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Simultaneous Interpreting

What is a simultaneous interpreter?

A simultaneous interpreter is - as you can tell by looking at the words - someone who interprets for someone in another language while the speaker speaks without interruption. This is the opposite of consecutive interpreting, because a consecutive interpreter awaits his turn and does not start speaking until the speaker allows him the time to do so. Simultaneous interpreting is one of the most common kinds of interpreting. But also the most difficult. Very few translators (who are used to getting the time to really think about their translations) can do it, and not even all interpreters can do it well.

When is it necessary?

You need a simultaneous interpreter when at least one person attending your event cannot understand what the speaker says, due to the fact that he speaks a different language, and there is no time or opportunity to let the speaker pause regularly.

Some examples...

  • You are holding a stockholders meeting in English, but several trustees or members of your board of management, and several stockholders, speak Chinese and could have difficulty with the English language. And perhaps you are expecting questions to be asked in Chinese which the English speaking people present should also understand. In that case it is best to use an interpreter booth, one or (preferably) more simultaneous interpreters, and a sound system with microphones for the interpreters, microphones for the speakers, and headsets for everyone.
  • You are a marketing research company. You are going to have interviews with some respondents - in Chinese. But an English speaking representative of your foreign customer wants to listen in on several interviews. In that case, you reserve an extra room for one or more simultaneous interpreters and your guest, put a video camera and at least one microphone in the interview room, and a sound/video system connected to it in the other room, with a set of headphones for the interpreter.
  • You are organizing a symposium with Chinese speakers, but are expecting a number of English speaking visitors. In that case you hire one or more simultaneous interpreters, and a so-called whispering or guide set for the sound (microphone, infrared transmitter and sets of headphones).
  • An English-speaking customer of your law firm sues one of his Chinese business relations. You hire one or more simultaneous interpreters and let them whisper a translation of the proceedings of the trial.
  • You are organizing a conference with both English-speaking and Chinese-speaking speakers and visitors. There will be speeches and discussions in both languages. You reserve a conference center or hall, an interpreter booth, microphones, headphones and... simultaneous interpreters.

How many interpreters do I need?

In the examples you regularly see mention of a need to hire more than one interpreter. But now you might ask: How do I determine whether I need one interpreter or more? In order to be able to find the answer, you need to know how a simultaneous interpreter works. It is really a very complex process, one that only very few interpreters can handle well. A speaker is speaking, and that speaker does not stop or pause. He keeps talking. Therefore the interpreter must do the following while the speaker is talking:

  • listen to what the speaker is saying
  • translate it in his mind,
  • render the translation in his microphone, and
  • (and this is the most difficult part) at the same time listen to what is being said while he is speaking himself.

This requires a kind of mental miracle, and that is why it is an unusually demanding and complex activity to carry out, one that requires an unusual level of concentration, which tires out the interpreter rather soon - which affects his concentration, which, in turn, affects his performance after a while, and ... well, you get the picture. There are some solutions for this problem: Sometimes the event's program offers possibilities for regular breaks, perhaps because of visual presentations in between the speeches. In that case it is not impossible that one interpreter will suffice. But if the speeches go on and on, you may expect the interpreter to get too tired after a while. In that case it can be necessary to hire more than one interpreter, so they can alternate. Or perhaps you can get another interpreter for different parts of the day - be creative. But whatever you do, do not underestimate the need for a solution of the interpreter's exhaustion problem, because a serious loss of concentration when he gets tired, will result in a loss of quality in the translation. Of course it is expensive to hire interpreters. But if you are going to spend money on it anyhow, why not make sure you get quality translations? An exhausted interpreter will do no one any good. Moreover - if an agency or an interpreter estimates a potential assignment to be too exhausting for one interpreter to do well, and you are not willing to pay for an extra interpreter, there is a good chance that the assignment will be flatly refused.

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Related Articles:

Interpreting Services :: Consecutive Interpreting :: Interpreting Equipment :: Phone Interpreting :: Simultaneous Interpreting :: Interpreting vs. Translation

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