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There are two primary modes of interpretation — simultaneous and consecutive. Both are used bridge language barriers and help people understand each other, but it's important to understand their differences so you can identify which one is best for your particular use case.
So what's the difference and how do you know which to use when?
Simultaneous interpreters listen to what the speaker is saying while concurently saying it in another language. It typically takes 2+ years for a professional linguist to be trained to be a simultaneous interpreter. During this time, interpreters learn to listen to a speaker and interpret with only a few second delay. Sometimes simultaneous interpreters review speeches or other materials available before the event to prepare.
Consecutive interpreters listen to what the speaker is saying, and convey the message into another language after the speaker has paused. Typically the speaker will pause after each complete thought to give the interpreter time to deliver the message.
Simultaneous interpreting works for large, live events because interpreters interpret as the speaker is speaking. Any time when the speaker pausing would impact the overall experience, simultaneous interpreting should be used.
Consecutive interpreting works for small gatherings or one-on-one meetings where the speaker can pause or more than one participant speaks. Since a conversation can go in many directions, consecutive interpreters have to be diligent, speedy notetakers and interpret on their toes.
Listening intently and interpreting is draining. Working in teams of two or more allows simultaneous interpreters some time to recover and prepare for their next turn.
Consecutive interpreters typically work by themselves. Since speakers pause, they can focus on one task at a time: listening, then interpreting.
No matter simultaneous or consecutive, we're thankful for interpreters to help people communicate!
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