Understanding the Modes of Interpreting and How to Choose the Correct Mode of Translation Delivery

by Masashi Hayashi

Live Language Translation or Interpreting

Language interpreting or live and usually verbal translation from a source language to a target language is an activity known to have existed through the ages with early records reportedly as far back as in Ancient Egypt in the 3rd Millennium B.C. where sculptures were said to make reference to an interpreter supervisor.

Interpreting as a full-time professional engagement, however, is just over a century old.

Modes of Langauge Interpreting

There may be many delivery modes of language interpreting or live translation but they can be categorised generally into two major modes namely Simultaneous Interpreting and Consecutive Interpreting:

In Simultaneous Interpreting, the speaker delivering the speech or discourse content (source) is not required to pause for the interpreter to translate and the interpreter usually speaks at the same time as the speaker does, usually conveying the delivery contents in the target language to the audience through some kind of equipment like headphones and transmitters. Simultaneous interpreting is generally considered to be more difficult and a rarer skill and therefore more costly. Due to the intensity of the task, simultaneous interpreters usually work in pairs, taking turns at delivering the translation.

In Consecutive Interpreting, the speaker pauses for the interpreter to translate and then continues when the interpreter has finished the translation of that section. This skill is more common but may not necessarily be easier as there is a need to keep track of longer passages that has been spoken. This may require the taking of notes effectively, which is another set of skill altogether.

Even though both modes are interpreting or verbal translation, they sometimes differ so much in skills required that the Consecutive Translator may not deliver simultaneously, and some Simultaneous Translator are so used to delivering simultaneously that they find consecutive interpreting cumbersome to follow or to make notes of.

Most other forms of interpreting are sub-modes or variations of the above two modes of translation. For example, whispering interpreting is actually a form of simultaneous interpreting without the use of equipment, but requires close proximity.

How to Choose the Mode of Live Translation

Choosing the correct mode of interpreting will go a long way to enhance or optimise an event’s delivery and preserve the original intention of the event.

Advantageous of Simultaneous Interpreting

Cons of Simultaneous Interpreting

Scenarios for Live Translation

The following are occasions or scenarios where interpreting, either consecutive or simultaneous, or both are applicable:

Understanding the needs of an event and the modes of translation delivery helps you find the optimal match of the mode of interpreting with the style of the event, enhancing your event’s outcome.

About the writer

Masashi Hayashi© is an Experienced Interpreter among a Team of Professional Translators and Interpreters in Singapore and Asia at InterXcess.

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