Professional Interpreter Skills: Consecutive vs. Simultaneous Interpreting

Interpreting is the conversion of spoken language between two speakers. Professional interpreters must be fluent in speaking and understanding both languages in regard to specialized terminology, cultural and regional differences, and individual nuances of expression. They must also be able to pay careful attention and have an exceptional memory.

There are two primary types of interpreting: consecutive interpreting and simultaneous interpreting. Here’s a look at how they differ and what skill sets are required for each:

Consecutive Interpreting

Consecutive interpreting begins after the speaker has finished a sentence or more. Interpreters often take notes while listening and may develop some technique for writing quickly. Professional interpreters must have a prodigious memory since they must remember accurately back to the first idea expressed by the speaker.

Consecutive interpretation is frequently used in medical interpreting to communicate between patients and clinicians. These professional interpreters should be familiar enough with their subject matter that they can anticipate the end of a sentence.

Simultaneous Interpreting

In simultaneous interpreting, the professional interpreter listens and speaks at the same time as the speaker. Simultaneous interpreting is very intense and focused and is usually done in teams, so interpreters can take breaks every 20-30 minutes.

You might have seen this type of interpreting at the United Nations, where professional interpreters work in booths above the meeting floor and the ambassadors listen to them on headphones. A legal interpreter will also often perform simultaneous interpreting in court.

Regardless of the method of interpreting used, professional interpreters must have the analytical skills, focus and mental dexterity to work in two languages under pressure.

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