There are two primary modes of interpretation — simultaneous and consecutive. Both are used to bridge language and cultural barriers, but understanding how and when to use both types is essential. First, let’s start off by outlining some critical differences between simultaneous and consecutive interpreting.
Simultaneous interpreters listen to the speaker and speak that message in another language to the audience at the same time. You may be familiar with this method of interpretation if you’ve ever seen videos from the United Nations. Have you noticed how the audience, despite speaking a variety of different languages, all laugh, and clap in unison? This is the result of master interpreters working behind the scenes to convey the message in each audience member’s primary language.
This type of interpreting is used mostly for conferences, events, business meetings, and other points where someone is speaking for an extended amount of time without pause. Due to the high register of many speakers we work with, it is ideal to receive preparation materials like a detailed agenda, presentations, speeches, and anything else that will help the interpreter prepare in the weeks leading up to the job. Due to the strenuous speed of communication, and often high register of speech, simultaneous interpreters work in teams of two or three to not only take turns actively interpreting but also to assist their teammate(s) with difficult phrases or terms.
Consecutive interpreting takes more time than simultaneous interpreting by nature, but it still has many uses in not only medical settings but also legal, with tour groups, or any other area that has less contiguous speaking, opportunities for pauses, and in call/response scenarios.
A consecutive interpreter listens to what the speaker says, transmits the message to the listener, and when necessary, takes the answer from the listener to interpret the response to the original speaker. This mode of interpreting requires not only impressive linguistic skills but also a steel-trap memory for the interpreter as they must listen to an entire message before speaking it in the next language. Consecutive interpreters typically work alone.
As you can see, simultaneous interpreting and consecutive interpreting both require an impressive, yet different, skill set. Interpreters train for years to serve clients and actively pursue further education throughout their careers as methods change and improve. Whether interpreting simultaneously or consecutively, we’re thankful for all of the interpreters who help us communicate!
Written by Alec Mandla