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Consecutive vs. Simultaneous Interpreting

There are two main modalities when it comes to interpreting: simultaneous interpreting and consecutive interpreting. Each has its own unique advantages and limitations. It’s important for the end user to understand the strengths and challenges of each modality in order to work with their language service vendor most effectively when deciding which method is most applicable in a given linguistic encounter.

Understanding Consecutive Interpreting

Consecutive interpreting relies on turn-taking. Each speaker says a sentence or two and pauses allowing the interpreter to do his or her job. The interpreter then relays the meaning of the speaker’s words to the other parties. In this modality the interpreter is also managing the flow of the encounter to a large degree: if there are no natural pauses, or if the interpreter feels too much time has passed, he or she may to stop the speaker to convey the meaning of their words so far before the speaker continues again.

This method takes more time than normal conversation and is more reliant on memory. The interpreter has to take notes and utilize them as well as their well-trained memory in order to deliver a flawless performance. In many situations, like interpreting a witness testimony in court, Q&A after a presentation or a doctor’s appointment, consecutive interpreting is the best and most appropriate modality.

Understanding Simultaneous Interpreting

Simultaneous interpreting is an interpreting modality that happens in real time with practically no delay. The interpreter’s goal is to render the spoken words as quickly as possible, while the speaker continues to speak, lagging behind him or her for about a sentence. This modality has the benefit of being as close as possible to real time, but it is also severely taxing on the interpreter.

With a matter of mere seconds to render the message accurately, including meaning, tone, and figurative language into a linguistically and culturally appropriate form, they often must also do so without knowing where the speaker is going with their presentation. That is why providing materials for any simultaneous interpreting is one of the key factors ensuring success, though it’s not always possible.

Simultaneous interpreting can be exhausting work, requiring extreme concentration, and teaming, where interpreters work in pairs, taking shifts of no more than 30-40 minutes in order to rest. Depending on the settings, simultaneous interpreting is done in a soundproof booth, with the interpreter listening to the source-language via headphones, while speaking into a microphone. Alternatively, simultaneous interpreting can be done with portable equipment with smaller groups and more informal setting. To learn more about this fascinating modality, read our previous blog on the history of simultaneous interpreting equipment.

Ideal Situations for Simultaneous and Consecutive Interpreting

Simultaneous interpretation is ideal for many situations that involve a high density of information presented for a large audience, with either portable or stationary equipment. Here are a few examples:

  • Board meetings of business meetings
  • Courtrooms proceedings, but not testimony
  • Classes and group therapy
  • International conferences
  • Tours
  • Lectures and presentations
  • Trainings

Consecutive interpretation is ideal for medical settings and many other situations, such as:

  • HR meetings
  • Parent-teacher conferences
  • Interviews
  • Court testimony
  • Depositions and client/attorney meetings
  • Medical consultations
  • Medical procedures

Specific Challenges facing Consecutive and Simultaneous Interpreting

Both methods have their pros and cons, and neither can be considered truly “better,”as each has its ideal applications. There are clear differences between the two and making an informed decision as to which modality to use is the first step to seeing a great result.

Since simultaneous interpretation occurs without interruption to the flow of the source-speech, it is severely taxing on the interpreter, and if the encounter is expected to go longer than an hour, two interpreters will be needed in order to ensure the accuracy of interpretation isn’t impacted by the growing exhaustion of the interpreter.

In situations where having a discussion or the ability to have one is important, consecutive interpretation may be a more likely fit. Just keep in mind that the interpretation will interrupt the flow of communication, extending and possibly doubling the conversation time.

No “Right Answer” only Right Circumstances

When deciding on which method to use, there is no “right answer.” Either method is valid and necessary in the situations that demand them, but neither is ideal for all interpreting encounters. It’s important to provide your language service vendor with as much information about your upcoming needs as possible in order to have them offer you an informed option to meet your goals.

**At Bromberg, our team of qualified interpreters are ready to help with our full range of interpreting equipment available for rental.  With over 170 languages offered, we are confident that we will be able to offer solutions to all of your language service needs. Contact us to find out how we can help.

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