Posted by: sbilingual | February 17, 2012

Simultaneous Translator – She Does Not Exist

How many times have you seen a job announcement searching for a “Simultaneous Translator?” All professional translators and interpreters know that the two modes of rendering meaning from one language to another are different. The goals of this article are to provide a short introduction for clients on terminology and background information on the differences between the two techniques and how each requires a specific skill set.

If you are a potential customer requiring language services, do you need a translator or an interpreter? Based on your assignment, do you need a consecutive or a simultaneous interpreter? Hopefully, this article will help you answer those questions.


Interpretation – Interpretation, or interpreting, is an activity that consists of establishing, either simultaneously or consecutively, oral communications between two or more speakers who are not speaking the same language.

Translation – Translation is an activity comprising the interpretation of the meaning of a text in one language and the production of a new, equivalent text in another language. The final product is called a translation.

Source language (SL) – The SL is the original language of a text or utterance before it is translated or interpreted.

Target language (TL) – The language into which a text is rendered. The language one translates or interprets into is the TL.

Simultaneous interpreting

·First used at the end of World War II during the Nuremberg trials.
·Usually accomplished in pairs with each interpreter taking turns at the microphone every 30 minutes.
·Most international organizations have their interpreters work only into the interpreters’ native tongue.
·Interpreters normally work in soundproof booths, attentively listening to the speaker’s remarks via headphones and following slightly behind in the target language. Decisiveness is paramount. There is no time to weigh the merits of various renditions.
·While some information may be written down (dates, names, important facts), simultaneous interpreters do not take notes as consecutive interpreters do.
·May also be done with the interpreter/audience using portable equipment (microphone and headphones).
·Most suitable for lectures, seminars and conferences and during events at which information generally flows in one direction.

Consecutive interpreting

·The interpreter normally stands alongside the speaker, listening and taking notes as the speech progresses. When the speaker has finished, or comes to a pause (every 1-5 minutes, at the end of every paragraph, end of a complete thought or concept), the interpreter reproduces the message in the target language, in its entirety and as though she were making the original speech.
·Key skills and tools are note taking, aggressive listening and a superior memory.
·Used primarily during meetings, negotiations, dinners, toasts, and during excursions and tours.
·The type of memory used most actively in consecutive interpreting (short-term) differs from that of simultaneous interpreting (long-term), and different note-taking skills are required.

Interpretation and Translation

It is easy to assume that interpretation and translation differ only in the medium: oral or written. However, there can be great differences in training (type, not necessarily the amount), skills and even some personality attributes.

·A translator must write well and express herself superbly in the target language. Ideally, the translator is a native speaker of the target language.
·It is imperative that the translator understands the source language and the culture of its speakers. She does not have to be as verbally fluent in the source language as the interpreter, but she should have a native or near-native comprehension of the meaning and nuance of the source text.
·A translator should have a comprehensive set of dictionaries and reference materials available (as well as have a high level of expertise in using on-line resources). A professional interpreter will also have these resources, but they are more for study and preparation and not for use while actually engaged in interpreting.
·While a translator may specialize in a narrowly focused subject or two, most conference interpreters normally prepare for a wide variety of topics.
·A translator’s work is more methodical and exact.
·All interpreters, but especially consecutive interpreters, should have superior short-term memory.
·An interpreter must have a good voice, excellent public speaking skills and panache. She should feel comfortable in the spotlight. While a simultaneous interpreter’s work is mostly anonymous, when an interpreter makes a major meaning error “in the booth,” an amazing number of people are eager to let her know about it. Consecutive interpreters tend to be more visible, as they usually are standing or sitting beside their principal.
·Professional interpreters and translators comprehensively read and study in the fields they work most often (in the target and source languages).

While translators and interpreters do share a love of languages and certain skill sets, the terms are not synonymous and the activities involved are indeed different.

To find out how Bilingual Resources Group can support your interpretation, translation and bilingual staffing needs, please call 504-253-0364 or visit


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