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Consecutive interpreting or simultaneous interpreting?

Information about interpreting modes

When preparing for a multilingual event with interpreters, knowing how the participants will communicate with each other is crucial. After all, this determines which interpreting modes are used and makes a considerable difference to interpreters. Are you just planning on having talks or speeches interpreted simultaneously? Or are bilateral discussions planned as well? If so, consecutive interpreting or whispered interpretation is usually more advisable.

To help you decide what interpreting mode works best for you, we explain the different interpreting modes below and when they are used. This is intended to help both you and us prepare for your individual event and find an interpreting team suited to your needs.

Interpreting modes

Generally speaking, there are four interpreting modes. In this section, we explain clearly and briefly

  • what characterises each interpreting mode,
  • when it can be used and
  • what you should bear in mind.

We have also summarised the main points in an infographic, which you can download to help you prepare (only available in German).

Simultaneous interpreting involves the translation of the spoken word practically in real time. The interpreters listen to the speaker and interpret the content for the listeners at the same time.

Simultaneous interpreting is primarily used at multilingual meetings, such as conferences, negotiations, entertainment shows, or gala events.

When preparing for and staging an event, you should bear in mind that simultaneous interpreting requires exceptional concentration on the part of the interpreter. This is why normally a team of at least two simultaneous interpreters will work side by side, taking turns every 20 to 30 minutes. Ideally, they need to have a clear view of the entire room but at least of the stage and speakers as well as anything projected onto a screen. A quiet working environment is also essential, ideally a soundproof (mobile) booth.

To ensure they are perfectly prepared for the event, simultaneous interpreters need access to speaking notes and presentations, wherever possible several days in advance of the event.

During consecutive interpretation, interpreters listen to extended sections of a speech and provide an interpretation immediately afterwards. To do so, they take notes using a special technique.

Consecutive interpreting is used for dinner speeches, welcome addresses, bilateral negotiations, formal events such award speeches or guided tours.

The number of consecutive interpreters will depend on the difficulty and the duration of the meeting in question. Please discuss this with an experienced interpreter. Since the interpretation is provided consecutively rather than in real time, organisers should be aware that this mode requires around twice as much time as simultaneous interpreting.

Whispering (also known as chuchotage) is a variation on simultaneous interpreting. The interpreter stands/sits beside (or just behind) the person requiring interpretation and whispers a translated version of the speech to them.

Whispering is usually used in bilateral settings or hearings.

This interpreting mode requires exceptional concentration on the part of the interpreter. It puts considerable strain on the interpreter, who must balance speaking unusually quietly when interpreting with potential disturbances and ambient noise. This is why a team of at least two conference interpreters is required to ensure quality remains high. The interpreters will take turns interpreting for one or at most two listeners.

This variation on consecutive interpreting (also referred to as bilateral interpreting) involves the translation of shorter sections of what has been said after the speaker pauses.

Liaison interpreting is typically used for all kinds of negotiations, but also for lunch/dinner meetings, guided tours or in technical settings (such as the introduction of a new piece of machinery).

Organisers should be aware that liaison interpreting also requires considerably more time.

Still not sure which interpreting mode is best suited to your event? Search our database of conference interpreters to find an experienced interpreter who can answer your questions.

Database of conference interpreters


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