In a recent post on Patenttranslator’s Blog, Steve Vlasta Vitek features and article on the difference between the translator and the interpreting profession. The article also analyzes the reason why the public at large is unaware of the fundamental difference between these two professions. Here are some excerpts:

Unlike at least 250 million people in English speaking countries, I know the difference between an interpreter and a translator. Translators translate written documents and interpreters interpret spoken word from one language to another – for instance in a deposition where you answer lawyer’s questions. This difference seems to be always respected in some languages, for instance in Japanese (通訳 tsuyaku = interpreting, 翻訳 honyaku = translating), but not in English. Translators love to lament this dire status quo on blogs: we have to educate the public, they say. For some reason, translators take it very personally that the public at large is unaware of the fundamental difference between these two professions.

One reason why the situation may be so confusing is that some translators also interpret and I assume that some interpreters also translate sometime. I am a translator but I also used to interpret when I was younger. In fact my first job just after graduating with a degree in Japanese and English studies was interpreting for a whole month for a Czech-Japanese movie coproduction in Prague back in 1980. I did not really speak much Japanese back then but nobody seemed to have noticed because the Japanese actors and a Japanese film producer, who was my main client, were tolerant people. Also, since I was the only one there who spoke Japanese and Czech during the shooting of that film, they had no choice anyway. When the film director asked me to tell the actor to kiss the actress, I said in my impeccable Japanese:”kissu”.

Unlike translating in the familiar comfort of your cozy home office, interpreting means a lot of pressure that you have to deal with in an unfamiliar environment, which can be outright hostile in some cases. Just after the fall of communism I was interpreting in Silicon Valley for a group of about 20 Czech and Polish government employees who were sent there to buy great American technology. There was no Polish interpreter. The guy who hired me knew that Czech is similar to Polish and that the Polish people there might be able to understand some of what I was saying in Czech. But there was no microphone. So he told me to speak loud enough so that the Poles could listen to me if they wanted to do that, but not so loud that I would be disturbing the Poles who perhaps understood some English and did not want to be disturbed by me. I swear to God, that was what that moron told me.

I think that was my last interpreting job. No, I’m sure that was it. Read more.

See: Patenttranslator’s Blog

More articles by this author here.