How do you know when you need an interpreter? Simultaneous or consecutive interpretation?

Simultaneous or Consecutive Interpretation? Interpreting is a service provided during a dialogue by interpreters to enable parties who do not speak the same language to understand each other as if they were speaking the same language. This occurs during conferences, seminars, meetings, trials before a jury, and any occasion involving a discussion of ideas. In these situations, the interpreter becomes an intermediary between the native speakers of different languages and bearers of different cultures.

Interpreting a speech from one language to another requires special skills and training. Given that it is a complex activity, the presence of a qualified interpreter is highly desirable.

What is the difference between a translator and an interpreter?

Many people confuse the characteristics of translation (written) and interpretation. Moreover, many professionals practice both interpreting and translation. However, interpreting is not the same as translation, just as consecutive interpreting is not the same as simultaneous interpreting.

Compared to a translator, an interpreter conveys a speech as it unfolds during the event without being able to manage the end and conclusion of the exchange. They do not have the luxury of reading the pages of a text beforehand and revisiting them if necessary to correct mistakes. Transcribing an interpretation will not necessarily produce an excellent translation, and vice versa, it is simply impossible. The two professions require different skills. A translator can afford to be meticulous because they have the time, but an interpreter must be excellent at what they do. Some choose to specialize. It’s worth noting that there are also several types of interpretation, the most well-known of which are detailed on this page to help you distinguish between them.

The different types of translations and interpretations to understand and differentiate.

Consecutive Interpretation

In consecutive interpretation, the interpreter does not speak at the same time as the speaker but rather during the pauses.

In other words, the interpreter must relay the entire original speech once the intervention (or part of it) is finished.

If the segments of a speech that need to be interpreted are not too long, the interpreter does not need to take notes in a non-formal or semi-formal setting, such as a negotiation, a bilateral discussion, or a property visit. They can simply interpret with short pauses to render the speech in the target or receiving language. This is known as liaison interpretation or consecutive interpretation.


Consecutive Interpretation

In more formal situations (for example, a conference presentation, an interview, etc.), when the segments of a speech to be interpreted are long and complex enough to memorize, interpreters generally use a simple note-taking or recording system. Often a system of shorthand symbols or pictograms is used to keep up with the pace of the speech. This is advisable when there are more than two active languages. Therefore, one of the types of interpretation that is often practiced in conferences and official presentations is consecutive interpretation with note-taking.

But in situations where there are native speakers of several languages present in a room, or where there is no possibility of pausing for the interpreter to intervene, simultaneous interpretation is employed.



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


Translation on sight

A mixture of interpretation with a foreign language text in front of the interpreter that is used during the course of the discussion. Often practiced during conferences, speakers who are often constrained by time use a text that the interpreter has already read and received in advance. It should be considered as an aid because the speaker may not adhere to this text in part or in detail.

Subtitling interpreting

Here’s an improved translation : Live subtitling is another difference in the traditional translator’s job, where they must listen, translate, and transcribe a speech or a significant part of the speaker’s remarks in real-time, complemented by simultaneous interpretation.


interpretariat sous titrage

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Simoultaneous Interpreting

 Simultaneous interpretation involves the interpreter speaking at the same time as the speaker with a slight delay. This type of interpretation is considered one of the most difficult because the interpreter must speak and listen simultaneously while using technical equipment. Headphones or earphones are used to hear the speech, which is then translated and transmitted orally through a microphone. The interpreter then transmits the translated speech to individuals who are equipped with an earpiece.

simoultaneous interpreting

“There is also a variant of simultaneous interpretation called whispering (without technical equipment). It involves an individual interpreter who follows the speakers in a meeting or conference and whispers the interpretation to their client.

In the booth

Simultaneous interpretation is preferably performed in a soundproof booth or room equipped with special equipment, including a console with buttons and switches. This allows interpreters to transmit the speeches of different speakers and also enables them to work in relay when multiple languages are spoken. This is often the case at events such as the European Parliament or international conferences of the UN, UNESCO, G20, etc.

Outside the booth

Sometimes simultaneous interpretation is performed without a booth – the interpreter sits at a table with buttons to change the channels for different languages, but the basic equipment remains the same: a headset with headphones and a microphone.

These days, as more and more people speak multiple languages and do not want to wait and listen to the interpreter because they fully understand the source language, simultaneous interpretation remains a good solution, as this type of interpretation can reduce the intervention time by half and provide immediate interpretation in multiple languages at the same time.

However, it is important to note that in simultaneous interpretation, the interpreter does not know the rest of the speech. With insufficient time to construct sentences well, they may need to simplify and reduce certain ideas. In simultaneous interpretation, some “losses” are inevitable even with the work of a true professional.

Interpreter Skills

In any interpretation case, the interpreter must ensure a faithful and as identical as possible return of the various speeches in the language in which they are transmitting the information. They must also have a good analytical sense, be cultured, and have perfect mastery of both languages they are interpreting. Generally, interpreters work towards their native language and sometimes even from their own language to another language.

There are differences between the way a consecutive and simultaneous interpreter works. The first has the advantage of being able to analyze the speech more closely to refine their interpretation. The second must react immediately, from the first seconds of the intervention, otherwise, they may miss an important part of the information. So, if we compare the skills of a consecutive interpreter and those of a simultaneous interpreter, we can see that the former relies much more on their analytical abilities and long-term memory, while the latter needs to have a good short-term memory. They must quickly react to decide which equivalent to choose to interpret a word, idea, or concept. They must act quickly and do not have time to analyze whether their choice was the best. Let’s say that consecutive interpretation and simultaneous interpretation are two different ways of doing things. Many interpreters who have been working in consecutive interpretation for years find it difficult to switch to simultaneous interpretation immediately, and vice versa.

What professionals think

Most professionals say that simultaneous interpretation is generally much more complex than consecutive interpretation. When you listen and speak at the same time, the pressure is enormous. However, some interpreters are very comfortable with simultaneous interpretation and find that “it is much easier to interpret phrase by phrase and immediately unload their memory” instead of concentrating on listening to a long stretch of speech and then summarizing it in another language. Everyone has their preferences… Fortunately, as we have said, each type of interpretation can prove useful in certain circumstances. It is chosen based on the characteristics of the event and communication needs.”

Conference Interpretation Organization

During a seminar, participants may speak in a language known as passive, meaning the language being interpreted. In this case, the speakers can follow their active language through the different language channels available.

In conferences or meetings where simultaneous interpretation is required, the venue is equipped with soundproof booths to enable interpreters to work in teams of at least two for each language. Sometimes, interpreters may provide biactive interpretation, which involves interpreting both into their own language and into another. This activity requires a team that can take turns every 15 to 30 minutes. The interpreter on break then supports their colleague by providing notes or documents.


The Importance of Interpretation for International Institutions

Being able to communicate without sharing the same language is crucial for the functioning of all international organizations.

The common practice is to adopt one or more working languages that all participants must know. Some conferences or organizations have multiple listening languages. In this case, they are interpreted, and interpretation is necessary for others who do not speak these languages to express themselves and participate.


Two working languages are used, English and French. Arabic, Chinese, and Russian are also officially used and therefore require interpretation.

For the European Union:

Since 2013, it has been using 24 working languages, which presents a significant challenge and requires a large number of interpreters.

The working languages are: 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.