What’s the difference between simultaneous and consecutive interpreting?

Hi there, I need an interpreter for an event where we have some colleagues visiting from our partner company in China but I don’t know what the difference is between a simultaneous and a consecutive interpreter and which one I’ll need. What’s the difference and can you help?

Hi Marcello,

Great question, thank you.

What is a simultaneousness interpreter?

Simultaneous interpreters provide high-end interpreting services for international conferences.

One person speaks and many listen through headphones. Simultaneous interpreters sit in a sound-proof booth and interpret in real-time.

Simultaneous interpreting is highly skilled work requiring many years of experience and subject matter expertise. To be successful, events requiring simultaneous interpreters need careful planning and specialist equipment.

A minimum of two interpreters are required for continuous service of more than a couple of hours.

This comes as a shock to most people. Why do we need two people? Surely the interpreting company is just trying to sell us extra interpreters?

The truth is, simultaneous interpreting demands so much concentration that any individual can only hope to be effective for periods of 20 minutes or so. After that time they will need to hand off to a fellow interpreter and rest. Whilst resting they will continue to follow the proceedings and prepare for their next slot.

We can’t stress enough the importance of using experienced simultaneous interpreters. As simultaneous interpreting is a real-time skill, there are no second chances once the moment is lost.

If you do not have the budget to engage simultaneous interpreters, we urge you to consider whether a consecutive interpreter would suffice rather than attempt to cut corners and have your event ruined.

What is a consecutive interpreter?

Consecutive interpreters offer “Listen before talk” interpreting services for business meetings, presentations and smaller groups.

One person speaks and then pauses; one or many people listen whilst the consecutive interpreter repeats what has been said in the target language.

Unlike simultaneous interpreting, consecutive interpreting does not happen in real time as the speak must pause to let the consecutive interpreter work.

Consecutive interpreting is the most popular type of interpreting as it does not require any specialist equipment or complex planning. It is also considerably cheaper than simultaneous interpreting.

Do you need a consecutive or simultaneous interpreter?

Budget aside, which type of interpreter (or interpreters) you require depends on the format of the event you are planning.

If your colleagues from China are coming over for business meetings and discussions then consecutive interpreting would be the way to go. However if this is a large conference where they will be addressing the audience from stage then you may need simultaneous interpreters.

I hope this answers your questions. For more information I’d suggest you download your free copy of “Interpreting Without Tears” and then give us a call so we can work out the best way to make your colleagues’ visit a success together whilst keeping costs to a minimum.

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