Understanding the Essentials of Simultaneous Interpretation

By Atlas LS

Simultaneous interpretation is the practice of an experienced interpreter translating a message from a source language to a target language in real-time. There are many otherwise skilled interpreters who do not possess the ability to simultaneously listen and interpret in this fashion. There are a number of niche roles that simultaneous interpreters play in local community and governmental contexts (e.g., UN translators).

conference translation - simultaneous interpretation

What is Simultaneous Interpretation?

Advances in technology have made possible the relatively new field of simultaneous interpretation, which has been around for less than a century. Simultaneous interpretation is distinguished from consecutive interpretation largely by the temporal factor.  With simultaneous interpretation, the interpreter will provide a translator while the speaker of the source language is still speaking.

Consecutive interpretation works in a more gradual step-by-step process. The speaker of the source language makes a statement, pauses, and the consecutive interpreter renders a translation in the target language. The process of consecutive interpretation allows room for questions between translations in a way that might not be as readily available with simultaneous interpretation.

When is This Type Interpretation Used?

Simultaneous interpreters are usually requested during conferences and events that bring together speakers and audiences speaking many different languages. Because of its frequent use at conferences, for example, the gathering of the United Nations (UN) known as the General Assembly of the United Nations, the practice of simultaneous interpretation has come to be known as conference interpretation around the world.

What Skills Are Required?

Accordingly, simultaneous interpretation requires a number of different skills from practitioners: a high level of accuracy in rendering appropriate translations to the target language, translations quick enough to enable the intended audience to get the speech in real-time, and a high level of preparedness on the part of the simultaneous interpreter prior to the conference.

One other characteristic that simultaneous interpreters often have is a high tolerance for stress. The stakes can be quite high when hundreds of foreign dignitaries and millions of listeners around the world are hanging on the next word at the General Assembly of the United Nations, for instance. The fact is that the United Nations will potentially employ hundreds of simultaneous interpreters at this event alone because so much is hanging in the balance.

The most common languages at the event are: English, French, Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic. One hundred years ago before wireless technology had been perfected, these kinds of simultaneous interpretation at the General Assembly of the United Nations was simply not possible.

Simultaneous interpretation requires a minimum of two years of training, which often involves exposure to the high-stress situations that they are likely to face in the field. A thorough understanding of the idioms and nuances of both the source and target languages is absolutely required to become a simultaneous interpreter. Simultaneous interpreters will often do dozens of hours of homework on the topics likely to come up at a conference as well as extensively analyze the speech patterns of individual speakers as preparation.

Atlas Language Services, Inc. provides conference interpretation and remote simultaneous interpretation (RSI) services. Give us a call or fill out our form to contact us and book your interpretation services today.