Translator vs Interpreter

I have often heard colleagues complain about the ignorance of the general public in the USA as to the difference between translating and interpreting. As my professor Dr. Geoffrey Koby said, mimicking your average layperson, “Translator? Isn’t that the person behind the politicians on TV?”

In English, especially in the US, the relationship between the two terms is further complicated by the other meaning of ‘interpret,’ the one we would you to talk about interpretations of a novel. Moreover, interpreting without any modifiers can signify American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting.

Interestingly enough, Russian doesn’t make a distinction between translation and interpreting. There once used to be a word to signify an interpreter (толмач), but it is now obsolete. As a result, both activities are covered by the umbrella term перевод (perevod), and if it is necessary to specify if translation or interpreting is meant, people add устный (ustny, ‘oral’) or письменный (pismenny, ‘written’).

Does your language make a distinction between translating and interpreting? If so, how closely is the distinction followed?

Published by Maria

Russian health and human services translator based in Rochester, New York

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