Interpreter vs Translator

Verbio put together a list of tips for working with interpreters to help you communicate globally and master interpretation best practices, especially if this may be a new experience for many of you. First, let’s clarify some terms:

People often use “INTERPRETER” and “TRANSLATOR” interchangeably. However, these two professions are very distinct. Essentially, an interpreter renders spoken or sign language into another language in real-time. A translator transfers written word meaning from one language to another. While both professions require absolute fluency in two (or more) languages, the technical skills and personality traits differ between interpreters and translators and are not usually interchangeable.

Consecutive vs Simultaneous

It’s essential to grasp the nuances of consecutive and simultaneous interpreting modes, along with interpretation best practices, to effectively work with interpreters.

CONSECUTIVE MODE: The interpreter then steps in to render what was said into the target language (often based on conceptual meaning rather than the exact word-for-word statement). This form of interpreting is used most effectively for small group dialogue (meetings), tours, and legal or medical settings.

SIMULTANEOUS MODE: The simultaneous interpreter listens to the beginning of the speaker’s statement and starts conveying a sentence while the speaker continues talking. Therefore, the interpreter must simultaneously speak Sentence 1 and listen and comprehend Sentence 2. Simultaneous interpreters often use specialized transceiver equipment, while audience members are given receivers to listen in their chosen language. The interpreter may be seated in a stationary booth or using portable tour-guide-style transmitters.

Tips to work with interpreters.  Communicate globally. Interpretation best practices.

VIDEO CONFERENCING: In today’s world of virtual meetings, only Zoom and Webex offer special settings for simultaneous interpreting audio channels. This type of interpreting is best suited to conferences and lecture-style meetings involving an audience that needs to listen in multiple languages (usually English and other(s)).

SIGN LANGUAGE: Sign Language Interpreters need to be placed so they are easily viewed by the Deaf participant(s). This may mean sitting next to the Deaf audience member, on-stage next to the speaker, or pinned in video conferencing platforms such as Zoom or Webex. Because the Deaf community is close-knit is common to exchange the names of the Deaf audience member and interpreter so as to avoid potential conflicts of interest. For an event lasting longer than 1 hour for sign language (in accordance with OSHA rules), two interpreters will need to be scheduled so they can give each other reprieves and support each other with terminology.

SIGHT TRANSLATION: Sight translation is really a cross-over between the written role of a translator and the oral role of an interpreter. The input is visual (the written word) rather than oral (the spoken word), but the interpreter still has to process a thought in the source language and speak aloud the target language version of that thought, while simultaneously processing the next source language thought.

CART (Communication Access in Real-Time or Open Captioning)
 involves a trained transcriptionist participating in a meeting and actively typing a verbatim transcript of what is said, as it is said. The written English record of the conversation is then broadcast on a screen, laptop, or other device during an in-person meeting. Some Video-conferencing apps also feature a special pane to display the real-time captions to meeting viewers.

Interpretation is a mentally challenging feat, so be sure to familiarize yourself with quick tips to make your meeting as effective as possible!

Communication across languages can be tricky, but with the right interpreter and proper preparation, there’s nothing to fear. Here we give you 15 top tips on working with interpreters to communicate globally and master interpretation best practices.

Plan ahead

Schedule interpreting services at least a week in advance if possible. When you plan ahead, you increase your options of having the most qualified interpreter available at the time and location you want. This also provides the interpreter the time needed to brush up on your industry and company-specific vocabulary to be used at your meeting.

Preparation is Key

Please provide reference material on the topic of your meeting so interpreters can better prepare for your meeting. Examples: PowerPoint slides, agenda, speakers’ bios and notes, websites with relevant vocabulary or info about your topic, etc. Interpreters are at their best when they are prepared. They need the time and tools to research the key terminology that you will discuss.

Speak directly to your client

You and your client can communicate directly with each other as if the interpreter were not there. The interpreter will relay the information and communicate the client’s response directly back to you. In other words, don’t say “tell her this,” or “please ask him that.” The discussion is between you and your client. The interpreter is just there to act as a conduit between you. Also, speak naturally (not louder) and at your normal pace (not slower).

Avoid jargon or technical terms

To help your client and interpreter better understand you, don’t use industry jargon, slang, acronyms, or coded language only known by a few people. Likewise, avoid colloquialisms and idioms, like “feeling blue.” Try to remember that sayings like this may not be common in every culture and may not translate well into other languages.

Plan to give a speech / Reading scripts

Though we may not notice it, we often talk more quickly when reading a script. When reading a script, prepared text, or a disclosure, please slow down to give the interpreter a chance to keep up with your pace.

Everything you say will be interpreted

Keep private conversations with your colleagues to a minimum. Any conversation and/or comment the interpreter hears will be interpreted. This includes “thinking out loud” conversations with oneself when for example a speaker/host runs into some technical issues with Zoom or preferred video conference platform.


Professional interpreters are familiar with the culture and customs of the limited English proficient speaker. During the interpretation session, the interpreter might identify and point out a cultural issue of which you may not be aware of. Also, if the interpreter feels that a particular question is culturally inappropriate, he or she may ask you to rephrase it.

Try and avoid humor

Most interpreters will agree that jokes do not translate well. If you are giving a speech and plan to start it off with a joke, it is advisable to consult the interpreter first to see if they think it will work. Jokes often don’t translate across cultures and sometimes do the opposite.

Do not rush

The job of interpreting is mentally exhausting and taxing. An interpreter who rushes is more likely to become stressed, so the quality of the translation may suffer. To alleviate the pressure as much as possible, speak slowly and clearly

Decide on a secret signal to use with your interpreter

It is worth agreeing with your interpreter on some kind of sign, signal, or gesture so they will let you know if you are going too fast, even if it isn’t an elaborate secret signal. As soon as you see your interpreter giving you the signal, slow down. This will give them time to catch up and keep up with your speech.

Video Conferencing

Provide meeting links, meeting ID codes, and passwords to interpreters in advance. Meeting moderators should familiarize themselves with how to incorporate an interpreter into their chosen video conferencing platform. Each platform works differently. Also, discuss how to handle audience questions and break-out rooms with your interpreting team. The technology often doesn’t work as we expect.


Clearly define the start and end times for your meetings and don’t forget to consider the time zones of your participants. Ask everyone to join the meeting about 15 minutes early, to work out any last-minute technology challenges, so you can start on time. This would allow you to make sure that the interpreter(s) is ready to go and that all attendees who require interpreters are able to hear them clearly.


If you plan on recording the meeting, it’s important to inform both the attendees and your interpreting services planner beforehand. This way, the interpreters can be aware of the recording as well.


Provide breaks. A good rule of thumb is a five-minute break for a 60-minute meeting and a 15-minute break for a 90-minute meeting.

Always thank the interpreters

You should publicly thank your interpreters at the end of your presentation. Their work is hard and mentally draining. They’ll appreciate a thank you at the end. Also, you never know if you’ll end up working with them again in the near future.

If you have any more questions and/or are ready to schedule your next online meeting with interpreting services, contact us now.