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Interpreter or Translator: There’s a Difference! Here’s What You Need to Know

Interpreter or Translator: There’s a Difference! Here’s What You Need to Know on

Both involve translation, but one focuses only on written communication.

Come on, it’s the same thing. That’s what most people think when they’re asked to explain the difference between an interpreter and a translator. Actually—and especially in legal proceedings—they’re two different things.

Here’s your takeaway if you haven’t got time to read all of this. A translator works with written communication. An Interpreter works with spoken communication. This difference can be important for billing purposes.

Say it, or write it

Here’s a theoretical situation. You’re representing an English-speaking client who is being sued by a Chinese-speaking client. The judgement is in your favor, so you request that the plaintiff pay the fee for translating documents pertinent to the case from Chinese into English, under Title 28 U.S. Code § 1920 – Taxation of costs.

The court will not find in your favor. Taxation of costs here refers specifically to interpretation services, where a professional is retained to translate spoken communication.

Know which one you need

In the case of depositions, an interpreter is the obvious and appropriate choice. They’re going to provide you real-time translation services of the spoken communication happening the deposition. This is still a skill requiring a professional. Google hasn’t quite managed it yet.

Tips on working with interpreters

Consider this a 3-step process: Before, during, and after.


  • Build rapport. There probably won’t be much time, but you must use it to your advantage. Find out the interpreter’s background so you have perspective. Reciprocate with information about yourself. This helps to establish a positive partnership.
  • Establish the purpose. Make sure the interpreter knows what you want to get from the interview.
  • Prepare for jargon. There may be slang or technical words that don’t translate well out of perspective. Make sure the interpreter is aware of this.
  • It should be understood, but don’t be afraid to request a direct translation, free of any paraphrasing.
  • Prepare the interpreter ahead of time if you intend to ask sensitive questions.


  • Don’t forget your manners. Introduce everyone to the interpreter and explain their role. Make sure everyone understands the process.
  • Avoid assumptions. Someone may speak a bit of English. In this case, make it clear that the interpreter is there only to facilitate the conversation.
  • The interpreter may be the person speaking the language you understand, but maintain eye contact with the person you’re interviewing. They will convey facial gestures and body language.
  • Take a Hemingway-esque approach to your interview. Long and complicated sentences may leave important things lost in translation. Short and simple sentences and questions are the best approach—especially when they’re free of slang and jargon. Neither the person you’re interviewing nor the interpreter may be familiar with this.
  • The interpreter has to translate both sides of the conversation, so give them polite pause, and don’t speak at the same time anyone else does.
  • Interpretation is a skill, not an exact science. If you believe the interpreter is summarizing or making a mistake with the translation, simply rephrase the question or approach it from a different angle.


  • Ask to review the interview immediately after it concludes, while it’s still fresh in everyone’s minds. Were there any parts of the deposition that confused you or caused concern? See if the interpreter has any concerns. It may be necessary for some follow-ups to gain clarification.
  • Finding a good interpreter is like gaining a good friend or ally. Give them feedback and express your gratitude if you’d like to work with them again. Set the state for a partnership.

Not sharing a common language is stressful. There are nuances and slang that simply defy word-for-word translation. The optimal way to overcome this challenge is by working with an interpreter. They may be doing the translating, but it’s still up to you to watch for emotion and body language.

At Boss Certified Realtime Reporting, we’ve been providing nationwide court reporting services for trials, depositions, mediations and more since 1995. If you’d like help or more information, you can call us at 954 467 6867 or complete our contact form to let us know how we can assist you.

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