Interpreting 101

In this post, we intend to sum up the most basic information any interpreting buyer should know before choosing the most suitable type of interpretation for a given event or situation.

  • First things first, what’s the difference between translation and interpretation?

Translation is the rendering of the written word into another language, while interpretation is the oral rendering of one language into another.

  • What are the different interpretation modes?

The two main modes of interpretation are simultaneous and consecutive.

Simultaneous – In this interpreting mode, the speaker and interpreter speak at the same time. It’s common in conferences, where interpreters work inside booths and use special sound equipment. The audience receives the translated speech through headphones.

Consecutive – The interpreter speaks after the speaker concludes his/her thought. This might take a couple of minutes, during which time the interpreter takes notes. There’s no need for extra equipment, as the interpreter is usually by the speaker’s side. This interpreting mode uses a greater amount of time than simultaneous interpretation, because the speaker and interpreter must alternate when speaking.

Here are a few other interpretation modes:

Intermittent – It’s similar to consecutive interpreting, but done sentence by sentence. It’s often used for short meetings.

Whispering – This simultaneous type of interpreting is done for a few participants without the use of equipment. The interpreter is positioned close to the listeners and whispers the translated speech. It’s also known as whispered interpreting or chuchotage.

Accompaniment – It’s used by clients such as tourists, technicians, or foreign visitors during field visits, fairs, and other events in which the interpreter doesn’t have a stationary work location. Depending on the number of participants, mobile equipment for simultaneous interpretation can be used. It’s also known as escort interpreting, though this term is becoming less used.

  • As for the settings, what types of interpreting are the most common?

Conference interpreting – As the name suggests, this interpretation is done during conferences, meetings, summits, and other events with variable audience size. The most used modes are simultaneous and consecutive.

Community interpreting – This type of interpreting is common in countries that have ethnic minorities to enable citizens, immigrants, or refugees who don’t speak the official language to access a wide array of services from healthcare to education and social services. It’s mostly done using consecutive or intermittent interpreting.

  • How many interpreters do I need to hire?

This depends on a number of factors, from the length and type of the event to the number of languages involved. Interpreting work is regulated by widely followed international industry standards. These standards exist to contribute to the success of your event. According to these standards, conference interpreters should always work in pairs for any assignment longer than one hour for simultaneous and two hours for consecutive, taking turns every 20 to 30 minutes. This is important mainly due to the nature of the activity: this mentally exhausting job can only be done with a high quality output for so long. As for community interpreting, there’s usually one interpreter per assignment, who normally gets paid for a minimum of two hours.

  • What costs should I consider when hiring an interpreter?

Depending on the country, the normal fee can be for up to 8 hours per day or it can be charged by the hour. For more accurate information, it’s a good idea to contact local professional associations.

An example we can give you is how interpretation is charged in Brazil, according to the best practices in the market. There’s a daily rate, which is a minimum amount paid for the interpreters to work for up to 6 hours. Additional charges apply at a rate of 25% per hour on top of the normal daily rate, with a maximum of two additional hours per day.

Clients should also bear in mind the rental costs for simultaneous interpretation equipment: booth, equipment for the interpreters, receivers and headsets for the audience, and so on. Your service provider should let you know beforehand who’s responsible for this technical part. While some agencies have their own equipment, other agencies and freelancers hire a third party or may refer you to a company that provides these services.

On a lighter note…

By Alejandro Moreno-Ramos

There’s a lot more to be written about interpreting, but the information you have seen here is a good start. If you’d like to know more specific details about interpreting, feel free to ask. We’ll be pleased to answer to your questions through comments or even whole new posts.