Questions on translating vs interpreting
Thread poster: Heather Chinchilla

Heather Chinchilla
United States
Local time: 17:35
Spanish to English
+ ...
Oct 23, 2005

Hi everyone,

I'm just getting started (officially, anyway) as a
translator/interpreter in the United States (Michigan). My
native language is English and my foreign language is

I'm attending a 1 year college translating certificate
program. I'm preparing for a presentation for a translation
class on "Translating vs Intereting". I'm also interested in
your answers to aid me in career decisions.

I'm interested to hear your opinions on the following:
1)Is it easier to find work as a translator or interpreter?
2)Does translating or interpreting pay better in general?
3)What are the biggest pros and cons of translating vs
4)Would you reccomend doing both translating and
interpreting or choosing one or the other?

Your responses would be greatly appreciated by myself and my
classmates. Thank you very much,

Heather Chinchilla


JaneTranslates  Identity Verified
Puerto Rico
Local time: 17:35
Member (2005)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Most are better at one or the other Oct 23, 2005

Hi Heather

I know a couple of people who are quite highly regarded both as translators and as interpreters but in general, I think the two jobs require different skills and temperaments, and most people are better suited to one or the other.

Are you an outgoing person? Are you well groomed at all times? Do you like to dress well? Can you be ready to travel anywhere on short notice, and look sharp (but not flashy) when you get there? Do you have good hearing and a good ear for accents and dialects? Does "the right word" come easily to you? Are you good at thinking on your feet? Can you stay focused under pressure? And above all, when you realize you've made a mistake, can you let it go and not fret about it? Then you might want to specialize in interpretation, which (in my experience) usually pays better than translation.

Are you a perfectionist? Do you drive your friends and family nuts correcting their grammar and pointing out spelling and punctuation errors wherever the printed word appears? Do you take pride in editing and polishing your work? Can you be happy working entirely alone (except for ProZ!) for hours at a time? When you read a book, do you read the blurb on the back cover, the preface, the introduction, and all the footnotes, for fear you might miss something? Is Adrian Monk your idol? Then be a translator!

I'm a translator. (Did you guess?) My first day as an intern at an agency, I was asked to proofread a translation by a very experienced and successful interpreter/translator. All her terminology was absolutely correct, but she had made a number of typos and punctuation errors. I suspect her true calling is interpretation. I do some interpreting, but am much happier sitting in front of a computer at 2 AM.

I'm sure many ProZers will disagree, but that's what forums are for! Good luck to you and your classmates.


Derek Gill Franßen  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:35
German to English
+ ...
Sorry about the super long post, but here goes... Oct 23, 2005

hlchinchilla wrote:
I'm interested to hear your opinions on the following:
1)Is it easier to find work as a translator or interpreter?
2)Does translating or interpreting pay better in general?
3)What are the biggest pros and cons of translating vs
4)Would you reccomend doing both translating and
interpreting or choosing one or the other?

Hi Heather,

First off, welcome to ProZicon_smile.gif - if you spend some time here, I think you'll soon agree that this is simply a great site and a good tool for both translators and interpretors alike. I thought that I'd share a few of my observations regarding these two very different activities.

1) It is easier to find work translating than interpreting. As was already mentioned by my esteemed colleague above, interpreting is a pretty high-profile job. This is especially true for consecutive translating: I've had to sit in on numerous important meetings with all of the "big bosses" from around the world, and it can get pretty heavy. I agree that personal appearance also plays an important role in these situations.

As far as simultaneous interpreting is concerned, I'm afraid that I can't speak from personal experience (I bet I could do it, but I've never pursued it actively). This type of interpreting is done in booths, but personal appearance probably also plays a role.

Like I said, these types of jobs are usually high-profile and the clients are usually looking for qualified interpretors, who know their stuff - and can charge accordingly. My hourly rates for interpreting are relatively high, so clients are more likely to contemplate whether they really need an interpretor, or whether a translation (that they could send via e-mail) would suffice.

In contrast, there are literally millions of translations that absolutely HAVE to be done. Be it financial reports, documentation, usuer manuals, transcripts, legal documents or a host of other written material, there are often laws and governmental agencies that require official translations. Companies which are active internationally need to have their documentation, website, correspondence, etc. translated - if not for themselves, than for others.

So you see, there is simply more volume in translations. On the other hand, there are also many more (good) translators...icon_wink.gif

2) Generally, interpreting seems to pay better (per hour). But, when I take volume and consistency into account, I've earned far more money with translating. If you specialize and are good, you can demand higher word-/line-/character-rates. Being a duly authorized translator, I am also able to demand higher rates and a fee for placing my stamp on the translation - this also has a good advertising effect on my non-certified translations. The use of CAT-tools and just plain experience also increase my resulting hourly rate. It takes some time, but I - for one - think that translating can be quite lucrative.

I do both because it's fun and because I love the work!icon_smile.gif

3) Pros of translating: I can do it anytime in my pyjamas sitting in the kitchen - personal appearance doesn't matter at all (I've never met most of my clients personally). It's almost always electronic, i.e. I receive most of my jobs in the inbox of my e-mail program (except the certified translations).

Cons of translating: Little social interaction with other people (Proz and its Powwows are good replacements for this). You always want to go back and change that one sentence (it seems never-ending at times). Dictionaries, computers and CAT-tools are expensive (ProZ is doing a fine job at trying to replace at least the dictionaries too, and the group buying here on ProZ is a good way of getting the CAT-tools and Platinum membership at the same time).

Pros of interpreting: No tools required, i.e. I don't need a computer, no backups, no paper, no pencil, no dictionaries, nothing - just me. I personally like the fact that you have almost immediate feedback and that the job is done at the end of the session, no editing, no revisions - either they understood or they didn't.

Cons of interpreting: You have to be able to let things go - mistakes happen (not as good for perfectionists, who would probably fare better as translators). You have to look and be sharp all the time - I've seriously been through 10 hours meetings that went on and on and on without a break: I almost died of exhaustion - literally a brain-sucking experience, and (luckily) more the exception than the rule. There are not as many jobs to go around.

4) I like being able to do both, but I'm not sure if I would recommend it. The older I get, the more I tend to concentrate my energy on one activity, hence my comment on specialization. This way, I become more and more proficient doing that, which automatically improves my output (and thus my pay as well). I would probably suggest that you try both to see which appeals more to your own personality.

I am strongly of the opinion that you should do something that you enjoy doing, because you're going to be doing a lot of it...icon_wink.gif

Again, welcome to Proz and good luck with your endeavors!icon_smile.gif


[Edited at 2005-10-23 11:27]


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