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Defining Simultaneous Interpretation and Why It Can Help You

simultaneous interpretation

Last updated on June 23rd, 2023 at 01:16 pm

what is simultaneous interpretation

Understanding Simultaneous Interpretation and Why It’s So Important

What Is Simultaneous Interpretation? 

Since spoken language originated, we humans have done our best to circumvent language barriers using interpretation services.  Interpretation is the mental translation of a source language into a target language in the mind of the interpreter, conveyed to the listener in real time.  Today, interpretation can be accomplished in different ways depending on the situation, setting, and equipment involved.  Today we want to concentrate on simultaneous interpretation, often known as conference interpretation.  We’ll look at some examples of how simultaneous interpretation and its sibling methods have been used in the past, what is happening now, and what might happen next.

Interpreting the Ancients

Simultaneous and consecutive interpretation have been regularly used throughout global history.  In fact, interpretation precedes the written word, linking cultures through detailed oral accounts, songs, and stories.  Royalty, clergy, and military leaders used the services of interpreters, who relayed messages that would change the course of the world.  In these cases that pre-date our modern equipment, simultaneous interpretation could be done using the whisper technique, where the interpreter stands or sits close to the listener and conveys the message in a low tone.

Interpreting War Crimes

The Nuremberg Trials of 1945-1946 saw the first official use of simultaneous interpretation in such a setting.  This proved effective for the scale and diversity of such an event.  For heads of state who were not well studied in languages other than their own, like British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, it was a necessity and a relief.  Simultaneous interpretation changed the look of the industry; interpreters now sat in small, soundproof cubicles and served their listeners with a headset and microphone.

The use of simultaneous interpretation got a fair amount of pushback from the establishment, which favored consecutive interpretation as more reliable and elegant.  This debate continued until 1951, when simultaneous interpretation became the standard for such high-profile events.  1951 saw the number of languages used by the United Nations grow from French and English to include Spanish, Russian, and Chinese.  Continuing to use consecutive interpretation would take far too long.  Though simultaneous interpretation is fast-paced and difficult, it holds the advantage over consecutive interpretation in large, non-intimate settings, hence calling it “conference” interpretation.  Consecutive interpretation is more effective for exchanges between a small number of people.

The Life of an Interpreter – Important skills

Conference interpretation is challenging work.  The interpreter has almost no time to consider context or work out an unfamiliar word.  Professional conference interpreters need to have such a level of skill at their craft that they will deliver only the most accurate interpretation of the source language to the listener in the target language.  Other skills and talents of simultaneous interpreters are:

  • Complete command of their native language, also called their passive language. Context is always important, so an extensive vocabulary and good understanding of linguistic nuance is needed.
  • A professional interpreter must have fluency in their other working language(s), including cultural knowledge and ability to localize correctly. Depending on their task, they may need to have specific industry knowledge as well, such as legal, technical, or medical terminology.
  • A quality interpreter is dedicated to accuracy and professionalism. They will keep client confidentiality and stay neutral, leaving the meaning and intent of the original speaker intact.
  • Reliability is a principle skilled interpreters hold to. They are prepared, on task, and on time.
  • A simultaneous interpreter has a sharp mind and is able to work well under pressure. They are able to think and react quickly, and have an accommodating memory.
  • The best conference interpreters are well-read and well-educated, which promotes a greater range of expression, versatility, and nuance.
  • Quality interpreters are flexible, and willing to travel. Some serve in one area, some travel the world regularly.  Today, advances in technology make remote interpretation work more accessible.  Remote video interpretation in particular is seeing a rise in popularity. New Technology is facilitating this option. New software providers for this service help professional interpreters to become proficient with the technology.
  • Due to the mental effort involved, simultaneous interpreters often work in pairs so that one can rest or take notes while the other speaks. This helps ensure consistent interpretation quality and accuracy.
  • For meetings and events involving simultaneous interpretation, it is important to provide written material to the professional interpreter ahead of time in order to provide references, vocabulary, and guidance so they can prepare.

Simultaneous interpretation can take minutes, hours, or days.  Interpretation work can be done in a quick chat on Skype, or last for weeks during high-stakes conferences with several different languages spoken.  Selecting the right resources is key for the success of the language interpretation service.

Designing a Multilingual Conference

Selecting the appropriate setting and providing the right equipment goes a long way in setting up a successful multilingual conference. Work with an experienced language translation company that will help you define and execute your need for a bilingual or multilingual simultaneous conference. You will need simultaneous interpretation equipment, a booth for the interpreters to work in, and technicians to plot the logistics of the event.


How Is Simultaneous Interpretation Used Today?

Today, simultaneous interpretation meets more needs than ever, offering access to information and facilitating communication.  Several of the industries that use simultaneous interpretation services are listed here:

  • Simultaneous interpretation makes legal processes, from deposition to trial, more efficient and accurate.  Only a professional interpreter schooled in legal terminology will be able to offer excellent results.
  • Political meetings. International governments cannot work together without interpreters, and as demonstrated by history, simultaneous interpretation makes high-stakes interactions flow more smoothly.
  • The accessibility of a lecture is greatly widened by the presence of professionals available to give simultaneous interpretation to students using headsets.  The student is able to confidently take notes and use that data to demonstrate their excellence.
  • The public sector. Consider a natural disaster.  Public officials have an urgent need to communicate with their constituents; the services of professional interpreters can save lives.  Simultaneous interpretation also finds a home in social programs on any level.
  • Our military needs to communicate with peoples across the globe in tense situations where accuracy is everything.  Professional simultaneous interpretation promotes safety and ensures that the message is complete and correct.
  • From a minor league game to the Olympics, having simultaneous interpreters on hand is a must to convey gameplay and commentary to the crowds watching in the stadium and at home.  It promotes accessibility, enjoyment, and good will.
  • Employee training benefits from simultaneous interpretation services as a large number of people can be informed at the same time. Simultaneous interpretation in the workforce encourages safe practices, consistency, and product quality.
  • Travel and tourism. The presence of interpreters opens the world to the traveler, enabling people to fully experience their surroundings.  Interpretation services make international travel safer and more accessible by converting what the traveler sees and hears into their native language.

What Does This Mean to You? 

Take time to explain your need and ask questions to learn about conference interpretation so you can make an informed decision. Work with a knowledgeable and resourceful translation agency that will have you covered from the planning to the closure of your conference. Conferences are complex and can take months to plan.  Adding a multilingual aspect to such an event adds even more complexity and needs to be handled with finesse, knowledge, and enough time to coordinate all the elements appropriately.  Hire a Translation company that has the experience to handle the details of conference interpretation.  Like a conductor guides an orchestra, a professional translation and interpretation agency will coordinate all processes for a successful multilingual conference.

Jackie Ruffolo
Jackie Ruffolo
Jackie was born in Venezuela and has a BS in computer engineering. As President of JR Language, she spends time researching new technology and productivity tools for the Company. She holds a certificate of Localization and Project Management- Localization. Through her many years of experience working in multilingual corporate environments, she understands firsthand the value of bridging language barriers in creating smooth communication that allows for productive and happy work environments. She is fluent in Spanish and English, and is a frequent contributor to both our English and Spanish blogs. 20 Years of experience in marketing Jackie loves nature and to be outdoors.