Linguist or Language Professional? Know the Difference.

Summer travels and general busy-ness have prevented me once again from adhering to my weekly schedule. But since I am mainly doing this for my own benefit, I am only feeling half-apologetic.

Also this was admittedly a trickier one, as opposed to the last post of the “Know the Difference” series.
This distinction, the one between linguist and language professional, is not as clear cut as it could be. This is due to different usages in different contexts. So depending on who calls somebody (or themselves) a linguist and in what context, the word can mean different things. Which is why I chose to write this piece in the first place.
In academia linguists are those that study the inner workings of languages. In the translation industry ‘linguist’ can often refer to any language professional, especially translators, although they may not formally have studied syntax, semantics, phonetics/phonology etc.

This is not dramatic, but it is, I feel, unnecessarily unspecific. This is why I suggest the following simple and logical distinction between linguists and language professionals:

Linguists study or have studied human language in general or specific languages in particular, but beyond simply learning how to speak a language.
This includes classical linguists who study how a language is structured (syntacticians), how a language communciates meaning (semanticists), how languages are expressed through speech sounds (phoneticians) and what speech sounds a specific language contains (phonologists), as well as those who study the practical uses of language where more is communicated than what is explicitly said (pragmaticians) and the social funcitions of language (sociolinguists) as well as all those who work in applied linguistics, people who study how what we know about languages means for practical issues such as language teaching, speech therapy and yes—translation.

Language professionals make money using their language skills.
This includes all Translation jobs, like translator, interpreter, subtitler and other audiovisiual translators. And this is how I’ll use the term in this series of articles.
A slightly broader definition could of course also include occupations like audio transcription and copywriting—copy writers get paid to produce texts for specific purposes in their native language or possibly a second language—and many more. I would also count language teachers or speech therapists who have linguistic knowledge but now use it practically among the language professional.

The two are, of course, not mutually exclusive, but they are  not the same either. Many persons (like myself) certainly are certainly both, linguists and language professionals under these definitions, but there are people who only fall into one of the proposed categories. According to my definition, linguists are academics, while language professionals are practitioners. Often, however, the lines are blurred. Many people who study translation academically, as a branch of applied linguistics, also work as translators. This means they are linguists and language profesionals.

While in my opinion, every translator and interpreter should also have some understanding of linguistics, that is not necessarily a given. If you know two or more languages and you have experience converting texts from one language into another, you can rightfully call yourself a translator. But knowing a language is different from knowing how language works.

This is why to me, it makes sense to distinguish between linguists and language professionals, instead of using “linguist” as an umbrella term for everybody who has a language-related job.

Still confused about the difference between linguist and language professional? This cat feels for you.

Questions? Comments? Leave ’em below. Thanks for reading.



Translator or Interpreter? Know the Difference.

This week’s installment is the first part of a series within my series of posts on Translation. All “Know the difference” posts will address some terms that are frequently misused or mixed up, and will allow me to indulge in the kind of nitpicking that is the bread and butter of any language professional.

So what is the difference between a translator and an interpreter? This is basically a simple one, but something that people tend to get “wrong” a lot in everyday usage.

Speech interpreters are often imprecisely referred to as translators, even by the brightest and funniest. It may not make much of difference in most situations, but when you actually need to hire a language professional to do some work for you, it’s a good idea to ask the right person. You wouldn’t be keen on a dentist doing your prostate exam. And neither would they, presumably. So it’s good to know the difference.

But just what is the difference? If you have read my last article, you probably have a pretty good idea already.

Both translators and interpreters work in the field of Translation (with a capital T), and the two professions are not unrelated, but they are two different occupations that require a different set of skills and tools. Some of the basic skills (being able to mediate between two languages) are of course the same and therefore some people (like myself) naturally end up studying and practicing both. But in EU institutions, for instance, the positions of translator and interpreter are entirely separate, you can only be employed as one or the other at a time, and the requirements for being hired are very different, too.

In the translation industry, it is understood that translators are people who work in written translation, they use computers, software and dictionaries to translate written texts, anything from laws and regulations to works of poetry.

Interpreters, on the other hand, are understood to be working in oral translation, they listen to what people say and say almost the same in a different language. The term “speech interpreter” gives a good idea of what the job means. To accurately explain to somebody who doesn’t speak the language what a speaker is saying, you cannot just translate word for word, you have to get to the meaning and thought processes behind the words. In this sense, it is almost like the interpretation of a poem. Sometimes you just have to hazard an educated guess on what the speaker was meaning to say.
Interpreters often use a combination of pen and paper and multimedia high tech, sometimes they only use their voice, but they always need to use their brains.

This is not to say that translators don’t, but interpreting is very demanding in terms of cognitive performance. First of all your speech processing needs to be “on fleek“, meaning you must understand what the speaker you are interpreting for is saying, ideally with all its nuances and connotations. For that you must have a very large passive vocabulary in the source language (i.e. the language you are translating from). This means because an interpreter, unlike a translator, does not have the time to look up words in a dictionary while they translate, they must know them by heart. However an interpreter usually prepares a vocab list, called a glossary, when they know the will have to deal with a lot of specialist language, e.g. at a medical conference.

