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Simultaneous Interpretation - General Information

Articles on Interpretation

Simultaneous interpreting

What is a simultaneous interpreter?

A simultaneous interpreter is - as you can tell by looking at the words - someone who interprets for someone in another language while the speaker speaks without interruption. This is the opposite of consecutive interpreting, because a consecutive interpreter awaits his turn and does not start speaking until the speaker allows him the time to do so. Simultaneous interpreting is one of the most common kinds of interpreting. But also the most difficult. Very few translators (who are used to getting the time to really think about their translations) can do it, and not even all interpreters can do it well.

When is it necessary?

You need a simultaneous interpreter when at least one person attending your event cannot understand what the speaker says, due to the fact that he speaks a different language, and there is no time or opportunity to let the speaker pause regularly.

Some examples...

How many interpreters do I need?

In the examples you regularly see mention of a need to hire more than one interpreter. But now you might ask: How do I determine whether I need one interpreter or more? In order to be able to find the answer, you need to know how a simultaneous interpreter works. It is really a very complex process, one that only very few interpreters can handle well. A speaker is speaking, and that speaker does not stop or pause. He keeps talking. Therefore the interpreter must do the following while the speaker is talking:

This requires a kind of mental miracle, and that is why it is an unusually demanding and complex activity to carry out, one that requires an unusual level of concentration, which tires out the interpreter rather soon - which affects his concentration, which, in turn, affects his performance after a while, and ... well, you get the picture. There are some solutions for this problem: Sometimes the event's program offers possibilities for regular breaks, perhaps because of visual presentations in between the speeches. In that case it is not impossible that one interpreter will suffice. But if the speeches go on and on, you may expect the interpreter to get too tired after a while. In that case it can be necessary to hire more than one interpreter, so they can alternate. Or perhaps you can get another interpreter for different parts of the day - be creative. But whatever you do, do not underestimate the need for a solution of the interpreter's exhaustion problem, because a serious loss of concentration when he gets tired, will result in a loss of quality in the translation. Of course it is expensive to hire interpreters. But if you are going to spend money on it anyhow, why not make sure you get quality translations? An exhausted interpreter will do no one any good. Moreover - if an agency or an interpreter estimates a potential assignment to be too exhausting for one interpreter to do well, and you are not willing to pay for an extra interpreter, there is a good chance that the assignment will be flatly refused.

Are there different kinds of simultaneous interpreters?

Yes and no. Although the principle is the same in all cases, there are even different names for different kinds of simultaneous interpreters.

Whispering interpreters are simultaneous interpreters who whisper their translations. Usually they work under circumstances where the listeners are a minority as far as their language is concerned: it can be one person, or perhaps just a few. Is it one or two people, then the interpreter will usually work without sound equipment and he will literally whisper his translation to his listeners.

Conversation interpreters can be simultaneous interpreters, but not necessarily. In the abovementioned example of the marketing research company it is clear that a simultaneous interpreter is needed to translate the interviews. But is there time for people to pause during a conversation, and is there no objection to having participants in the conversation wait for the translation each time a sentence is spoken, you may consider using a consecutive interpreter.

Court interpreters (= legal interpreters) are usually simultaneous interpreters. The chance, however, that you will need a court interpreter, is rather slim - unless you work for a court. Since most courts already have a list of interpreters they work with, we will not explain the work of this kind of simultaneous interpreters any further.
Conference interpreters are, in fact, always simultaneous interpreters. They generally work in interpreter's booths.


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