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Our previous article covered the basics of interpreting – from what it is, how it differs from translation, to how an interpreter prepares for the job. In it, we only briefly mentioned today’s topic: the types of interpreting and their use cases. So let us dive in and explore how you can elevate your international event with the help of an interpreter.

Broadly speaking, two major types of interpreting differ in how they deliver the message to the listener: consecutively and simultaneously.

Consecutive interpreting

In consecutive interpreting =the speaker and interpreter take turns and are both facing the audience, usually standing or seated next to each other. The speaker will typically say a few sentences and then allow the interpreter to translate them before continuing with their speech. In some cases, the speaker can talk for up to 15 minutes before the word is given to the interpreter. The length of the speech before an interpretation break varies depending on many factors, such as the topic discussed, density of information, number of listeners, and even audience demographics. While the speaker is talking, the interpreter will usually jot down notes, so that they can effectively interpret the words with as much detail as possible.

Since the length of the speech will effectively double with added interpreting, consecutive interpreting is usually reserved for short speeches or meetings with a small number of listeners. This type of interpreting also requires good coordination between the speaker and interpreter: the former must be mindful of how much they say before stopping to allow the interpreter time to convey the information.

Simultaneous interpreting

In contrast, simultaneous interpreting is done at the same time as the speech without significant interruption. This would be impossible if the speaker and interpreter shared the room or stage, so the interpreter is usually physically separated from the speaker. This can be done in two ways:

  1. Interpretation booth

This is a small enclosed space where the interpreter delivers the interpretation to listeners through a microphone. Listeners receive the sound through an earpiece that they are given before the start of the event. Some venues with frequent need for interpreting will have booths built into the space, but it is possible to rent temporary interpreting setups that can be transported to the venue. An interpreting booth must give the interpreter a clear view of the hall and speaker(s), including any on-screen projections. A typical interpreting booth will be soundproofed and equipped with an interpreter console, microphone, and headphones to transfer sound from the speaker to the interpreter and from the interpreter to the listeners. With such a setup, an interpreter can seamlessly reach hundreds or even thousands of people at once.

  1. Whispering

This type of simultaneous interpreting can be done without specialised equipment. The interpreter will stand or sit close to the listener(s) and whisper the interpretation into their ear. The main drawback of whispered interpreting is that an interpreter can only reach up to three people without disturbing the speaker or other attendees. It is therefore only recommended for very small events, such as business meetings, or if only one or two guests require interpreting.

Simultaneous interpreting through an earpiece is by far the most suitable option at large events, such as conferences or large meetings and sessions. It also requires the most preparation due to all the necessary equipment, but specialised interpretation providers usually take care of this. The cost of this type of interpreting will likely be higher than the other options, especially if you have to factor in the price of equipment hire.

If you have ever seen clips from the European Parliament or another EU institution, you have surely noticed the earphones used by attendees. The EU employs a large number of interpreters from all member states who interpret to and from all 24 official EU languages that can freely be used in all EU institutions. Their role is crucial so that delegates are able to fully understand the topics discussed, which often include policies, diplomacy, and other sensitive political matters. Interpreting is included in live broadcasts of these sessions so that not only the political representatives, but citizens across the EU can follow the discussions in their mother tongue.

Special types of interpreting

A rarer third type of interpreting is sight interpreting. This refers to silently reading a text in the source language and speaking the translation aloud. Sight interpreting can be used in various settings, for example in court when reading (and translating) witness statements, in business meetings or inspections when examining documentation, or in healthcare institutions when discussing diagnoses or patient instructions, to name just a few.

Sight interpreting is most suitable for short texts for which translations are only needed in the moment. Longer documents or texts whose translation will be needed for an extended period of time benefit from written translation that can take its time to prepare an accurate and detailed result.

Lastly, community interpreting is a subtype of consecutive interpreting for community-based situations. It is necessary in any diverse society, where an individual who does not speak the official administrative language can seek help from an interpreter with legal, bureaucratic, or medical matters. Community interpreting includes sign language interpreting.

We are no strangers to the abovementioned types of interpreting at Alamma. Our linguists have extensive experience in interpreting for various clients and in a variety of settings. If you require advice on which type is right for you, get in touch at info@alamma.eu and let us give you a hand, or, in this case, a voice.