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

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Many people wonder how you “study” T&I. Some have asked me how I study for exams, and it is simply based on practice, practice, practice. These are the websites or podcasts that I use to learn new vocabulary or to practice simultaneous and consecutive interpreting.

1. Democracy Now!

Democracy Now is a news program hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. I especially like it because it is independent and not affiliated with any corporation, which explains why it has received awards in the past. Luckily, the Spanish version is released along with the original version everyday. You can listen to it from many radio frequencies, the main web page or download the podcast.

2. TED Talks

If you want to listen to a speech about anything, you should definitely check out TED. The topics range from humanitarian issues, new technology, religion, the economy and even the most unexpected topics you could imagine (How to Spot A Liar). You can download all the speeches you want as podcasts, as well.

Click on the following link for one of my favorite TED Talks (it’s actually a bit tough to interpret):

3. Oral Practice Exam (Spanish-English Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination)

You can practice some legal interpretation with this mock exam. MP3 recordings of judicial exams are hard to find, so make sure you take advantage of it.