Top Tips to Master Simultaneous Interpreting

Simultaneous interpreting – a.k.a. the art of orally translating at the same time as someone is speaking. Crucial at conferences and courtrooms, this is likely the most difficult translation skill to master.

Typical translators have a text in front of them and use countless dictionaries and references to provide an accurate text. Simultaneous interpreters, on the other hand, need to listen and translate orally in the next second.

If you want to perfect your simultaneous interpreting skills, here are some tips that might be able to help you out.

  1. Anticipate

Translators aren’t exactly mind readers – but sadly, interpreters have to be. An interpreter has to listen and interpret what the other person is saying – and in this case, the ability to anticipate may come very much in handy.

No one can anticipate right off the bat – but with time, you will get much better at it. Plus, it’s a skill that you can hone even when you are outside of work. Whenever someone is speaking, listen closely to what they are saying – and see if you can anticipate what they are going to say next.

If you are already familiar with the speaker, this can get much easier – but it also depends on how prepared you are on the topic. Before entering a conference or a courtroom, make sure you familiarize yourself with what’s going to be tackled there.

  1. Keep a Sharp Brain

Interpreters don’t have the luxury of zoning off, because if they miss just a single word, they risk not knowing how to interpret the whole thing. Pay close attention to what people are saying and exercise your memory – along with your ability to multitask.

For example, try listening to a speech while you are working on another task – even something as simple as creating your grocery list. Once that is done with, check how much you can remember. It may not be perfect at first, but with time, you will be able to exercise your brain.

  1. Control Your Voice

When you are interpreting, it is crucial that you control the volume of your voice. For instance, if it’s too low, then the people won’t be able to hear you. On the other hand, if it’s too loud, then the original speaker might be overshadowed.

You may be interpreting, but people also need to hear the speaker as well. This way, they will know from their tone whether the speaker is agitated, relaxed, or intense – which can be very important while delivering a speech.

Use a manner of speaking that makes you comfortable – just as long as it’s not too loud or too low. In most cases, practice makes perfect, so it might not hurt to randomly interpret a foreign movie scene every now and again.

  1. Keep Calm

This may be a given, but we can’t repeat this enough times: no matter what the speaker may be saying, you should keep your calm. They may start shouting, speaking too fast, or talking about something that you do not agree with; however, you must remember that your job is to interpret, not to judge.

Stay focused and try to provide a translation that is as accurate as possible. You don’t have to translate it word by word; you just have to deliver the main message, hanging on to the important details.

Still, you might not want to skip whole sentences, just because you don’t feel they are really that important. The speaker added it into the speech for a reason, so cutting off important parts might be seen as a sign of disrespect – and may even cause the people to misinterpret their message.

If the speaker goes on a tangent, don’t let it frustrate you or interrupt your flow. You’ll just be falling behind for no reason, in a circumstance which you could normally easily control.

  1. Understand the Culture

Sure, it’s important to understand the language – but when it comes to interpreting, understanding the culture is just as important. Each culture has its own particular phrases which only their people would understand – so make sure that you are prepared for what’s to come.

If you are studying to become an interpreter, the chances are that you are already interested in language and culture – so this might actually be a fun challenge for you. Look up all the colloquial phrases before your interpreting session, and make sure that your interpretation is as accurate as possible.

Final Thoughts

Being an interpreter can be a lot of work – but at the same time, it is also something that will keep your brain active. It won’t be easy to master the skills; however, with time, you should be able to do it flawlessly. You’ll need a decent amount of practice and a sharp mind – but with this, you’ll be able to deliver the perfect interpretation.

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.