Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Simultaneous x Consecutive Interpreting

What is, first of all, interpreting?

Interpreting is orally, or sign-wise through body language, expressing the translation of a person’s/group’s speech to another person or group. 

This translation may be from any type of language into any other type, say from English into English or from sign language into oral language.

What is the difference between interpreting and translating?

When we translate the discourse of a source, be it human or not, we need to express the result of the decodification (we could not find this word in our dictionaries, even though we have found it on several websites, such as (Maria-Dimitra & Anastasia, 2009)) and codification processes we have been through in writing. When we interpret, we need to express those results orally or through body language instead.

This way, reading a text to another person is a synonym for interpreting it.

However, when we talk about professional interpreter and aid of an interpreter, we are referring to more than that: We are referring to the professional who not only interprets a translation by expressing that via body gesture or oral discourse, but who also got the material that generates the contents of their body gestures or speech in the same way (body gestures or oral discourse) from the person/group who is trying to communicate something. 

The interpreter has to then be at least an extraordinary translator, an extraordinary communicator, and an extraordinary listener/observer to succeed in their profession, what means that the set of skills that are necessary for a person to be a good professional interpreter is at least different from the set of skills that are necessary for a person to be a good professional translator.

The basic professional activities of the translator seem to demand, for instance, way more administrative and physical work than those of the interpreter. Whilst the translator must worry a lot about lines that are not fully used (insertion of stop marks, for instance) in order to have a claim on being reliable, the interpreter has to worry a lot about senses that are not fully grasped, or not entirely unique.

The skills used by these professionals are very distinct in what comes to the top levels of the Bloom’s Taxonomy, but may actually coincide in what comes to the bottom ones.

The load of work belonging to the bottom levels of the pyramid of Bloom is extraordinary for those who translate professionally.

For those who interpret professionally, however, extraordinary will be the load of work belonging to the top levels of this pyramid instead.

Having systems in place to manage all their routine activities is a necessity for both types of professional.

Deadlines is a concern that belongs to the translator with almost exclusivity.

There is some piece of the work in interpreting that will involve those (for instance voice-overs). However, the activities of the translator all depend on that.

Ownership, care, and handling of paper lexicons during duty is a concern that belongs exclusively to translators.

The differences between skills set and mental usage maps are definitely topics that need to be discussed formally in a separate piece, so that we will reserve these topics for future articles.

In what comes to simultaneous interpreting, and this is part of the topic that we have selected for this post, we must say that the sigmatoid (the symbols that make the word considered on their own, all together) simultaneous appears in the expression in its ordinary sense, so that simultaneous means at the same time (Merriam-Webster, 2013).

This is actually a modality of interpreting in which the professional interpreter will interpret the message they get from the person/group trying to communicate as it is conveyed. That means that the interpreter will, for instance, whisper the result of their processes of decodification and codification into the ear of the person/group trying to receive the message.

For this modality to be considered to be in place, the interpreter must convey the message in almost real time to the group/person who is receiving it.

If we call the origin of the message source and the receptor of the message sink (terms we borrow from Algebra (Boston, p. 31, 2012)), then we can say that the modality is being applied if the sink is receiving the message expressed by the source with a maximum delay of about forty seconds.

Consecutive interpreting, on the other hand, is a much more relaxed and perfect way of interpreting. One could also say that it is a much more reasonable way of doing that. In this modality, the interpreter may take notes and think for some time, say think about the best way to convey the message to the receptor, or even  think about what the own message is.

One can tell, simply by understanding the main characteristics of both modalities, that simultaneous interpreting has a much higher rate of mistake than consecutive interpreting.

For a court, where the words matter quite a lot, we would obviously ethically recommend that consecutive interpreting be used instead of simultaneous.


Maria-Dimitra, B., & Anastasia, G. (2009). Retrieved December 31 2013 from Maria-Dimitra et al

Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. (2013). Simultaneous. Retrieved December 31 2013 from simultaneous, Merriam-Webster

Boston, N. (2012). Applications of Algebra to Communications, Control, and Signal Processing. ISBN-10: 1461438624.

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