Interpreters play a huge role in global businesses, enabling communication to be conveyed across the world, and making it easier for companies to trade and form connections overseas. Depending on what your organisation needs, there are several types of interpretation you can choose from, with the two primary methods being including simultaneous and consecutive interpretation. These are both used to bridge linguistic and cultural barriers in different settings.
However, people often fail to differentiate between the two, which makes it all the more important to understand how and why each type is effective, in order to correctly use each service. Here we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of simultaneous and consecutive interpretation so that you can make an informed decision about which one will best suit the needs of your business.
What is the difference between consecutive and simultaneous interpreters?
The main thing that sets these two types of interpretation apart is the time it takes to do the job. A consecutive interpreter is someone who interprets speech after the original speaker has paused or finished speaking, while a simultaneous interpreter works in real-time, speaking without any pauses.
Working as a consecutive interpreter requires no specialist equipment, such as high-quality microphones and headsets. All that is needed to perform the job is a notebook and pen for making notes of what the speakers are saying. Using fewer accessories also helps you save money on interpretation services.
This method has its functional benefits too, particularly as it gives interpreters more time to accurately communicate the speaker’s message. This is beneficial because any speech can be conveyed more fluently, and with appropriate emotion, as interpreters will have more time to mentally prepare their intonation and melody of each sentence, without losing its message. And since they don’t need to simultaneously listen and speak, giving them the time to figure out the most suitable way to translate, the standard of consecutive interpretation translation will be higher.
The process between interpreter and speaker is extremely stop-start, which extends the amount of time the process takes, and could be distracting to the person speaking if they lose their train of thought. The same message will be expressed twice, first in the source language, then in that of the target audience, meaning that events will take twice as long to see through, which might not be ideal for busy participants. Speakers must also be aware that they are being interpreted, otherwise they won’t remember to pause to allow interpreters to do their job.
Consecutive interpreting only allows for one language at a time to be translated into another. This would require multiple interpreters, as it is too hard to manage more than one language at a time, and speakers would have to allow even more time between segments. This would also interfere with the speaker’s concentration, because they would have to wait and remember where they left off each time.
Simultaneous interpretation offers fewer distractions for speakers, as they will be working from a sound-proof away from the event to improve focus. This allows interpretation to happen in real-time, letting events run as if all attendees speak the same language. By removing any delay, it saves time for everyone, and can reduce the cost of hiring a meeting venue.
As the interpreter immediately relays what the speaker has said, ideas can be translated almost instantly, so none of the messages are lost, which ensures greater accuracy. There’s also no limit to the number of concurrent languages which can be interpreted at the same time, as there are often multiple simultaneous interpreters working at once. This allows delegates to simply select their preferred language on their headsets.
This method of interpreting comes at a greater cost, because at least two interpreters will be needed for each language. A simultaneous interpreter can only work in twenty to thirty-minute bursts, as the high level of concentration the role requires necessitates regular breaks. As a result, you will have to hire multiple interpreters so they can alternate, which will put the cost above simultaneous interpreting services.
The equipment this form of interpretation requires is also expensive, as simultaneous interpretation involves hiring sound-proof booths, headsets for delegates, microphones, and wiring. The accessories required will also depend on where the booths are placed — for instance, if they’re in a different room from the conference then cameras and screens will be necessary for interpreters to get a full view of the speakers.
A simultaneous interpreter has to work very quickly, so their translations may come across as awkward or halting. This is because the interpreter has to translate a sentence before hearing the end of the idea, which may prevent them from finding the most suitable word, increasing the likelihood of small mistakes and awkward constructions.
What type of interpretation is best for your needs?
The form of interpretation that you require will depend on the event you’re holding. For instance, a consecutive interpreter will be required for medical settings, court interpreting and on-site facility tours, as there will be many opportunities for natural pauses in the conversation. They will also be suitable for small meetings, such as interviews, HR meetings and parent-teacher conferences, and any type of situation which allows for breaks in speech.
On the other hand, conferences at which there is one speaker will need a simultaneous interpreter, because they will require quickly translations aimed at a large group. This form of interpretation is also necessary for international events where more than two languages are spoken, as well as in presentations and lectures where a lot of information is conveyed, and any other scenario which demands a quick relay of data.