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How to select between simultaneous, certified, consecutive, escort, whisper, and telephone interpreting

What do you ask for when you need someone who can speak another language for an individual client deposition or medical appointment? – for a conference? – for a patent lawsuit in court?

When they need language services like these, many people contact our office requesting a translator. Some even qualify that by asking for a “translator on site.”

But translations are written documents, and the people who do them are “translators.” And it is also possible to request that a translator be provided at a specific company site to do a written translation. All oral work, however, is called “interpretation.”

There are several different kinds of interpretation, depending on the mode and purpose, and most interpreters are qualified for only some of these types. The most demanding mode is simultaneous interpreting, usually reserved for large conferences that may require several different language pairs (e.g., English/French, English/Spanish, English/Portuguese) and use equipment (headphones, etc.) and booths to isolate each interpreter and avoid interference from other language pairs.

The interpreter speaks at the same time as the speaker in the source language does, but is usually a sentence behind the speaker. He/she must hear, register, and remember what the speaker is saying, while at the same time interpreting into the target language the content of the speech a few seconds earlier. The audience can listen to the interpreter via specific headphones geared to that language pair.

It helps to have the speech written out beforehand, but if there are rapid exchanges of information in two languages, the interpreter must think very quickly, assimilate the information in one language, and interpret it into another. This requires very specialized skills and training, and the number of interpreters who can do this is very limited. Most simultaneous interpreters work a full day or several days.

Also demanding is certified court interpreting, which often requires the simultaneous skill, although sometimes consecutive interpreting is sufficient. Consecutive interpreting is the most common mode and is used for depositions and medical appointments as well as for court. The attorney or doctor speaks first, and the interpreter listens carefully to what is said in the source language, and then interprets it immediately afterwards into the target language.

People do not speak at the same time, which makes it somewhat less stressful, but the interpreter must be familiar with the terminology of the subject to be interpreted, as well as both source and target languages. Most consecutive interpreters work by the hour, with a two or three-hour minimum.

Escort interpreting is yet another mode. Here the interpreter must walk around a facility or place with the people he/she is required to interpret for. Mobile equipment (microphones and speakers) are required, and the interpreter may have to function in either a consecutive or simultaneous way, depending on the situation.

In addition to these types of interpreting, sometimes clients require a whisper interpreter. This mode is often used at meetings where interpreting for only one or two guests is required. The interpreter sits next to them and whispers her/his interpretation into their ear. No equipment is needed.

Finally, many medical facilities (and others) use telephone interpreters. These are on-call interpreters, prepared to provide consecutive interpreting over the phone in their language pair for specific subjects. They normally work only a few minutes at a time, as long as the phone call or medical appointment takes, but can be available for somewhat longer periods if necessary.

The type of interpreting you need depends on the given purpose or event. It is always helpful, however, to provide written materials or background information to help the interpreter prepare for your event. No matter how competent and appropriate the language professional is, the written documents will enable the interpreter to prepare in advance of the event and ensure the most suitable interpretation for your needs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Linguistic Systems is an industry leader in multiple forms of interpreting. Trust us with your next interpreting project.