Consecutive and Simultaneous Interpreting

Consecutive and Simultaneous Interpreting

Interpreting is a form of translation in which the first and final rendition in another language is produced on the basis of a one-time presentation of an utterance in a source language (Kade cited in Franz Pochhacker, 2004:11). It is an activity to bridge a communication between two or more speakers who are not speaking the same language. Both interpreting and translating involve the rendition of a message in the source language and the presentation of the message in the target language. The main difference is translation is in the written form in which there may be an opportunity for the translator to look up certain words in a dictionary, thesaurus, or any other sources while interpreting is a one-time presentation of an utterance. Interpreting requires higher level of concentration and stress management.

In order to do the interpretation well, the interpreter must be able to concentrate well to receive and understand the message in the source language and then present the message in the target language.  In order to accomplish this task, the interpreter must go through an overlapping series of cognitive processing activities which include attending and concentrating to the message, comprehending and analyzing the meaning of the message, remembering the message, and finally reformulating the message in the target language and presenting the message verbally.

This article will discuss two modes of interpreting, which are consecutive and simultaneous interpreting modes. Liaison and whispering interpreting modes will be discussed in the next articles.

Consecutive Interpreting

Image credit:
Image credit:

In a consecutive mode of interpreting, the interpreter starts giving his/her interpretation in the target language right after the speaker finishes his/her speech. In this mode, the speaker may speak for three to five sentences even more while the interpreter has to attend to the messages, comprehend, analyze, remember, reformulate them in the target language form, and finally present all the messages in the target language.  Here, the interpreter has to really concentrate in understanding, formulating and especially remembering all the messages when the speaker speaks a lot. The interpreter can take notes especially if it deals with numbers and specific names, otherwise it will be very difficult to remember all of the information. Sometimes, when the speaker talks fast and a lot, the interpreter may find it more difficult to take notes on the first message while concentrating on the next incoming message. Here is the importance of establishing the understanding to the speaker concerning the high level of difficulty the interpreter may encounter if the speaker speaks fast.

In addition to that, it is important for the interpreter to know and understand the subject matter before the interpreting day. This will definitely help the interpreter on the day of the assignment especially when it comes to the terminologies and technical subjects. Understanding of the subject matters especially the technical ones will eliminate the possibility of making errors in interpretation. The interpreter may fully understand the message in the target language but he/she may find it difficult to find the equivalent of a certain term in very limited time. In the consecutive mode, especially when there is a lot of audience, the interpreter may find himself/herself intimidated by the facial expression of the audience. Public speaking ability is required here. It is important for the interpreter to be confident and well-prepared. Remember that a good preparation contributes to at least 60% of confidence.

Simultaneous Interpreting

The main difference between consecutive and simultaneous interpretation is that in simultaneous interpreting mode, the speech/presentation given by the speaker is translated into another language in real time (simultaneously). Simultaneous interpretation is normally used at multi-lingual conferences. This mode requires SIS (Simultaneous Interpretation System), which includes the technical support equipment such as sound-proof interpreters’ booths, receivers with headsets, etc. The interpreters are housed in a soundproof booth with a direct feed from the speaker’s microphone. They wear headphones to prevent their own voices from interfering with their comprehension. “Delegates listen to the interpretation through earphones attached to each seat in the room, selecting the desired language by switching channels on the earphone dial” (United Nation Website,

Interpreters in their sound-proof interpreter booths. Image credit:
Interpreters in their sound-proof interpreter booths. Image credit:
Nicole Kidman in “The Interpreter” performing simultaneous interpreting Image credit
Nicole Kidman in “The Interpreter” performing simultaneous interpreting Image credit:

The interpreter has to start giving the interpretation soon after the speaker presents a phrase or a clause/short sentence. It is not easy to guess the meaning of a message before fully hearing the entire sentence. This is the real challenge encountered by simultaneous interpreters. They have to present fast and accurate interpretation while at the same time concentrating on the next message delivered by the speaker. It is important to know that simultaneous interpretation is so strenuous that is why the interpreter needs a partner to work in a team that may consist of two or even three interpreters depending on the length of the conference and the complexity of the topic. Like in the consecutive interpreting mode, simultaneous interpreters need to have the speech notes and slides ahead of time to secure high-quality performance.  Speakers need to be cautioned to speak at normal speed with many breathing pauses to allow the interpreter to render the message and present it accurately. Interpreters need a chance to catch up information/messages from time to time.


Pochhacker, Franz. 2004. Introducing Interpreting Studies. New York: Routlegde Taylor and Francis Group.

United Nation Website, URL: visited on October 29, 2013

Article by Luh Windiari

TranslationPapers Bali

One thought on “Consecutive and Simultaneous Interpreting

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