The interpreters work in mobile or built-in soundproof booths (see: technical equipment below) with a direct feed from the speaker’s microphone. They wear headphones to prevent their own voices from interfering with their comprehension. They process what they hear and speak into the microphone in the booth almost instantaneously and participants listen to them using headphones set on the required language channel.
Simultaneous interpretation requires a high level of concentration, since the interpreter is doing several things concurrently:
- listening and speaking;
- analysing the structure of what is being said in order to present the speaker’s argument;
- listening to his/her own interpretation to avoid slips of the tongue.
Interpreters take turns of about 30 minutes.
Today, simultaneous interpretation is the most frequently-used mode of interpreting at international multilingual conferences.
The speaker pauses from time to time to allow the interpreter to convey the message in the target language. The speaker talks at a normal pace. The important thing is not to speak for too long before pausing to allow the interpreter to render the message with or without note-taking. Consecutive interpreting requires about twice as much time as simultaneous interpretation.
Whispered Interpretation (often referred to as « chuchotage »)
The speaker keeps talking while the interpreter interprets the message in a whispering voice. It is essentially simultaneous interpretation without a booth. As the
interpreter simultaneously hears both his/her own voice and the speaker, accuracy tends to
suffer, especially when the acoustics are poor. This is a great mode of interpreting natural
speech (not reading from speech notes). However, whispering may interfere with the listening of other people in the same room, and for this reason the use of a portable wireless system (« bidule ») is recommended. Whispering requires a team of at least two interpreters and is usually suitable for a maximum of two listeners in short meetings.
Interpreters’ working languages are classified in three categories – A, B, C:
The ‘A’ language is the interpreter’s mother tongue (or its strict equivalent) into which they work from all their other working languages in both consecutive and simultaneous interpretation.
It is the language the interpreter speak best, and in which they can easily express even complicated ideas. It is therefore an active language for the interpreter.
A ‘B’ language is a language in which the interpreter is perfectly fluent, but is not a mother tongue (or its strict equivalent). An interpreter can work into this language from one or several of their other working languages, but may prefer to do so in only one mode of interpretation, either consecutive or simultaneous (often in ‘consecutive’ because it is not so fast). It is also considered an active language for the interpreter.
A ‘C’ language is one which the interpreter understands perfectly, but into which they do not work. They will interpret from this (these) language(s) into their active languages. It is therefore a passive language for the interpreter.
Interpreters are often referred to as « translators » and people are not always aware of the difference between the two professions. How are they different?
An interpreter works with spoken words in a particular context, conveying a message from one language to another, while translation refers to the activity of transferring a written text from one language to another. Simply put, Interpretation is spoken, translation is written.
Consultant interpreters, in addition to working as interpreters, offer conference organisers a specialised service: recruiting and coordinating a team of interpreters.
They are working interpreters who serve as a liaison between the conference organiser and the team of interpreters. They recruit a team of interpreters by working languages, subject matter, meeting location, and their knowledge of the interpreting market.
The role of the consultant interpreter is to provide the meeting organiser with high-quality interpretation services well-suited to the organisational needs of the meeting, while ensuring optimal working conditions for the interpreters. This service is generally compensated through consulting and management fees.
The number of interpreters will depend on:
- The number of languages from which and into which interpretation is required
- The mode of interpretation
- The length of the meeting
- The number of break-out sessions requiring interpreters, if any
As an illustration, a simultaneous interpretation service for a series of presentations at a conference will normally require 2-3 interpreters per active language. More interpreters will be needed if break-out sessions requiring interpretation are planned. You can find detailed information in AIIC’s Professional Standards. The client can choose to work with a consultant interpreter, who will provide the client with technical advice on the interpreting needs and propose the best solution.
Simultaneous interpretation requires very high levels of concentration with a great deal of mental pressure. To maintain the very best quality and manage fatigue,. interpreters take turns every 20 to 30 minutes. During his/her time off an interpreter is not inactive but helps his/her colleague by finding documents and jotting down numbers and names. It is team work.
AIIC’s professional standards also define the number of hours interpreters work per day given the constraints related to quality and health.
The choice of the right equipment will be mainly determined by the mode of interpretation to be used at your meeting.
For consecutive interpretation the interpreter will generally use the same equipment as the speaker (usually a microphone).
For simultaneous interpretation interpreters require sound-proof booths (the number of which will depend on the number of output languages to be used) and other special sound equipment (interpreter consoles, mixer, transmission system, headset receivers for participants and interpreters, microphones for interpreters and for participants) with a direct sound feed from the floor, and in some cases monitors, cameras, etc.
The consultant interpreter you choose to work with or a reputable equipment supplier will advise you on the right selection, fully ISO compliant.
The following ISO standards apply to simultaneous interpretation equipment:
- ISO 2603:2016 Simultaneous interpreting – Permanent Booths – Requirements
- ISO 4043:2016 Simultaneous interpreting – Mobile Booths – Requirements
- ISO 20108:2017 Simultaneous interpreting – Quality and transmission of sound and image input – Requirements
- ISO 20109:2016 Simultaneous Interpretation – Equipment – Requirements (ISO 20109:2016).
For events with video-conferencing/remote interpretation, further information is available at AIIC Video Conference Code.
For more information about interpreting courses worldwide, peruse the AIIC Interpreting Schools & Programmes Directory.
Distance Interpreting or DI is the generic term to describe all situations where
interpreters are not in the same room with the speakers, or the audience or both the speakers and the audience.They interpret remotely from a hub or from home through Information and communications technology platforms .
Remote Simultaneous Interpreting or RSI is a form of DI which gives conference
interpreters the possibility to provide simultaneous interpreting from a distance. For more information on DI please visit AIIC and Distance Interpreting.
Conference interpreters use spoken and/or sign languages. All of AIIC members are conference interpreters, engaged in conference interpreting, irrespective of whether they do so by means of spoken languages only, sign languages only, or a combination of both.