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What Are the Different Types of Interpretation?

Interpretation bridges language gaps, enabling understanding across cultures. It comes in various forms: simultaneous interpretation, for real-time translation; consecutive, where the speaker pauses for the interpreter; and sight translation, interpreting written text on the spot. Each type serves unique settings, from global conferences to intimate legal discussions. Wondering which method best suits your needs? Let's examine the nuances together.
Andrew Kirmayer
Andrew Kirmayer

Language interpretation is often necessary in settings such as business meetings. It can, however, be challenging for the translators and listeners. There are different types of translation techniques that usually make the process more efficient, depending on the setting. Simultaneous and consecutive interpretation are the common forms often used, while interpreters can also sit next to a listener and whisper in their ear if this method is necessary. Interpretation can also be accomplished with the aid of machines, while such services are often required in financial, legal, medical, scientific, and other technical settings.

Simultaneous interpretation is often used in business meetings where there is a separate booth for the translator. Typically part of meetings with multilingual participants, it usually requires the interpreter to listen to the meeting through headphones, while repeating the words in another language continuously. An advantage is that a meeting usually does not take longer than it would otherwise, and multiple languages can be effectively interpreted and heard through earphones.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Individual thoughts and phrases are typically spoken one at a time, and then repeated in another language, with consecutive interpretation. This format normally involves the interpreter standing next to a presenter of a speech. With two people taking turns speaking, the meeting can take twice as long as it ordinarily would, but an advantage to this method is that technical equipment other than a sound system with microphones is usually not needed. The format is usually most suited for a bilingual audience.

If there is no equipment such as an enclosed booth, a meeting can sometimes accommodate whisper interpretation. The interpreter usually sits near the table to speak in the other person’s ear. Sometimes transmitters and microphones are used with the translator sitting farther away. The language is typically translated into the listener’s native tongue while the meeting proceeds; the whispering technique is generally used in short meetings.

Technology sometimes benefits interpreters, as there are hand-held translators as well as specialized types of software that can aid in language interpretation. Machine translation can be completely automated or people may interact with electronic interpretations to select proper words or forms of them. A combination of the two is often considered to be more accurate.

Other kinds of equipment can be incorporated as well. Remote interpretation can be implemented if interpreters are somewhere other than the meeting room. Teleconferencing equipment is sometimes adapted for this purpose, while some systems can be used in a booth to accommodate local and remote meeting sites. Sometimes multiple systems and several booths in different locations are connected by sophisticated telecommunications equipment.

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