Question on word usage

Mustafa does not speak English. But as he sat next to his uncle, who acted as translator, the weight of the disaster on his young shoulders spoke volumes.

He recalled: “It was very cold. We were not sure if we would survive, because for three days we did not eat or drink, and we also could not move. We were waiting for rescuers to come. My mother kept saying: ‘Just be patient, just be patient.’ "

Shouldn’t it be “interpreter” instead of “translator”?



It should be interpreter.

Interpreter is for spoken language.
Translator is for written text.

In common usages, the two words are often used interchangeably.


As it is not possible for a person to translate the live speech, it is always called ‘interpretation’.


I really like the quote given above.

I, too, learned the difference between translator and interpreter that Anglophile and NearlyNapping discussed above, but I wondered if there had been an evolution in their meanings. Three online dictionaries I consulted indicated that “translator” could be either written or spoken (one said “usually written”), but “interpreter” was only for spoken words.

A special category of interpretation is simultaneous interpretation, where the interpreter speaks at the same time as the speaker, rather than sequentially. These people are very talented.


This is a case of a formal technical definition vs everyday use.

As a profession, a translator is for text and an interpreter is for voice. But in everyday layman’s language, ‘translator’ is used for both text and spoken language. Voice apps on phones are also called translators.

If someone is taking an English test, they should know the difference. But if they want to speak “real” English that normal people use, then ‘translate’ is used for both.


It would also feel very strange if someone gave me a text and said: ‘Could you interpret this for me?’ It’s true that when you translate a novel, for example, you have to understand what its all about which is a very important part of the translation process, as it is called. It would also be wrong to literally translate a text, because it will lead to a lot of misunderstanding. Eventually, the reader will end up not having the slightest idea as to what the text is all about. So, they end up with nothing, except frustration.

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