When to Select Simultaneous or Consecutive Interpretation

by Nicholas Strozza

Imagine a multilingual audience is gathered together. Perhaps it is a business meeting comprised of multinational clients or maybe it is a conference that is hosted in one language with non-native-speaking attendees. Of course, interpretation is essential in any of these scenarios. However, there are several types of interpreting services and each type of interpretation does important work. Understanding the differences between simultaneous and consecutive interpretation will help you determine when simultaneous interpretation (SI) is the best choice.

What is Simultaneous Interpretation (SI)?

Simultaneous interpretation (SI) is sometimes called conference interpreting or conference translation. SI is a style of interpretation that happens as the original speech is still in progress. Typically a team of two interpreters will interpret into the target language as the original speaker is still talking. The interpretation is sent to listeners in real-time on specific devices, such as smartphones or headphones. This format is popular in larger settings like conferences, focus groups, webinars, board meetings, and tours.

There are several stand-out aspects of simultaneous interpretation that distinguish it from other interpretation styles. This format communicates information quickly at live events in a manner that does not rely on pauses or interruptions. The audience is not kept waiting and no adjustments to pacing or timing need to be made. Additionally, this format is not conversational; instead, it is fitting for instances in which a large amount of information needs to be clearly communicated to multilingual listeners.

What is Consecutive Interpretation?

Consecutive interpretation is a type of interpretation that happens after each speaker is finished talking. Once a speaker finishes their thoughts, the interpreter will then relay the information to the listener. After the listener responds, the interpreter then communicates the response. This back-and-forth format is most often used in small settings that involve a very limited number of people, including interviews, school conferences, and medical consultations.

When choosing consecutive interpretation, it is important to remember several things. Consecutive interpretation flows very much like a conversation. That means that the setting must allow for pauses for the interpretation to take places. Moreover, because the interpretation happens after each point of communication, the interpretation will likely double the length of the conversation.

When to Choose SI

SI is the interpretation choice that more and more companies are making because of the clear benefits of simultaneous interpretation. Though it may not be appropriate for one-on-one conversations, there are many instances in which SI is the clear choice. The equipment used for simultaneous interpretation guarantees a clear and professional interpretation. In a majority of formal event settings, interpreters will work in a soundproof area and speak into microphones so that their interpretation will not clash or compete with the original speaker. In other instances, headsets are enough to block out background noise and distraction. The interpretation is shared via high-quality headsets to listeners who can then take in all of the information in their target languages.

Because SI happens in real-time and is performed by native linguists, there is no missed information nor is there a need to add artificial pauses or gaps in the event timeline. The format is also highly personalized, which allows a multilingual audience to attend an event while hearing the information in their preferred language. As a result, this interpretation is valued greatly by audiences. SI is the right choice for any size conference or presentation where information is shared quickly and in large amounts.

Final Thoughts on Selecting Interpretation

Selecting the right interpretation type matters. For more intimate gatherings that will take on a conversational style, consecutive interpretation fits. Given the needs of global companies and associations however, simultaneous interpretation is the best option. SI is ideal in numerous situations: international conventions, diplomatic conferences, and even business meetings. Regardless of size, any scenario in which information will be delivered in continuous sequences and needs to be communicated in multiple languages would benefit from SI. Not only is SI time-efficient, it also accurately communicates information in a personalized format to multilingual audiences.

Nick Strozza

Vice President, Marketing and Sales

"Working at Interpro allows me to be part of a talented team where we are collaborating together to exceed our client’s expectations for each project."