Simultaneous interpretation vs. Consecutive interpretation

Interpretation offers different modes. Learn more about the two main types: simultaneous and consecutive interpreting.

Interpretation is a little-known profession and that it is very often confused with translation. As a reminder, interpreting is strictly limited to oral communications, while translating focuses exclusively on written texts. Well, now let’s get to the point. Interpreting is divided into different branches. Interpreters are not always to be found in a little booth wearing headphones and talking into a microphone. This profession offers lots of variables. Today, we will focus on two main modalities: simultaneous and consecutive interpretation.

Simultaneous interpreting or consecutive intepreting?

Simultaneous interpreting is the oral translation of a speech as it unfolds. The interpreter, installed in a soundproof booth, listens through headphones to a speech which they translate in real time. The listeners hear them through receiver headsets. This type of interpretation is the most frequently used as its benefits in terms of time savings are indisputable. If the equipment is available, simultaneous interpretation will always be favored. Nowadays, the terms “conference interpreting” and “simultaneous interpretation” are used fairly interchangeably.

Consecutive interpreting, on the other hand, does not require any equipment, as a pen and notebook are sufficient. The principle is simple: as the speaker talks, the interpreter listens, takes notes and then reproduces the speech in the target language. Note-taking has evolved considerably over time. In fact, during the fifties and sixties, some talented interpreters were able to reproduce speeches of twenty to thirty minutes based solely on their powers of recall. Today, the three main tools of the interpreter are memory, general culture and note-taking.


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What’s the difference?

The main difference between these two methods lies in how the comprehension phase is separated from the message playback phase. Indeed, the time that the simultaneous interpreter has to reproduce and properly structure the speech in the target language is extremely limited, if not non-existent. With consecutive interpretation, the professional has more time. This means that he or she has the possibility of moving away from the original speech, avoid literal translation more easily and even summarise as well as cutting out any undesirable interferences.

Difficulties and strategies

The difficulties that may be encountered and the strategies undertaken to resolve these tend to vary depending on the type of interpretation involved. This is particularly the case when these difficulties are directly related to note-taking, in the case of consecutive, or with overlapping activities, in the case of simultaneous interpretation. Nonetheless, both types of interpreting have quite a lot in common. All interpreters tend to say that when it comes to reproducing a message, regardless of the method used, numbers, enumerations and proper names are always tricky. But there is one common point which is beyond dispute: both in simultaneous and consecutive interpretation, the interpreter plays a key role in the exchange between partners whose language and culture are different. This is precisely the point where the magic of this beautiful profession is to be found.

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