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Simultaneous or Consecutive Interpretation?

Interpreting is a crucial service provided during dialogues to facilitate understanding among parties speaking different languages, making it seem as if they were using the same language. This service is employed in various scenarios such as conferences, seminars, meetings, jury trials, and any discussion involving the exchange of ideas. In these situations, interpreters serve as intermediaries between native speakers of different languages, each representing distinct cultures.

Interpreting Skills and Training

Effectively interpreting a speech from one language to another demands specific skills and training. Due to the complexity of this activity, having a qualified interpreter is highly advisable.

Translator vs. Interpreter: Understanding the Difference

Confusion often arises between the characteristics of translation (written) and interpretation, compounded by professionals who engage in both practices. It is crucial to recognize that interpreting is distinct from translation, just as consecutive interpreting differs from simultaneous interpreting.

Compared to a translator, an interpreter conveys a speech in real-time without the luxury of managing the conclusion of the exchange. Unlike translators, interpreters cannot read and revisit the text beforehand, necessitating a high level of expertise. Transcribing an interpretation does not guarantee an excellent translation, and vice versa. These professions require different skill sets, with interpreters needing to excel in their real-time performance. Some professionals opt for specialization, and the page details various types of interpretation to aid in distinguishing between them.


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Exploration of Various Types of Translations and Interpretations: Understanding and Distinguishing


Consecutive Interpretation: Explained in Detail

In consecutive interpretation, the interpreter does not speak simultaneously with the speaker but rather during the pauses.

In essence, the interpreter is tasked with delivering the entire original speech once the intervention (or a portion of it) concludes.

When the segments of a speech requiring interpretation are relatively brief, the interpreter may opt not to take notes in informal or semi-formal settings, such as negotiations, bilateral discussions, or property visits. They can smoothly interpret with concise pauses, rendering the speech in the target or receiving language. This approach is commonly known as liaison interpretation or consecutive interpretation.

In more formal settings, such as conference presentations or interviews, where the segments of a speech are lengthy and intricate enough to be memorized, interpreters often employ a straightforward note-taking or recording system. Frequently, a system of shorthand symbols or pictograms is utilized to keep pace with the speech’s rhythm. This method becomes especially advisable when dealing with more than two active languages. Consequently, one of the frequently practiced types of interpretation in conferences and official presentations is consecutive interpretation with note-taking.

However, in scenarios featuring native speakers of multiple languages in the same room or where there is no opportunity to pause for the interpreter to intervene, simultaneous interpretation comes into play.

Simultaneous Interpretation: Explained in Detail


Simultaneous Interpreting

Simultaneous interpretation involves the interpreter speaking concurrently with the speaker, introducing a slight delay. This form of interpretation is widely regarded as one of the most challenging due to the interpreter’s requirement to speak and listen simultaneously, often while utilizing technical equipment. The use of headphones or earphones enables the interpreter to hear the speech, which is then translated and conveyed orally through a microphone. Subsequently, the interpreter transmits the translated speech to individuals equipped with earpieces.

Whispering Variant:

An alternative to simultaneous interpretation is known as whispering, performed without technical equipment. In this approach, an individual interpreter discreetly follows speakers during a meeting or conference, whispering the interpretation to their client.

In the Booth

Simultaneous interpretation is ideally conducted within a soundproof booth or room, equipped with specialized technology, including a console featuring buttons and switches. This setup allows interpreters to convey speeches from various speakers and collaborate effectively when multiple languages are in use. Such arrangements are common at events like the European Parliament sessions or international conferences held by organizations such as the UN, UNESCO, G20, and others.

Outside the Booth

In some scenarios, simultaneous interpretation occurs without the use of a booth. In such cases, interpreters sit at a table equipped with buttons to switch channels for different languages. Nevertheless, the fundamental equipment remains consistent: a headset with headphones and a microphone.

Adapting to Multilingual Audiences:

As the global population becomes more multilingual, and individuals prefer not to wait for interpreters due to their proficiency in the source language, simultaneous interpretation remains a valuable solution. This type of interpretation significantly reduces intervention time and offers immediate language interpretation.

Challenges in Simultaneous Interpretation:

It is crucial to recognize that in simultaneous interpretation, the interpreter is unaware of the upcoming content. Limited time for constructing well-crafted sentences may lead to simplification and the omission of certain details. Even with the expertise of a true professional, some “losses” are inevitable in simultaneous interpretation.

Interpreter Skills

In any interpretation scenario, interpreters must ensure an accurate and faithful rendition of various speeches in the language they are using to convey information. They should possess strong analytical skills, cultural knowledge, and perfect mastery of both languages involved. Generally, interpreters work into their native language and sometimes from their native language to another language.

Differences in Interpreter Approaches:

Distinguishing between consecutive and simultaneous interpretation, the former allows for closer analysis of speeches to refine interpretation, while the latter demands immediate reactions. Each type of interpretation relies on distinct skills, making it challenging for interpreters to transition seamlessly between them.

Professional Perspectives

The majority of professionals assert that simultaneous interpretation is generally more complex than consecutive interpretation due to the simultaneous speaking and listening aspect. However, preferences vary among interpreters, with some finding simultaneous interpretation easier as it allows them to interpret phrase by phrase and immediately unburden their memory. Ultimately, the choice of interpretation type depends on the specific characteristics of the event and communication needs.


Between translation and interpretation: types of “hybrid” or “mixed” interpretation.

Sight Translation

A fusion of interpretation with a foreign-language text presented to the interpreter during the ongoing discussion. Commonly applied in conferences, speakers, frequently pressed for time, employ a text that the interpreter has previously read and received. It is essential to view this practice as supportive, as the speaker may deviate from the text, either partially or in detail.

Subtitling Interpretation

Live subtitling represents another departure from the traditional translator’s role, requiring them to listen, translate, and transcribe a speech or notable portions of the speaker’s discourse in real-time, complemented by simultaneous interpretation.

Interprétation Simultanée et Consécutive à Paris et Marseille

Conference Interpretation Organization

In a seminar, participants may express themselves in a language referred to as passive, meaning the language undergoing interpretation. In such instances, speakers can follow their active language through various language channels available.

For conferences or meetings that necessitate simultaneous interpretation, the venue is equipped with soundproof booths to facilitate the collaboration of interpreters in teams, with a minimum of two interpreters assigned to each language. At times, interpreters may engage in biactive interpretation, wherein they interpret into their native language and another. This activity requires a team that can alternate every 15 to 30 minutes. During their break, the resting interpreter assists their colleague by providing notes or relevant documents.

The Significance of Interpretation for International Institutions

The ability to communicate without a shared language is indispensable for the operation of all international organizations.

The standard practice is to adopt one or more working languages that all participants must be proficient in. Some conferences or organizations employ multiple listening languages. In such cases, these languages undergo interpretation, making it essential for those who do not speak these languages to express themselves and participate.


Two working languages, English and French, are utilized. Additionally, Arabic, Chinese, and Russian are officially employed and, therefore, necessitate interpretation.

For the European Union:

Since 2013, the European Union has employed 24 working languages, posing a considerable challenge and demanding a substantial number of interpreters.

The working languages include German, English, Croatian, Bulgarian, Danish, Spanish, Czech, Estonian, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Polish, Slovak, Slovenian, Swedish, and Romanian.


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