Today’s world sees more and more people interacting and doing business with individuals from other countries. A major barrier to these interactions is language. At conferences or other gatherings, interpreters are often in the background offering interpretation of the speaker’s words from one language into another. Interpretation is conducted in two different modes: simultaneous and consecutive interpretation.
The Listener’s Perspective
What is the difference between simultaneous and consecutive interpretation? A couple of examples will help illustrate the difference in how the listener perceives the interpretation.
Simultaneous interpretation is most often seen in conferences and large meetings. If you watch footage of an international conference or government gathering, you may see members of the audience wearing headphones during a speech. Those headphones are linked into a communications system where interpreters are providing near-instantaneous interpretation of the speaker’s words. The interpreters are speaking into a different language for the benefit of members of the audience. At the same time, the interpreters are listening to the speech delivered in the original language through their own headphones.
Consecutive interpretation is a bit different. It works best in small gatherings or where a personal touch is needed. One person will speak for a short time, in one language, then the interpreter, who is standing or sitting nearby, will interpret the statement into the target language. The speaker will make another statement, then the interpreter will interpret again. The listener may offer a response, which is in turn relayed to the first speaker in his or her own language. There is no overlap or simultaneous speech between the speaker and the interpreter.
The Interpreter’s and Speaker’s Perspective
When answering the question, “What is the difference between simultaneous and consecutive interpretation?” it pays to go a bit deeper to understand the nuances behind the interpretation results. When performing simultaneous interpretation, the interpreter is doing two things at once. He or she is listening to the speaker, while at the same time offering an interpretation of what was already said a few seconds earlier. This means that the interpreter has very little time to consider idiomatic phrases or variants in the language. They must use their best judgment on how to interpret in the moment and move on. The benefit is that the speaker can deliver their speech without waiting for the interpretation in between segments.
During consecutive interpretation, the interpreter has a different set of challenges. The speaker will often deliver their speech for a few minutes, then the interpreter will step in and provide the interpretation. The interpreter will have to remember all of the details of what the speaker said during the lengthy segments. To get around that, the interpreter may take brief notes for each segment in order to remember critical details. The challenge is that the speaker needs to remember to pause at reasonable intervals for the interpretation segment, and that the audience has to patiently wait for the interpretation. The benefit is that consecutive interpretation allows for more face-to-face, personal communication.
Both simultaneous and consecutive interpretation can be valuable tools in ensuring the success of your international meeting. Let Chang-Castillo and Associates help you determine your interpretation needs for your next international meeting.