But your speech production must be equally good. That means you must be absolutely comfortable with the grammar and pronunciation of the language you are interpreting into, your target language. And your active vocabulary—the words you actually use, as opposed to only recognizing them—in the target language is just as important as your passive vocabulary in the source language.

There are different modes of interpreting, and depending on that there are even more challenges, but I will go into more detail in a later post.

Only so much for now: Interpreting usually happens under immense time pressure. You either speak while the speaker continues talking (simultaneous interpreting) or you start speaking immediately after the speaker has finished a portion of their contribution (consecutive interpreting). Either way, there is not much time (but much need) to think. On the plus side, the end product is often very volatile. It’s just some spoken words that are easily forgotten and may never leave the room they were spoken in—although this is becoming less and less likely with today’s ubiquity of recording technology.

In translation on the other hand, the end product is a written text, more often than not designed for publication to at least a group of people who will permanently have a copy of the translation, they will be able to scrutinize the product for possible mistakes.
Then again, such mistakes can always be corrected and the end product updated, ideally this would happen at the proofreading stage before the customer receives the translation. With interpreting however, what has been said, has been said, so there is a greater pressure to get it right the first time. Get it wrong and you might start a war. Well probably not, but who knows.

That’s it for now. I hope this will help next time you are looking for a language professional. Or for something that will make you look smart during party small talk.

Thanks for reading. Goodbye.

sow4lxw via

Did you find this piece good/bad/ugly? Any questions? Leave a comment below.


Translation with a capital T

I have decided to make my musings on translation a weekly exercise. Here is week two. Let’s discuss some basic terminology.

“But I’m not a translator. Why should I care? “, you ask. Well, a wise meme on the door of one of my lecturer says:
 via languageartsandscience

Notwithstanding the fact that you are surrounded by translated texts, wether you’re aware of it or not, chances are, at some point in your life you will need somebody to translate for you, and believe me, when something depends on you getting it right, you do not want to be at the mercy of Google Translate.
And if you are going to use somebody’s services it is always good to have a rough idea of what these are. It will make everybody’s lives easier. This is part of the educational ambition of this blog.

Before we get started, a disclaimer: Most of these thoughts are not my original ideas, most of what I write about is something that I learned from somebody else at one point during my undergraduate and postgraduate studies. I don’t mean to plagiarize, but sometimes I’m to lazy to research who exactly said what where exactly. Lucky for me this is a blog and not an academic paper—also lucky for you, probably. This is how I understand things, many of which are common currency in translation circles. All misunderstandings are mine, most ideas are not.

So. What is translation? And why does Translation not always equal translation? Much like the distinction between Deaf and deaf, sometimes, capitalization can make all the difference. To the uninitiated it may not look like there isn’t one. But in the case of D/deaf, one refers to an entire culture, the other to a physical condition. This means a person who can hear just fine or is “only” hard of hearing to some extent but not be completely deaf can still be Deaf with a capital D. They are part of Deaf culture, speak a sign language, enjoy sign language rap and probably have lots of deaf friends and family. But the one is a much narrower category than the other. Similar things can be said about translation.

Translation with a capital T entails all translation-related practices. Intuitively, then Translation means any practice that involves converting a text from one language into another. On the other hand, when scholars and professionals talk about translation with a lowercase t, they usually refer to written translation, as opposed to interpreting or audiovisual translation practices.

In other words, Translation covers practices as different as written translation (translation with a lowercase t), oral translation (interpreting in all its different forms), and audiovisual translation such as subtitling, dubbing and voice-over. I’ll talk about each of these more in the weeks to come, but most people will have some idea what these things are.

To make matters more complicated, scholars sometimes also talk about intersemiotic translation. Semiotics is the study of sign systems (including, but not limited to the sign system of language). Therefore intersemiotic translation simply means converting a text from one sign system to another, this can also be within a  language (intralingual), as opposed to between languages (interlingual). An example of this would be the adaptation of a novel into a film; the text is carried over into a different medium, a different sign system with its own rules, conventions and physical restrictions. This is also part of Translation in a wider sense, although it does not match our initial, intuitive definition of translation. However I will mostly focus on interlingual translation practices, because that’s what I do.

That all being said, Translation is a beautiful and complex process, it is a craft and an art. The goal of this blog, is to do justice to this complex topic, and to draw attention to something that mostly goes unnoticed when it is done right. But it can be hilarious when it goes wrong, so expect some posts on translation fails.

Speaking of fails, here’s a cat GIF as a reward. Thanks for reading.
(By the way, it’s pronounced /ɡɪf/. Trust me, I’m a linguist.)

