Translators write and interpreters speak. This simple difference is often ignored in the press – usually by calling interpreters translators.
An amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court goes into the distinction in detail. Its main subject is that interpreting costs are easier for courts to administer than are interpreting costs. The case is Louichi Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan, Ltd. and the brief is by NAJIT, the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioner. A PDF can be downloaded from NAJIT’s website as amicusbrief.pdf (36 pages).
At its most basic level, the distinction between interpreters and translators is simple: Interpreters speak, while translators write. As a result, interpreters must possess different skills from those of translators. Interpreters must have the “analytical skills, mental dexterity” and “exceptional memory” necessary to interpret spoken words from one language into another in real time. The act of translating a document from one language to another, however, is a more research-oriented, meticulous process.
There is more – a lot – including descriptions of what interpreting and translation involve.
Translators must know how to discover and convey a communication’s nuance. And whereas interpreters render communications from one language to another almost instantaneously, “[t]ranslators have time to reflect and craft their output.” Gonzalez, et al., at 295; see Liu, 6 Interpreting at 9–20. Indeed, a common saying among language professionals is that a translation is never finished, it is merely abandoned.
Another document online relates to interprets in Austrlian courts.
Interpreter Policies, Practices and Protocols in Australian Courts and Tribunals. A National Survey, by Professor Sandra Hale, University of New South Wales. It can be downloaded from Professor Hale’s web page (97 pages).
A good impression of interpreting in Germany, between French and German, is given by Caroline Elias’s Dolmetscher-Weblog (in German – here is a related site in French). In the post Schriftliches she shows two examples of her consecutive interpreting notes. These are in French, because she’s interpreting into French here. More information in the following entry, Zu den Notizen… and in the earlier entry Notizentechnik.