Simultaneous Interpretation vs. Consecutive Interpretation: Does It Matter What You Choose?

When you contact our language translation service agency to hire an interpreter, one of the first things we’ll ask you is: simultaneous interpretation or consecutive interpretation? These are the two most popular modes of interpretation, although a professional agency can provide different types of interpretation depending on your needs.

But why is it important to make this choice? What exactly is the difference between simultaneous interpretation vs. consecutive interpretation? And does it really matter if you choose one over the other? In this article, we will talk about these two types of interpretation.

Definition and Explanation of Simultaneous Interpretation

Simultaneous interpretation represents the mode of interpretation where the interpreter is translating in real time – at the same time as the speaker delivers their presentation or keynote. This means that the interpreter must be spontaneous and have a very good knowledge of the speaker’s language.Learn the differences between simultaneous interpretation vs. consecutive interpretation

If you choose simultaneous interpretation, the interpreter will translate in only one direction, from the foreign language to their native language. Since it requires a lot of concentration, interpreters can work for around 30 minutes per session. Thus, in the case of long speeches, you would have to hire two interpreters so that each one takes turns as the other rests. Also, where possible the interpreter should have access to a summary if not the entire speech before the event to help them prepare for the simultaneous interpretation session.

This is one of the modes of interpretation that requires specialized equipment, especially high-fidelity microphones and headphones. In most cases, the interpreter will be in a soundproof booth, unable to see the speaker, only hearing their voice through their headphones.

Where Simultaneous Interpretation Is Used

Simultaneous interpretation is extremely useful for large events. A very large audience receiving the translation in real time will retain the message more effectively.

As a relevant example, simultaneous interpretation was used during Pope Francis’ visit to the US in 2017, when the Holy Father addressed the crowd.

Consecutive Interpretation: What Is It and When Is It Used?

In case of consecutive interpretation, the speaker will take a break after a few sentences, allowing the interpreter to deliver the translation in the target language. For this mode of interpretation, professionals develop techniques whereby they take notes unobtrusively, sometimes in shorthand. This allows them to deliver an accurate interpretation of the speaker’s words.

In the case of consecutive interpretation, you do not need any kind of specialized equipment. The interpreter will bring their own notebook or tablet, taking notes discreetly.

Where Consecutive Interpretation Is Used

Consecutive interpretation is adequate for events with a small attendance, such as business meetings. It is also used in courts and various legal proceedings where one of the involved parties requires an interpreter’s services.

Other Modes of Interpretation

As we explained in the beginning of this article, consecutive interpretation and simultaneous interpretation are the most frequently requested services. However, an interpreter can specialize in other modes of interpretation.

These are:

  • Whisper interpretation – usually provided for the benefit of a single person. The interpreter sits next to the person and whispers the translation of the speaker’s words in real time; this is a variation of simultaneous interpretation.
  • Relay interpretation – in case of two foreign speakers where an interpreter specializing in both languages cannot be found, two interpreters are used. Each of them knows one of the speakers’ language and English. Thus, one interpreter translates one speaker’s words into English, and the second interpreter will translate from English into the other’s speaker’s language.
  • Liaison interpretation – the interpreter provides a bilateral translation, especially during business meetings and other small corporate events, providing an effective link between two people.

Final Thoughts on Simultaneous Interpretation vs. Consecutive Interpretation

As we have explained in detail in this article, there are significant differences between these two modes of interpretation. Each of them is recommended for a specific type of event and a professional agency will always recommend the right type of interpretation technique.

The success of your event depends on the quality and adequacy of the interpretation provided. This is why it is important to differentiate between simultaneous interpretation vs. consecutive interpretation.

Choose a Professional Interpretation Agency

Pronto Translations is a professional company with over 20 years of experience in the business. Our team consists of specialists in consecutive interpretation and simultaneous interpretation for a wide range of language pairs.

Our offices are in New York, NY, but we also help clients with different modes of interpretation in:

  • Chelsea
  • Midtown
  • Soho
  • Greenwich Village
  • All of Manhattan
  • Hoboken, NJ
  • Jersey City, NJ
  • … and anywhere worldwide remotely

Give us a call today at 646-984-4073.