Getting the Terminology Right: When to Use a Linguist, Interpreter or Translator
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Introduction

There are just over 170,000 words and terminology in the English language according to the Oxford Dictionary. Some of these words are nearly identical. A single letter can change laughter to slaughter and mean to meant. There are also words that seem so similar in meaning that to include them all seems ridiculous. And, just when you think you got it all down, up pops another exception to the rules. It’s little wonder that people make mistakes.

But, as a language service professional, there’s one thing I want to clear up: translators, interpreters, and linguists aren’t the same thing. Hiring one when you need the other can really set back a project.

The Linguist: The Scientists of Language

Average Yearly Salary (US): $57,909

Number in the World (Estimated): 32,485 (2014)

A linguist is a person who studies a language, or languages, in a scientific manner. They are interested in how speech and vocabulary evolved to meet our current needs. They’re not interested in whether a word is right or wrong, merely how it came to be. While many linguists happen to be polyglots, they’re not overly interested in translating your web content. If we ever needed a professional who could decipher the underlying rules and concepts of an alien language, we’d hire a linguist. While rarely employed as interpreters or translators, these professionals are often involved in updating and developing translation management software. In doing so, they make the rest of our jobs a lot easier.

The Interpreter: The Verbal Bridge Builders

Average Yearly Salary (US): $51,260

Number In the World (Estimated): Unknown.

Interpreters are language-service professionals who provide real-time translation for people in business, medical, and legal settings. Typically called upon to bridge the gap between parties speaking two or more different languages, interpreters ease the process of communication and negotiation. Translators flourish in cases involving the written word while interpreters can be relied upon to take care of the verbal. Next time you’re at a play, look around the stage. You’re likely to see a sign language interpreter hard at work. Just know they won’t be the people you hire to translate your website.

The Translator: The Alchemists of the Written Word

Average Yearly Salary (US): $51,260

Number in the World (Estimated): 640,000

Translators are people who help make your company’s written materials to speakers of other languages. These are the people you hire to help localize your website, doublecheck the language in your patents, and translate your contracts. The translation process goes well beyond the simple replacement of a word in one language into another. A translator not only needs to have a thorough understanding of the source language text and subject matter, but also the ability to convey (translate) the meaning and style. Translators must have excellent grammar and writing skills to produce translations that don’t sound like translations. As a general rule, translators translate from their working language(s) into their native language.

Conclusion

There’s so much more to language services than simple translation. In addition to the three careers highlighted above, there are also closed captioners, language learning specialists, and speech pathologists. So, next time you kickstart a language project, make sure you have the right professional on call. Otherwise, you might be left playing charades with the alien invaders.

If you’re looking to have something translated into Swedish, you can contact Tess Whitty. Please visit swedishtranslationservices.com or contact her at tess@swedishtranslationservices.com to learn more.

Tess
Tess
Swedish Translation Services is a company owned by Tess Whitty, a freelance translator (English-Swedish), proofreader, editor, copy writer, localizer and entrepreneur.

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