What is simultaneous interpreting and consecutive interpreting?

simultaneous interpreting


Suppose you’re planning to hold a business meeting or an international conference and have several native speakers from various countries. In that case, you might need an interpreter from One Step Translation (OST) to help you facilitate the meeting and make sure that everyone understands each other. There are two types of interpreters that you might come across: simultaneous interpreters and consecutive interpreters. Both of them provide translations while the event is going on, but they do it in different ways, so let’s look at them separately.

General Information

Simultaneous interpreting takes place without any breaks in between speakers. It’s usually used in formal settings such as diplomatic meetings or court hearings. Interpreters are often required to work in teams to easily pass over what they’ve heard or hand it off to another interpreter who takes over seamlessly without missing a beat.

Consecutive interpreters take turns with each speaker; after one person has finished talking, they step aside while another interpreter moves forward to interpret that speaker’s message. This method of interpretation doesn’t require two or more interpreters at once. Still, it makes it much harder for one person to keep up with everything said in conversation.

Working Phases

Generally speaking, simultaneous interpreting is a procedure where an interpreter translates or interprets into another language information given orally while it’s being spoken. The main difference between simultaneous and consecutive interpreting lies in how quickly speakers speak and how quickly interpreters translate. In simultaneous interpreting, speakers speak slowly enough for interpreters to interpret as they speak. This means that speakers don’t usually have to stop talking for interpreters to keep up. With consecutive interpreting, sometimes called oral translation services, speakers have time to pause between sentences or paragraphs so that interpreters can translate everything before the next speaker starts talking. The time lag can be several seconds up to a few minutes, depending on when each speaker stops talking.

Challenges of Interpreting in Simultaneous Mode

Simultaneous (or Consecutive) mode means that an interpreter works with their client while listening to a third-party source.

  • The interpreter translates as they hear information, conveying what was just said in their target language to their client in real-time.

  • This allows for the flow of conversation between all participants to continue smoothly.

  • However, even when set up with headphones, each participant can only hear what they need for communication purposes.

  • There are still plenty of challenging aspects to work simultaneously with a group of people.

Tips for Successful Simultaneous Interpreting

Simultaneous interpreting requires an interpreter to listen to a speaker speak in one language and repeat what they are saying verbatim in another language.

  • Simultaneous interpreters need to have outstanding listening skills and excellent language ability in both languages.

  • Good simultaneous interpreters work on multiple levels, absorbing information for themselves and feeding information out accurately.

  • Accuracy is paramount because if an interpreter makes a mistake while speaking, it can interrupt or even halt communication between two people who might be reaching a consensus or discussing important ideas.

Challenge Yourself with Consecutive Interpretation

Consecutive interpretation, also called consecutive translation, occurs at a natural pace (one speaker at a time). While that seems straightforward enough, it actually requires you to work in multiple directions at once:

  • Speak loudly

  • Listening for keywords from one person and then translating them into another language

  • Paying attention to phrases for clarity of meaning

  • Adjusting for cultural context (such as idioms)

  • Staying on top of both speakers so you don’t lose track of who speaks.

This type of interpretation requires a lot of skill—which may be why there are only about 4,000 full-time interpreters worldwide. But learning how to interpret consecutively can help when preparing for oral exams like those required to become certified by agencies like OST.

Tips for Successful Consecutive Interpreting

Consecutive interpretation can occur in one of two ways.

  • In sequential translation, an interpreter listens to a speaker presenting in one language—usually her native tongue—and delivers her interpretation after each section or at its conclusion.

  • Simultaneous interpretation occurs when an interpreter sits with headphones on, listening to a speaker deliver his message in another language and gives an almost real-time interpretation into another language for listeners’ consumption.

Ways to Maximize Your Potential as a Consecutive Interpreter

Consecutive interpretation can be very difficult because you must listen, translate, and speak on demand. The most effective interpreters spend years working through simulated trials in a language lab to build their speed and accuracy. They also study specialized medical terms and phrases used during a medical procedure or surgery.

Suppose you’re interested in doing consecutive interpreting services for a career. In that case, there are several ways you can set yourself up for success.

The Final Word

The translation may be a niche profession, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in practical skills. Interpreters have to make real-time decisions under pressure. They have to listen carefully, think quickly, speak clearly—all while keeping an eye on what their target audience is paying attention to at any given moment.

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