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What are the Differences Between Simultaneous and Consecutive Interpretation?

Interpretation - Community Interpreting - The more you know - Interpreters - Food for thought

The field of interpreting has seen continued growth and public interest as the world becomes increasingly interested in multilingual content and speakers. The COVID-19 pandemic also placed interpreters front and center as communicators and linguistic guides through a harrowing time for the world.

The public still has much to learn about the role of interpreters though and the multitude of modes and interpretation types that they work within.

In this guide we’ll be exploring in depth the two most common modes of interpreting; simultaneous and consecutive. Dive into our piece explaining what the differences are between simultaneous and consecutive interpreting!Ad Astra this guy understands the differences between Simultaneous and Consecutive Interpretation

Consecutive Interpreting Explained

So what is consecutive interpretation?

The first major mode and most commonly used is consecutive interpreting.

In this style, someone speaks first while the interpreter listens carefully. The interpreter will often times take notes to ensure that they are not losing any information. Once the speaker stops speaking, the interpreter then carefully reproduces what they heard – ensuring that they keep the meaning and intent matching exactly as the speaker intended. They do not summarize, abridge or change the message.

To become a good consecutive interpreter, you really need to have deep training, strong language processing ability and communication skills. You have to be an active listener, accurately processing the concepts, thoughts, emotion, and technical jargon that the speaker might be using. This is where the notes we mentioned earlier becomes key.This woman is doing simultaneous interpretationYour ability to match the level of speech or technical level of a speaker requires you to have a strong ability to command language. A good consecutive interpreter is also not afraid to pause an exchange to circle back on a detail or request something be clarified or repeated.

When to use consecutive interpreting!

Consecutive interpreting can be used for meetings, seminars, parent-teacher conferences, court depositions, tours or any space where an instantaneous reproduction of language is not required. You’ll see it in court, healthcare, and almost any other field you can think of!Ad Astra has qualified interpreters for interpretation ServicesA bonus of this mode in spoken language interpretation is that it also allows the interpreter to be able to inflect their speech with the tone and emotional feeling of the speaker.

Check out this classic example of consecutive interpreting. of Qualified Ad Astra Interpreters

Simultaneous Interpretation Explained

What’s the deal with simultaneous interpretation?

Now this mode matches our sci fi fantasies of instant interpretation! In simultaneous interpretation the interpretation happens instantly, in real-time. The speaker talks to an individual and the interpreter speaks alongside them, giving no pause or note taking time like in consecutive interpretation.

Since this mode has little to no delay in conversion of speech it can expedite certain interactions. You may see this format used at some live events, award shows, or international conferences where a break in speech flow cannot take place.  

Simultaneous interpretation is not a mode that an amateur or beginner interpreter can do easily. The active listening and cognitive load this form requires can be incredibly demanding. Check out this example by legendary conference interpreter and former Middlebury Institute Professor of Interpreting Barry Slaughter Olsen.

When you use simultaneous interpretation

If you’ve ever been to an international conference and see the speakers or attendees wearing a little earpiece tapping them into a live interpretation feed – then you’ve seen the premiere settings for simultaneous!

Oftentimes largescale UN events and other international meetings with various languages will employ a team of out of simultaneous interpreters in booths to carefully listen to the speakers and instantly relay the interpreted message over a microphone and portable transmitter system. You might also see this format when diplomats or foreign leaders meet and they don’t want to converse in a manner that requires pauses.

This mode can be very demanding on interpreters and might not be the best mode for simple interactions like the parent teacher conferences or simpler consumer interaction we mentioned earlier.

In reference to Sign Language interpretation, this mode is the default. A hearing American Sign Language interpreter that is interpreting for a Deaf consumer would be interpreting the ASL and speaking to the other party at the same time. This leads us to our next point!

When you need multiple interpreters

So we have showed examples of the modes and hinted at just how physically and mentally demanding assignments can be. This is where it’s important to pair interpreters or hire teams to tackle complicated or lengthy assignments.

A team of 2 interpreters on a 4 hour assignment protects their well-being. Imagine having to process language, take notes and speak nonstop for 4 hours by yourself….we invite you to try this at home then next time you have a free weekend. Next to the aforementioned health issues that overly long solo assignments can cause, when you approach assignments with teams you guarantee an increase in the quality of the work you get.

Multiple individuals swapping on during an assignment keeps everyone fresh and focused on the critical listening and communication they must perform.Ad Astra blog Translation InterpretarionThis team approach is not limited to spoken interpretation. Sign language assignments also are highly recommended to use this approach due to the physical nature of the work and cognitive load. Whether it’s two hearing sign language interpreters or a Certified Deaf Interpreter paired with a hearing American Sign Language interpreter – teams is the way to go!

The Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) can drastically improve the quality of the interpretation and bring an extra level of accuracy and cultural care in communication. Incorporate them in to your legal, high risk medical settings, or critical press conference events where an incorrect word or phrase can have serious ramifications. Read more about why they’re important here.

Just remember when sourcing qualified Sign Language and spoken language interpreters for your assignments – we’re dealing with humans, not machines.

Now you know the deal!

So now you understand more about what differentiates the 2 major modes of interpretation! Consecutive and simultaneous interpreting have very different applications but at the end of the day have the same purpose. That purpose is to connect and support those that need language access.

You also should have a better grip on why using teams of interpreters raises the quality of the interpretation and ensures their well-being.

We hope this walkthrough was helpful. Reach out to us to discuss how we can support your interpretation service needs!