As I stated in a previous blog (What is the Difference Between Translation and Interpreting?), interpreting is an oral or verbal form of translation, enabling real-time cross-linguistic communication. This is the process where a person repeats out lout what the speaker has said in a different language. Interpreting takes on various forms depending on the context and needs of the present situation. Here is an outline of the 6 major forms of interpreting (simultaneous, consecutive, escort/travel, whisper, scheduled telephone, on-demand phone).
1. Simultaneous Interpreting
In simultaneous interpreting, the interpreter must translate the sentence into the target language while simultaneously listening to and comprehending the next sentence. Strictly speaking, “simultaneous” is a misnomer: interpreters cannot start interpreting until they understand the general meaning of the sentence.
Simultaneous interpreters process and memorize the words that the source-language speaker is saying now, while simultaneously outputting in the target language the translation of words the speaker said 5-10 seconds ago. The goal for simultaneous interpreting is not to paraphrase, but to convey the exact language.
Simultaneous interpreting is used for big meetings, conferences or trade shows (This form of interpreting is similar to UN interpreting). Typically, while doing simultaneous interpreting, the interpreter sits in a booth wearing headphones and speaks into a microphone.
Simultaneous interpreters must be decisive; there is simply no time to weigh the merits of variant translations or to recall just the right idiom in the target language. Any delay and a few words (and possibly a complete thought) that the speaker uttered could be lost.
2. Consecutive Interpreting
During consecutive interpreting the speaker stops every 1–5 minutes (usually at the end of every “paragraph” or complete thought), and the interpreter then steps in to render what was said into the target language.
Consecutive interpreting may be used for smaller business meetings or in court on the witness stand. This is a back and forth style of interpreting, with speakers of multiple languages taking turns speaking and being interpreted.
A key skill involved in consecutive interpreting is note-taking, since few people can memorize a full paragraph in one hearing without loss of detail.
3. Escort/Travel Interpreting
Escort/travel interpreters can behave almost as an assistant, helping clients to navigate while they are traveling around on (business) trips. These interpreters may accompany clients to a meeting or to a handful of meetings.
These escort/travel interpreters are not just interpreters, but often act as cultural liaisons, responsible for everything from ordering food to closing multi-million dollar business deals.
4. Whisper Interpreting
Whisper interpreting is similar to simultaneous interpreting but the interpreter does not use a headset or microphone, rather the interpreter sits next to the person (or group of people) who require interpreting and whispers or speaks softly while interpreting in the target language. This form of interpreting is much harder on the interpreter’s voice.
This is often used for a business meeting where just one person requires interpreting, or for example, in a courtroom where someone in the back of the room requires interpreting to understand what is being said.
5. Scheduled Telephone Interpreting (OPI or Over-the-Phone Interpretation)
Scheduled telephone interpreting (also called OPI or Over-the-Phone Interpretation) can be either simultaneous or consecutive. This form of interpreting is performed during an established appointment where the interpreter does not see both parties in person, but executes the interpreting via telephone.
If the participants of a call are content to hear only the voice of the interpreter, telephone interpreting can be conducted in a simultaneous mode; otherwise interpreting should be conducted consecutively.
If the interpreter does not see the speakers and has no access to extra-linguistic clues to the speaker’s meaning and context, the accuracy of simultaneous telephone interpreting may be significantly lower than for consecutive over-the-phone Interpreting. Most generally, phone interpreting is conducted consecutively.
6. On-Demand Phone Interpreting
On-Demand Phone Interpreting is for individuals or organizations that need to communicate across language barriers immediately. This form of interpreting is performed when a party calls a service, selects the required language pair and is connected to an interpreter. The interpreter then comes on the line and interprets the conversation.
On-Demand Phone Interpreting is often used by customer service call centers, and by companies, organizations, pharmacies, medical and legal institutions who interact with the limited English proficiency (LEP) population and require interpreting on-demand.
The benefit of On-Demand Phone Interpreting is that it makes interpreting available within minutes. However, it is important to note that the interpreter is coming into the conversation blind and may not have the required background information to make the interpretation as successful.
What To Look For In Interpreting
Whatever type of interpreting you need, it is important to remember that when choosing an interpreter, expert knowledge of the subject matter is equally as important as interpreting experience. Interpreters must have extraordinary listening abilities. In addition, interpreters must possess excellent public speaking skills, and the intellectual capacity to instantly transform idioms, colloquialisms and other culturally-specific references into parallel statements the target audience will understand.
What forms of interpreting have you had experience with? What tips do you have when looking for interpreters? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.