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What is the difference between simultaneous and consecutive interpreting?

What is the difference between simultaneous and consecutive interpreting?


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Consecutive Interpretation

What is the difference between simultaneous and consecutive interpreting?

There are two main forms of interpretation: simultaneous and consecutive interpretations. Identifying their differences is key to know which to use and when.

Consecutive interpreting

‘Listen, pause, talk’. A consecutive interpreter waits until the speaker pauses before they translate the sentences into the target language.

Consecutive interpreting works very well in small groups where there is only one target language to cater to. A good example would be a business meeting where most of the delegates are English but a French consecutive interpreter has been hired to help a French-speaking delegate participate.

Advantages of consecutive interpreting

The main advantage of consecutive interpretation is that no specialist equipment and technology is required, as interpreters only require to listen and take notes whilst the speaker presents.

Additionally, consecutive interpreting can be used in an interactive environment. For example, once an English delegate finishes speaking and the interpreter repeats the sentences in French, a French-speaking delegate can reply in French and have their words translated into English by the interpreter.

Disadvantages of consecutive interpreting

One of the downsides of consecutive interpreting is that it can extend a meeting, as the speaker must pause to allow interpreters time to repeat their words.

It is also difficult to cater to more than one target language at a time without risking confusion, as multiple interpreters may need to work into and out of multiple languages.

Simultaneous interpreting

Simultaneous is the keyword. A simultaneous interpreter translates what is being said into the target language at the same time as the speaker.

Simultaneous interpreters sit in sound-proof booths and listen to the proceedings through headphones whilst simultaneously repeating what is being said into a microphone for transmission to the audience’s headsets. An example of a simultaneous interpretation could be a broadcast interview with a foreign celebrity, a United Nations conference, or a high-profile trial in court.

Advantages of simultaneous interpreting

Its simultaneity. The main advantage of simultaneous interpretation is that the translations happen in real time, as the speaker does not need to pause for the interpreter to translate their words.

Additionally, as interpreters are isolated from the proceedings in their sound-proof booths, there is no limit to the number of concurrent languages which can be catered for. Delegates can simply select their preferred language by changing channels on their headsets, for instance.

Disadvantages of simultaneous interpreting

Simultaneous interpretations are typically not interactive, as they are usually used in one-to-many scenarios.

Additionally, it can be more expensive for two main reasons. Firstly, at least two interpreters are required per language to allow interpreters time to recover, due to how draining the task can be. Secondly, it does need specialist equipment, such as soundproof booths, headsets, microphones, wiring, and cameras and screens, if the interpreters need to have a full view of the speakers.

Consecutive or simultaneous interpreting? When to use which?

The type and number of interpreters depend on the type of conference that requires interpretation. Consecutive interpretation is more suitable for intimate meetings with an interactive nature. On the contrary, if a conference is large and features keynote addresses from the stage, simultaneous interpreters would be recommended.

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