Consecutive vs. Simultaneous Interpretation: What’s the Difference?

What is Consecutive Interpretation?

With consecutive interpretation, a professional interpreter waits for a speaking individual to say a complete sentence or statement before interpreting that statement in full to the speaker’s audience. This can take many different forms, and the length of the statements made can vary from one setting to the next.

In a meeting between political diplomats, for example, it’s normal to see consecutive interpreting services taking place to help those diplomats overcome a language barrier. Because these exchanges are often conversational, the length of each statement is likely to be relatively short, with many running less than one minute long. In a larger setting, for example, such as when a deposition is being read in court, or when a speaker is giving a speech to a large crowd, the statements can last for five minutes or more, putting pressure on the interpreter to hold the statement in their memory and accurately interpret the content to the audience.

In some cases, a single interpreter can be used to facilitate a two-way conversation between individuals speaking in different languages. An interpreter certified in both Japanese and English, for example, could provide interpretation between Japanese and American business leaders trying to arrange a business partnership.

Consecutive interpreting experts use special note-taking and memorization techniques to provide these on-the-spot interpretations, making it possible for interpreters to take a consecutive interpreting assignment on short notice and still deliver professional service in a live environment. Protranslating’s network of interpreters makes it easy to deploy an interpreter to any location by arranging the event with an in-house coordinator.

These services are then provided to business meetings and conferences, executive meetings, interviews, press conferences, lectures and other settings where consecutive interpretation offers the greatest value for our clients.

Simultaneous interpreting is a form of interpreting that takes place almost in real-time. With a simultaneous interpretation, the interpreter’s audience typically wears headphones during a presentation or event to hear the content of that event rendered in a language they can understand. This allows the audience to experience an event in real-time while also providing interpreting in the most time-efficient manner possible.

One of the most visible examples of simultaneous interpretation is the assembly of the United Nations. In order to communicate simultaneously to an audience of representatives from around the world, simultaneous interpreting is provided through headphones to help those global ambassadors understand the content of the speech being given at the front of the room. Through a highly coordinated interpreting effort that spans multiple languages, a single speech is delivered to the representatives of nearly all the world’s nations.

Simultaneous interpretation can also be seen during some live broadcasts of televised events, when the content being broadcast into one language must be interpreted live, rather than dubbed at a later date. Remote simultaneous interpretation is becoming more common as live webcasts of events and presentations aim to reach a diverse, global audience.

The nature of simultaneous interpreting means that interpreters must be able to think quick and translate passages almost instantly. Because of the high demands of this job, interpreters often handle simultaneous interpretation in groups of two, allowing the interpreters to take turns and assist during their break by researching any terms.

To keep up with the pace of an event, interpreters must be extremely skilled at their jobs and focused on the speech being interpreted. When simultaneous interpreting is used at an event, it provides the most efficient form of interpretation while being able to serve an audience of any size.

When considering whether to go with simultaneous vs consecutive interpretation, the decision often comes down to the setting where your interpreting will take place, as well as the kind of technology available to support the interpretation.

Consecutive interpretation is a slower, more methodical type of interpretation. It’s great for one-to-one conversations because it’s able to translate speech and foster a sense of intimacy in the conversation, which makes it well-suited to business meetings. Interviews are another situation where consecutive translation is popular. When the setting is smaller and more intimate, and the language needs to be more exact, consecutive interpreting is often the way to go.

However, consecutive interpreting isn’t as effective in translating speeches or presentations, which is where simultaneous interpreting thrives. Because this approach aims to capture the intent of the content—a speaker’s general thoughts and argument, rather than the speaker’s verbatim word choice—simultaneous translation is a better fit for conveying large amounts of information delivered through speech.

Simultaneous interpreting requires certain equipment, such as a soundproof booth or the technology to facilitate remote interpreting services, and it also requires more than one interpreter, creating more logistical challenges to setting up this type of interpretation. But assuming those prerequisite tools and capabilities are in place, it has proven very successful as a means of interpreting live presentations, including presentations being live-streamed online.

Consecutive and simultaneous interpreting function in different ways, but they both provide the same essential service: The ability to communicate face-to-face with an engaged global audience. If you’re looking for interpreting services to help serve your message across cultures, languages and borders, contact us today.

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