They say that good translators can also be interpreters, but the two professions differ a lot. The only thing they have in common is the fact that both rely on mastering the respective foreign languages.
Translators work on their own, in front of the computer, whereas interpreters perform their job in various communication situations, pressed by time and circumstances. Therefore, the aim of these two activities is not entirely the same: the interpreter has to convey everything the speaker wants to say through a number of verbal, nonverbal and paraverbal messages, whereas a translator’s aim is to provide a text that leaves the impression that its original was written in that language. This is why a good translator is not by all means a good interpreter as well, especially if they are not familiar with various social contexts.
Most people think that in order to be a good translator, one must know several foreign languages. Such an idea is nothing but false, because the profound study of just one single foreign language may turn you into a remarkable translator. Such study involves many hours of work, exercise, practice, in-depth learning. Knowing several foreign languages does not implicitly mean that you master all of them remarkably and are able to juggle phrases, structures, the literal and figurative meanings of words. Such knowledge is based on sustained exercise.
Another myth about translators is that they should be able to handle translations from all fields of activity. Those who say they can do this are for sure not experts in any field. A good translator will specialize in just one field of activity, maximum two. In fact, it stands to reason that a literary translation has nothing in common with one from the medical or technical field. Each language compartment contains tens of thousands of specialized words one must master when working as a translator. The ordinary person uses maximum 3,000 words but translating requires the knowledge of up to 10,000 – 15,000 specialized words. This is why it is very difficult for a translator to excel in more than one field of activity.
Therefore, next time you meet a translator do not ask them how many languages they know! This is for sure not a criterion to determine the professional performance of that person!