Sean P Hopwood, President and CEO Day Translations, Inc. Sean P Hopwood, President and CEO Day Translations, Inc.
Sep 15


A lover of languages looking to become a professional in this area might ask themselves whether they should train to become a translator or an interpreter, or if they can be both, writes Sean Hopwood, the polyglot CEO of Day Translations, Inc., a global language service provider based in Florida.

There are many similarities and differences between the set of skills needed to be an efficient translator, and that needed to become a high-performing interpreter. Infact, according to survey conducted in June of this year by Language Services Provider Day Translations, Inc., 37.5% of translators also work as interpreters. 

In this article, we’ll examine these similarities and differences, to help those dealing with this question understand some of the key aspects necessary to make a decision. 

Common Traits

Whether interpreting or translating, the core of facilitating cross-cultural communication is always exchanging “meaning for meaning”, not “word for word”. This principle demands great attention to detail, and a deep knowledge of the languages at hand, communicative context, dynamics and subject matter. 

Both translation and interpreting demand versatility, a capacity to understand, not only a language pair but also how these languages are used in their area of specialization.  

Different Skills

Translation involves taking creative, intelligent decisions to ensure the precision and correct effect of the material one is working with. While translators can dedicate from minutes to hours and days to solving these puzzles, interpreters must do so at an incredible speed - whether they’re consecutive or simultaneous interpretersis irrelevant. Being able to think clearly and make the right decisions under stressis a must for interpreters. 

While translators work with material, interpreters work with experiences. Some interpreters assist in medical emergencies, conflict zones or in the aftermath of natural disasters. This sort of work requires stamina and a capacity to cope with stress that no translation job requires. That’s why, for instance, a few years ago AIIC, Red T and FIT released a guide to interpreting in conflict zones.

But interpreting can be highly stressful even in far less critical settings. 

Interpreters working atentertainment or sports-related events might have to adapt humor and slang at an incredible pace. 

Sometimes the event is scripted, but the script is confidential to third-parties (such as those in charge of interpreting it for foreign audiences), so interpreters can’t access it beforehand and debate which would be the closest possible translation for the jokes involved. An example of such event would be The Oscars, which is broadcasted to millions of people across the globe, putting immense responsibility on the interpreters’ shoulders.

Sometimes, the event can’t be fully scripted (sports events would be an example), so interpreters have to translate the mistakes, self-corrections and hesitations typical of an improvisation. 

Work/Life Balance

A linguist can be trained to be both a translator and an interpreter, and part of what makes a translator great also makes for a competent interpreter. 

On the other hand, apart from the necessary skills, translators and interpreters can have time to develop their careers in both directions:

42.7% of translators surveyed by Day Translations said the flexibility of their working hours was the best part about being a translator.

This could be the case for interpreters as well, depending on their medium and specialty. But, of course, most interpreters can’t set their hours strictly, because they work either following their clients’/employer’s schedule, or during emergencies. 

Translators can get better work/life balance than interpreters because they don’t have to be present to aid communication, interpreters do. 

It’s also worth noting that both translators and interpreters are open to several types of working relationships. A linguist working in any of the two fields can work either in-house at a company, through an agency or as an independent freelancer.


What path has morepotential for professional development, interpreting or translating?

It depends on your speciality, ambitions and preferred mode of work.

The future seems bright. For instance, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, for the 2018-2028 period, job opportunities for translators and interpreters in the United States will grow 19%. The median growth expectation across professions is of 5%.

Our industry is worth billions of dollars and it’s growing 5.52% per year at an international level. In this context of high growth and high competition, automating repetitive tasks and delegating part of the workflow to machines can be the best option to save costs and gain speed. But machines are yet to create accurate, culturally-sensitive translations that flow as if they were written in their original language.

While many might fear the effectthat advances in machine translation might have on the language translation services industry, technology will give us new and more interesting opportunities.

As noted by authors across all continents, languages and specialties, localization is “the new big thing”, with translators joining forces with software engineers and other tech experts to adapt digital products for new audiences. So, translations have a bright future ahead, dealing with the nuances of making services and tools cross-cultural.

Meanwhile, advancements in telecommunications are allowing interpreters to work with clients from all around the globe, remotely, at highly competitive costs.


A linguist can work both as a translator and as an interpreter, there is no need to choose between these disciplines. And, many professionals find success and growth in bothof them,since the core skills they requireare the same.

Choosing whether you want to be a translator or an interpreter might be about the lifestyle you want and your specific professional aspirations, but once you’ve acquired the deep linguistic and cross-cultural understanding required to provide quality linguistic services, gaining good diction or a regular interpreting rhythm is just some extra training away.