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Simultaneous interpretation: learn more about how it's done

Simultaneous Interpretation: Services and Equipment

If you’ve ever seen an interpreter standing on or near a stage translating conversations and speeches in real-time, you’re familiar with simultaneous translation. What you might not realize is that this service is actually simultaneous interpretation, rather than translation. 

Simultaneous interpreting was first used at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II. Since then, it’s become closely associated with United Nations assemblies, where real-time interpreting is common practice.

While simultaneous interpretation has many different business applications, it’s important to understand how this service is correctly used in a professional setting, and what your organization needs to do to ensure that simultaneous interpretation services benefit your company and its audience.

How and Where is Simultaneous Interpretation Used?

Simultaneous interpreting typically takes place in a business or governmental setting, e.g., large events, conferences, presentations, and symposiums serving an international audience. 

Simultaneous interpreters of American Sign Language may also be brought into an event to improve accessibility for attendees with hearing limitations.

Do Interpreters Need Special Training for Simultaneous Interpretation?

Yes, simultaneous interpreting is incredibly difficult. It requires instant decision-making and the ability to listen to language and understand context while also communicating with an audience and keeping up with the pace of speech. 

As a result, interpreters must be proficient in both the source and target languages and have the domain knowledge to accurately understand and interpret speeches and other conversations addressing niche subject matter.

Simultaneous interpretation requires time and practice to master, even for individuals fluent in a second language. Unlike translators who can take their time to ensure an accurate translation of written content, interpreters must deliver their services on-the-fly. There’s no opportunity to revise your work after the initial interpretation, and spatial challenges can add a new degree of difficulty by making conversations hard to hear, or being forced to maintain a cohesive interpretation when speakers are interrupting and/or talking over one another.

In addition, simultaneous interpreting employs specialized technology that must be mastered before being used in a live event environment.

Types of Simultaneous Interpretation Systems

Simultaneous interpreting services can be delivered to clients in several different ways. In some event venues and government meeting spaces, interpreters are given a permanent installation that can serve as the home base for their work. Access to permanent equipment makes it easier for interpreters to set up and perform their work, and it reduces the risk of technical difficulties. 

In smaller and temporary venues such as hotels and convention centers, interpreters may use a portable booth that easily transports and holds specialized interpretation equipment that can be set up at any location. Interpreters may also use wireless transmitters and receivers in cases such as traveling shows and tours where a stationary setup isn’t feasible and where more mobility is needed.

What Equipment is Needed for Simultaneous Interpretation?

Interpreting equipment needs are somewhat dependent on the capabilities and limitations of each venue where the event requiring simultaneous interpreting takes place. At a minimum, though, simultaneous interpreters require the following technology:

  • A console where audio channels for multiple languages can be managed, along with controls for volume and audio quality, and production controls such as mute buttons and cough cut capabilities.
  • Microphones and headsets for every interpreter to allow the source material to be heard distinctly and for the interpretation to be delivered clearly into the system.
  • Space and/or equipment to support at least two interpreters per language, because interpreters typically work in pairs.
  • Ventilation if the interpreters are working in a small/enclosed space.
  • Quality lighting in the interpreting booth, as well as a clear view of the event space whenever possible.
  • Documents and briefings to help interpreters prepare for the event and its subject matter. This is especially important for niche subject areas, or when many proper names and rarely used terminology require practice and preparation to improve the quality of the interpretation.

Additional technology and/or materials may be required depending on the specific setup of the event and the needs of the client.

How Can You Trust the Quality of Simultaneous Interpretation?

You should look for interpretation services that are certified according to the established standards for interpretation and the equipment involved. ISO 2603 and ISO 4043 certifications are the most reliable criteria to use when choosing an interpretation service that offers quality assurance on its services.

You can also look out for certifications according to guidelines set by other governing bodies—any interpreting agency with an FDIS 20109 or ASTM F2089 certification is likely to provide professional service you can count on.

Invest in a Language Service Provider You Can Trust

Simultaneous translation services are highly specialized in terms of the equipment and the expertise they require. For this reason, it’s helpful to go with a language service provider with a depth of experience in this field. Protranslating offers more than 45 years of experience in providing simultaneous interpretation, along with other language services, to businesses and governments around the world.

Our network of world-class interpreters and our inventory of specialized, state-of-the-art in-house equipment ensure that our clients get the best-in-class services they need for their events.

Looking for simultaneous interpreting for your event? Contact us today to find out how we can help.

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