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The Difference Between Translators and Interpreters in Immigration, And How to Find Them

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Mon Aug 01 2022 5 min read

Language diversity and immigration processes go hand in hand, which means that in your immigration law practice, you may work with clients or companies with a variety of language needs. Depending on the context, you or your clients may need the services of either a translator, an interpreter, or both. 

Even though the terms translator and interpreter are used interchangeably at times, they aren’t actually the same thing as there are differences between the work that each does. Let’s look at those differences, along with some recommendations for translation and interpreting services well-suited for the language needs of an immigration lawyer. 

What’s the difference between a translator and an interpreter? 

Both translators and interpreters move meaning between two languages, but the difference between translators and interpreters lies in how communication is done. Interpreting involves speaking and listening, while translating involves reading and writing. Usually, translators have more time to complete their work, which helps ensure meaning is as closely preserved as possible between languages, especially when language structures differ. 

You can often determine whether you need a translator or an interpreter based on how the final product will be completed. For example, if a client of yours needs to translate a document from their country of origin into English, they will need a translator. If you have a client who doesn’t speak English who’s appearing in immigration court, you will need an interpreter. 

Important things to consider when looking for translators and interpreters

Now let’s look at a few important things you should consider when you’re looking for a translator or interpreter to support you while managing an immigration case.

  1. Accuracy

One of the most important aspects of looking for a translator or interpreter is accuracy. If you are having a document translated, it’s important to make sure that the translation is as accurate as possible in terms of communicating not just the text, but the nuances in each language that go beyond the text and cannot be translated or interpreted in exactly the same way. 

  1. Speed

The second important aspect you’ll want to consider when you’re looking for a translator or an interpreter is speed. When interpreting, an interpreter’s level of ability to communicate quickly and accurately in the limited time you may have to deliver the message across is critical. In translations, it’s also important that the translator you hire can complete projects within the short timeframes you often have in immigration cases while still providing accurate translations. 

  1. Niche language familiarity

Just because someone can speak a language or dialect, that doesn’t mean they will be an effective translator or interpreter. Immigration law has specific vocabulary that a translator or interpreter will need to be familiar with, either to interpret or translate. The same is true with other technical vocabulary - for example, if you’re looking for a translator for documents that show the “exceptional ability” of a candidate, the translator will need to know the technical language of the field the supporting documents refer to in order to produce an accurate translation. 

With all that in mind, let’s go over some translation and interpreting options you can look at next time you need a translator or interpreter. 

Where can you find translators?

When it comes to translators, you can choose to work with a translation company with general experience or a company specialized in immigration/legal translations. 

For immigration-specific translations, we suggest looking at ImmiTranslate, Motaword, Morningside Evaluations and RushTranslate as starting points. All offer certified translations, with a focus on the most common documents translated for immigration processes: civil documents (eg. birth and marriage certificates), academic credentials and evaluations, work experience evaluations, expert opinions and publications, business plans, and more. All of these platforms have online applications that walk you through the process of uploading documents for translation and detail how long will translations take. 

If you’re a Docketwise user, ImmiTranslate should be your first choice, as the two are integrated. To connect the two, simply sign into Docketwise on the ImmiTranslate page and upload your documents for translation. Then, Docketwise users can select documents directly from their Files tab and with one click send those documents to ImmiTranslate for translation.

If you don’t require an immigration-specialized translation service, there are other online platforms you can use: Lionbridge and Blend Express stand out. Lionbridge crowdsources their translators, which means they have a broad pool of experience and availability and Blend Express boasts their work with some of the largest companies in the US as proof of their experience.

You can also, of course, source your own translation if you need a translation but not a certified one. Freelancer sites like Upwork or Fiverr are good places to look. 

Where can you find interpreters?

For interpreters, context is important. There are instances where you will be required to use an interpreter that fits certain qualifications, and other times where you may be able to work with an interpreter from a broader pool. 

If you’re looking for an interpreter for a court case, you can search the National Court Interpreter Database for an interpreter that fits the language skill you need. The federal court system classifies the interpreters in their pool as federally certified, professionally qualified, or language skilled. Plus, fees are already set up by the court system, so you know exactly what to expect in terms of expense, and can plan for present or future cases where you may need a court interpreter accordingly. 

It’s worth noting that US Immigration Courts provide interpreters for non-citizens who are placed in removal proceedings at government expenses. On the other hand, the Asylum Offices of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) require applicants for asylum who have been summoned for asylum interviews to bring along their own interpreter, if they need one.

In the same way you can find translators online, you can also find interpreters. Companies like Lionbridge, LanguageLine, and DayInterpreting provide interpreting services on demand and can connect you to an interpreter over the phone in over 200 languages and dialects. On-demand interpreters can be incredibly helpful for client meetings when there is a language barrier, or in the event of an unexpected need, such as if a client is detained by the authorities. 

As always, you can use freelance interpreters, but those may be more difficult to find and you may not be able to use them in every instance you may need due to a lack of certification or availability, for example. 

Docketwise is a streamlined solution for immigration case management

At Docketwise, we’re building an immigration case management, forms management and CRM platform that suits law firms of all shapes and sizes. We pride ourselves on our entrepreneurial spirit, our focus on building features for all types of clients, and our industry-first open API that allows our users to connect Docketwise to a number of other platforms, to streamline your work with easy access for you, your staff, and your clients as needed. 

If you’re new to Docketwise, and would like to try and see if it’s a good fit for your firm, schedule a demo on our website today.

If you’re an existing Docketwise client, thank you for preferring us for your immigration case management needs!

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