Microphones and interpretation equipment at panel table

The Difference Between Consecutive and Simultaneous Interpretation

The job of an interpreter is to be a real-time mediator for people who communicate in different languages. Interpreters must be masters of idioms, tone, semantics, and colloquialisms to render an expression accurately from one language into another.

Not only that, but they must also interpret intention and nuance to convey the overall feeling that one person is trying to express to another.

Professional interpreting services are rendered in multiple ways, but the two primary types of interpretation are consecutive interpretation and simultaneous interpretation.

It’s essential to understand both methods of interpretation to understand which will best serve your needs.

Let’s take a look at simultaneous versus consecutive interpreting.

What is Simultaneous Interpretation?

As the word ‘simultaneous’ suggests, simultaneous interpreting is listening to what is being said in one language and concurrently saying it in another language.

Think about a sign language interpreter at a business conference. He or she listens to what is being said by the presenter and simultaneously “says” the same thing to the entire audience. That is an example of simultaneous interpreting.

However, it gets a little more complicated when dealing with two spoken languages. Simultaneous interpretation with two spoken languages usually requires some equipment.

First, whoever is presenting needs a microphone, the microphone will probably be hooked up to some loudspeakers so the entire audience can hear what is being said, but the microphone will also feed into pairs of headphones worn by the interpreters.

The interpreters will usually be located in a soundproof booth in the back of the conference room. There, they can listen to the presentation without too much interruption. As the interpreters listen to what is being presented, they simultaneously say the same thing in another language.

The interpreters speak into a microphone that feeds into headphones worn by event attendees who cannot fully understand the presentation. While the interpreter is speaking, they are also listening to the speaker to accurately interpret the next sentence. 

Interpreters usually wait until the end of a sentence to translate; the truth is that “simultaneous” is a bit of a misnomer as the interpreter cannot begin the translation until they hear, at the very least, the subject, the verb of the sentence, and it's general meaning before they can begin the translation.

Then, as the interpreter is speaking, they also listen to the next sentence and prepare to translate it. This particular job takes a great deal of confidence and decisiveness. There simply isn’t enough time to compare and contrast the merits of various translations of the same sentence or to try to call to mind the correctly nuanced idiom.

You have to be fluent enough to act quickly because any delay can result in lost words or entire lost thoughts or sentences, which could be disastrous to the translated speech's overall understanding.

Simultaneous interpreting is most effective when speaking in front of an audience but is less effective in a casual setting.

Times you might use simultaneous interpreting include:

  • Board meetings 
  • Courtrooms
  • Diplomatic conferences
  • International conferences
  • Tours
  • Lectures and
  • presentations

The first use of simultaneous interpreting was during the Nuremberg Trials, a series of military hearings held by the Allied Forces in 1945 and 1946 at the end of the Second World War.

In the early 1950s, the United Nations declared simultaneous interpretation to be the preferred method for most official UN meetings, as it saved time and improved the quality of the interpretation itself.

Learn more about Simultaneous Interpretation Services


What is Consecutive Interpretation?

As the word ‘consecutive’ suggests, consecutive interpreting between two people is interpreting one person’s message, and then the other person’s message, and then the original person’s response, and so on.

If someone interprets consecutively, the speaker will stop every so often (typically after a complete thought) to allow the interpreter to step in and translate what was said from the source language into the target language.

This means that a consecutive interpreter must have excellent note-taking skills as well as language and interpretation skills. Since few people can memorize a full paragraph after hearing it once without losing significant detail, an interpreter who interprets consecutively must master shorthand.

But it’s even harder than it is for a stenographer, as the interpreter has to write down notes about what is being said in one language and then interpret them into another. This means that many professional interpreters will develop their shorthand style, usually image or symbol-based, which allows them to take notes on the speaker's thoughts and intentions rather than their precise words. In this type of interpreting, the interpretation is more idiomatic and less literal.

Consecutive interpreting is the interpretation style of choice for medical interpretation since speed and efficiency are slightly less important than clarity and intention.

It is a popular option during both formal and informal meetings and could be most effectively employed during the following occasions:

Learn more about Consecutive Interpretation Services

Consecutive vs. Simultaneous Interpretation

Choosing which method of interpretation will best suit you and your needs will require you to prioritize what is most important to you in your interpretation.

Simultaneous interpretation saves a considerable amount of time and helps you feel as though the conversation were happening in real-time. But you have to consider the cost of equipment (sound booth, headphones, microphones, etc.) and account for interpreter fatigue. Simultaneous interpreting can be so tiring that two interpreters are often required so they can take turns.

Consecutive interpreters have much more control over the words they are translating, and they can take a little more time to get everything right before they pass on the interpreted message. But this can mean it will take a lot more time to get your translation.

Nonetheless, the consecutive interpreter can ask for clarification and repetition to ensure that the interpretation is as accurate as possible.

In today’s fast-paced business world, simultaneous interpretation reigns supreme since time is a luxury that few professionals can afford to waste. However, consecutive interpretation is more cost-effective and precise, although it takes considerably more time to execute.

Regardless of which method you choose, the most important element is a skilled, reliable interpreter specializing in your industry. LinguaLinx offers both consecutive and simultaneous interpretation services

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