How is simultaneous interpreting different from consecutive interpreting?


When booking for interpreting services, people would often be asked whether it would be simultaneous or consecutive, as the two modes require the interpreters to have different skillsets, and an interpreter good at consecutive interpreting may not be qualified for a simultaneous session. It’d be helpful to know the differences between these two primary modes of interpreting and select the one that works best for your event when booking for interpreting services.

In the consecutive mode, the interpreter would wait till the speakers pause and then render the message into the target language. The mode is suitable for events with a small number of participants, such as an interview or a meeting.

Although the speaker would usually pause after finishing two or three sentences, sometimes the speaker would only stop after finishing discussing a topic, and the segment may last for minutes. It’s very important for the interpreter to have great memorization and note-taking skills. Although the interpreting usually doesn’t have to be word-for-word, it’s the interpreter’s responsibility to ensure that all the important points made by the speaker would be conveyed to people speaking different languages.

In the simultaneous mode, the speaker doesn’t need to pause for the interpreter, and the interpreter would interpret concurrently and deliver the message to the audience while the speaker is speaking. All the audiences speaking different languages can get access to the message at about the same time. There may be a delay, but it would be very brief. Very often the interpreter works in a sound-proof booth, and people in need would wear a headphone to access the simultaneous interpreting.

In order to deliver simultaneous interpreting, the interpreter needs to be highly proficient in the target language, and have abundant experience in interpreting. As there’s little time for the interpreter to organize all the information and convert all the sentences into a different language, the target language of the interpreting usually needs to be the native language of the interpreter. Although accuracy is the priority for both consecutive and simultaneous interpreting, there’s little room for clarification for simultaneous interpreting, and the interpreter should not only have strong language skills but also a good understanding of the topics discussed in the event. Sending relevant material to the interpreter ahead of the event would be helpful for the interpreter to prepare for the session. Not every interpreter can deliver excellent simultaneous interpreting, and careful screening needs to be done by the language service provider to select the qualified interpreter for the event.

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