relaying the message one person speaks in one language to another person in a second language. A translator, on the other hand, provides translation of written language. In other words, a translator may translate a book, newspaper, or computer manual into a second language.
Acting as interpreter or as translator both have their challenges. An interpreter must be able to think quickly in both languages - the language being spoken by the first person and the language understood and/or spoken by the audience (be that audience one person or several people). The interpretation must be almost immediate, so the interpreter must be comfortable with person-to-person interaction and not feel uncomfortable around groups of people. Interpreters must also be comfortable translating language spoken with a variety of accents. The person commissioning an interpretation in the morning may have a vastly different accent from the person commissioning an interpretation in the afternoon, so the interpreter must be able to change gears more quickly than a translator will need to. Interpreters need to be comfortable speaking both languages they are working with.
A translator has a few advantages over an interpreter in these situations. A translator, working with written languages, doesn't have the added distraction of vocal language accents. Writing style varies person to person and culture to culture in every language, but there is no pronunciation difference on a written page (or computer screen). A translator also has the luxury of time.
They don't have to interpret the language in real time - being a translator provides the opportunity to read through the writing and get an understanding for the overall context before beginning the interpretation. A translator can also pause to look up any words that may be unfamiliar to them in either language they are working with, where an interpreter must choose a word quickly and move on. A translator doesn't run the risk of falling behind, whereas an interpreter has to be careful to keep up with the pace. A translator can pause for a break; interpreters can't pause until the person they are interpreting for does. Interpreters may translate between two languages, or they may only translate into one.
An interpreter does have a few advantages over a translator. Because interpreters work in spoken language, grammar and punctuation are not concerns. An interpreter's work is also completed more quickly - usually once the presentation or discussion is over, the translation is over, too. A translator's work, on the other hand, has just begun once they have been through the material once. The translator must review and revise their translation for accuracy and adherence to grammar and punctuation rules.