Why You Shouldn’t Be Confusing Interpreter With Translator

If every T&I student at my school got a penny for each time they’ve heard an interpreter being mistakenly called a translator, I bet they could each set up their own company with no problem. This mistake has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time. A translator converts only the written word while the interpreter converts orally, and I think you all should know.

The thing is, there are many people in the field who only do one of the two, and I’m sure that every time their role was mistaken, a bit of their pride was crushed.

It’s been such a common misconception that even the President of the United States got it wrong in the State of the Union speech he gave not too long ago. Here is the extract from the speech when he referred to the Bin Laden mission:

“One of the young men involved in the raid later told me that he didn’t deserve credit for the mission. It only succeeded, he said, because every single member of that unit did their job – the pilot who landed the helicopter that spun out of control; the translator who kept others from entering the compound; the troops who separated the women and children from the fight; the SEALs who charged up the stairs.”

Dear Mr. President, it’s interpreter not translator.

Nonetheless, just because he got it wrong doesn’t mean you should, too.

Remember:  Translator ≠ Interpreter

Victoria Alicia

2 comments

  1. I have heard these two phrases for years now, and have probably used them interchangeably. Thanks for the clarification of the two terms, I’ll now use the correct terms without looking up a dictionary 🙂

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