Interpreter vs. Translator – Which One Do You Need for Your Project?

Whenever a new client contacts our translation services agency, they start by saying: “I need a translator.” As the discussion advances, it becomes clear to us that the client actually needs an interpreter for a meeting or video/phone conference. Because this confusion between the two specialties is so widespread, we decided to prepare a comprehensive guide discussing the similarities and differences between interpreter vs. translator.

We will try to explain these differences in simple and clear terms so that you will always know what kind of professional you need from now on. As you will see, there are significant differences in the work of the interpreter vs. translator, which also influence the cost for each specific service.

Understanding the Basic Difference Between Translation vs. Interpretation

Let us start with the definitions of the two terms.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, translation represents a rendering of a text from one language to another. This is done in writing, either in hard copy or in electronic form.

What does an “interpreter” mean? Interpretation represents a live translation during a conversation when one or both of the parties are assisted by a professional who speaks out or whispers the translation of the speaker’s words. Thus, the interpreter is a translator who specializes in real-time verbal translations. 

Here are some of the most important ways in which these two professions differ:

Format of the Deliverable

The number one difference between an interpreter vs. translator is that an interpreter’s deliverable is real-time speech, while the translator delivers a text in printed or electronic format.

In principle, you may have a recording of the interpreter’s work, but the main purpose of their work is facilitating a live conversation between people. A translator’s work can be used at a later date, for legal, business, or personal reasons.

Time Frame

Another difference between translation versus interpretation is that an interpreter delivers their work instantly, during the event for which you hired them. A translator, on the other hand, will evaluate the length and difficulty of the text and give you a deadline when the translation will be ready.

When you work with a professional translation agency, they will be able to split a longer text between several translators, ensuring that it is ready when you need it.

Accuracy of the Translation

The accuracy of the translation is a direct consequence of the difference in format. An interpreter works in real-time; they do not have the luxury to look for the most accurate word or phrase. 

On the other hand, a translator can consult specialized dictionaries and select the words that represent the best fit for the meaning in your text. As a consequence, written translations are generally more accurate than oral interpretations.

Direction (Language Pairs)

One important difference between interpreter vs. translator is that the former is specialized in both language pairs, meaning you can hire them to translate to and from the languages they are proficient in.

Translators usually work in a single direction: they only translate from one language to another. This is due to the fact that professional translation for legal, medical, financial, or business purposes requires native knowledge of one of the two languages.


Each language has its quirks, metaphors, and turns of phrase. The ability to come up with them on the spot is reserved for interpreters. As their entire work process implies spontaneity, they are better trained to find a corresponding saying, proverb, or metaphor that matches the speaker’s intent.

Reasons to Work with a Professional Translation Company

Now that you know what is the difference between a translator and an interpreter, you may believe that you can confidently start looking for freelancers who offer cheaper rates. In reality, the best interpreters and translators work for professional companies. They have access to valuable translation tools and other benefits, including a rewarding career.

At the same time, no matter what kind of professional you need – translator or interpreter – you should look for a specialized company that also offers you the guarantee of data security and confidentiality. You wouldn’t entrust sensitive documents to just anyone, would you?

Choose an Experienced Interpretation and Translation Agency

Pronto Translations has 20 years of experience in the industry. We know the differences between translation and interpretation and offer our expertise in both.

With offices in New York, our service area also covers:

  • Chelsea
  • Midtown
  • Soho
  • Greenwich Village
  • All of Manhattan
  • Hoboken, NJ
  • Jersey City, NJ
  • …and anywhere worldwide

You can get in touch with our specialists today at 646-984-4073.