Was this interesting/boring to you, although you’re not into translation/into translation? Too much terminology/not enough cat GIFs? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Lost in Translation?

I have been on a journey of learning lots and lots about Translation (with a capital T, more about that later) for a while now, especially in the past year or so, since I started working towards my MA in Translation, Interpreting and Subtitling.
I am challenging myself to write more about what I learned on the way, and the next step, building a career in Translation. It’s been fun for me and I hope it will be fun for whoever reads this.

So stay tuned for more and see if I find my way. Or get lost in Translation.

Man vs. Machine vs. Himself

I wrote this poem for a class on Conceptual Poetry with Professor Tim Wood back in 2014. Conceptual poetry, according to is “an early twenty-first century literary movement, self-described by its practitioners as an act of ‘uncreative writing’. In conceptual poetry, appropriation is often used as a means to create new work, focused more on the initial concept rather than the final product of the poem”.

The poem explores the interaction between humans and technology, between narcissism and health. The text for the poem was created by transcribing data of runs I went for, recorded by the Runtastic smartphone app, based on GPS data. The asterisk at the end of some of the stanzas signifies problems with GPS signal reception.

Man vs. Machine vs. Himself

March 28, 2014,10:29 am. 1.68 miles in 29 minutes and 49 seconds. Average pace 17 minutes and 43 seconds per mile. 298 Calories burnt.*

March 31, 2014, 12:58 pm. 0.00 miles in 00 minutes and 15 seconds. Average pace 00 minutes and 00 seconds per mile. 0 Calories burnt.*

March 31, 2014, 1:01 pm. 3.23 miles in 29 minutes and 32 seconds. Average pace 9 minutes and 08 seconds per mile. 390 Calories burnt.

April  10, 2014, 1:39 pm. 7.57 miles in 1 hour 09 minutes and 12 seconds.  Average pace 9 minutes and 08 seconds per mile. 913 Calories burnt.

April 13, 2014, 10:09 am. 2.87 miles in 29 minutes and 51seconds. Average pace 10 minutes and 24 seconds per mile. 336 Calories burnt.

April 16, 2014, 7:08 pm. 6.34 miles in 51 minutes and 33 seconds. Average pace 8 minutes and 07 seconds per mile. 703 Calories burnt.

April 26, 2014, 08:11 am. 2.90 miles in 34 minutes and 02 seconds. Average pace 11 minutes and 42 seconds per mile. 358 Calories burnt.

May 08, 2014, 1:15 pm. 5.01 miles in 41 minutes and 17 seconds. Average pace 8 minutes and 14 seconds per mile. 556 Calories burnt.

May 16, 2014, 11:33 am.  0.0 miles in 38 minutes and 26 seconds. Average pace 00 minutes and 00 seconds per mile. 0 Calories burnt.*

May 19, 2014, 1:03 pm. 0.61 miles in 37 minutes and 29 seconds. Average pace 61 minutes and 37 seconds per mile. 349 Calories burnt.*

May 26, 2014, 10:46 am. 6.27 miles in 53 minutes and 01 second. Average pace 8 minutes and 27 seconds per mile. 697 Calories burnt.

May 29, 2014 09:14 am. 6.28 miles in 52 minutes 33 seconds. Average pace 8 minutes and 22 seconds per mile. 697 Calories burnt.

June 13, 2014, 11:07 am. 4.49 miles in 40 minutes 00 seconds. Average pace 8 minutes and 54 seconds per mile. 503 Calories burnt.


Total: 47.26 miles in 7 hours 48 minutes and 18 seconds within 77 days. 5800 Calories burnt.


© Daniel Oesterle 2014/2016



The Outskirts of Eden

I will start posting some of the poetry I write as part of my creative endeavors as Soul to Squeeze ( on here. This is a little poem I wrote a couple of months ago. I stumbled across the image to the left and since it fit so well I wanted to share the both together. Here we go.

 The Outskirts of Eden

What I need is an endless summer

A vacation for good

Some peace and quiet

So I can

Hear the music inside me again

And maybe some friends,

Yeah, maybe some friends

To keep from going crazy


Salt on my skin and sand in my ears

Sand on my feet and my feet on the road

A thumb and a sign, but the place doesn’t matter

As long as it’s got sun, and sea, and crooked trees

And maybe some beer


The texture of the soil between the road and the beach

The threshold of paradise

The outskirts of Eden


Looking back I’ll see the van

The one I’d always dreamed about

Faded paint in red and white

Venerable dust and patches of rust


Before me, the waves will welcome me

With wet and wishful watery foam

The tides of ages will beckon me

And I will have found

That place they call home

© Daniel Oesterle 2013

Hello world!

So I have finally taken up blogging (like everybody who thinks they have got something to say these days). This will be in English or German, depending on my mood or the topic. This will be about all sorts of stuff that I feel like writing about. Poetry, music, philosophy, language, life in general, faith, love, hope, beauty and chaos.

We’ll see what this turns out to be.