What is simultaneous interpreting?

Tłumaczenie symultaniczne

Translations can be categorized in various ways. The basic division is into written and verbal services. The latter group includes simultaneous interpreting. What are its key features?

What is simultaneous interpreting?

This type of interpreting is also called synchronous because an interpreter translates everything that a speaker has to say without any pauses. The interpreter sits in a soundproof booth, from which they can see the speaker. They hear speech through headphones and simultaneously speak into the microphone. This way, service users receive information in the appropriate language version. Simultaneous interpreting is very hard, which is why there are usually at least two interpreters in a single booth. They replace each other at certain times, for example every fifteen, twenty minutes or every half hour. However, even during a break, interpreters must remain vigilant in order to help their colleagues in case of problems. Simultaneous interpreters most often work in four-hour blocks and charge clients on that basis. 

Why is simultaneous interpreting a challenge?

There are many reasons for simultaneous interpreting to be very difficult. The most important are the complexity of the processes that occur during this type of interpreting and extraordinary stress associated with being unable to replay what has been heard. While working in the booth, the interpreter must listen, think, translate and speak at the same time. Because of headphones, they cannot hear themselves speak, which often causes slips. Moreover, simultaneous interpreting often takes place during internationally significant events, which creates additional psychological stress.

Which competencies are required?

Simultaneous interpreting requires some specific language competences, traits and skills. Such competences include:

  • a perfect command of the native and foreign language,
  • knowledge of interpreting techniques,
  • knowledge of a glossary related to a specific topic, however, we can say that simultaneous interpreting is specialized interpreting.

Some of the desirable competences include:

  • multitasking,
  • ability to handle stress,
  • ability to focus,
  • good memory,
  • expressive pronunciation.

Anyway, the above requirements are not exhaustive. Individuals willing to work in this industry usually take intensive training courses in special schools or universities. Training by experienced mentors allows future interpreters to master the necessary techniques to deliver high-quality simultaneous interpreting services. These include memorizing techniques, elimination of speech mistakes and methods to cope with stress. A future simultaneous interpreter can also practice independently, for example by translating audio recordings on the Internet, televised addresses or radio appearances. 

Employment opportunities

Simultaneous interpreting is required during international events that involve people from different countries. These can be conferences, summits or symposiums. The European Parliament acts as the main employer of sworn interpreters. At least 72 simultaneous interpreters are needed for each session, in which 24 active and passive languages are used. Some of them are employed full-time, whereas others act as freelancers. There are also technicians involved in the proper organization of interpreters’ work, whose job is to prepare software and equipment in the booths.

Other types of interpreting

There is also consecutive interpreting, performed during pauses in a speech, as well as whispered interpreting, where an interpreter works with a specific participant. The choice of interpreting technique depends on the case and the number of participants.