How Consecutive Interpreting Works

by OFER TIROSH 10/12/2020
How Consecutive Interpreting Works

I view consecutive interpreting as one of those highly skilled yet ultimately extremely simple services that allows the business world to operate more effectively. Consecutive interpretation allows those who speak different languages to communicate effectively in a wide range of settings. 

Given the myriad uses of this kind of interpreting, I wanted to explore the topic in detail, so below we’ll look at what consecutive translation involves, what skills the consecutive interpreter needs and how to decide between consecutive and simultaneous interpreting when it comes to meeting your language needs. 

Shall we dive in? 

Consecutive Interpretation – Explained

What is consecutive interpreting? The consecutive interpretation definition explains that the speaker says a sentence or two, then pauses while the interpreter repeats them in another language. It can take place in person, over the phone or via video conference. 

This headline consecutive interpreting definition has a range of additional elements within it. For example, in some situations the consecutive interpreter will take notes, while in others they won’t. There are also different forms of consecutive interpretation. In short consecutive interpreting, the speaker will pause every sentence or two. In long consecutive interpreting, the speaker will continue for longer before pausing, often delivering whole thoughts and then allowing the interpreter to provide the consecutive translation. 

I’ve seen consecutive interpreters in action in a huge range of settings. They can facilitate partnership working between businesses that don’t speak the same language. They can help speakers to present to small audiences (simultaneous interpretation tends to be better suited to larger audiences; I’ll get on to simultaneous vs consecutive interpretation in a moment). 

There are also plenty of business to customer (B2C) uses for consecutive interpreting, as well as business to business (B2B) ones. Healthcare providers whose patients speak different languages, for example, often rely on a consecutive interpreter with specialist medical knowledge to facilitate conversations. I’ll talk more about the scenarios that consecutive interpreting is suited to below, but first let’s just clarify the differences between consecutive and simultaneous interpreting. 

The Difference Between Simultaneous and Consecutive Interpreting

The consecutive interpreter translates the speaker’s words every sentence or two, with the speaker pausing to allow them sufficient time to do so. The simultaneous interpreter, meanwhile, delivers the speaker’s words in real time. 

Simultaneous interpreting is the kind of interpreting that you see in action at large, multilingual events, where interpreters sit in soundproof booths and translate the speaker’s words as he delivers them. It requires specialist audio and technical equipment, as well as the booths themselves. It also usually requires interpreters to work in pairs, due to the mental strain of simultaneously listening to one language while speaking in another. 

The consecutive interpreter, meanwhile, tends to work alone and has no need for any specialist equipment. A notepad and pencil is about as technical as their requirements get. 

You can click the link below to find out more about simultaneous interpretation and its uses. 

Read more: Simultaneous Interpretation – How it Works

Tips and Things to Consider on Consecutive Interpreting

If you need to use consecutive translation, it’s important to plan ahead and ensure that your interpreter is fully briefed. That preparation should consider a number of factors. Let me run through the essentials. 

Time Between Speaking and Interpreting

Your interpreter will need to know in advance of the work commencing whether they will be undertaking short or long consecutive interpretation. The time between speaking and interpreting will impact how they deliver and whether they need to use a notepad. 

Event Format

The setup of the meeting or event will also have an impact on how your consecutive interpreter delivers your speech. For example, at a business meeting the interpreter will be able to sit and take notes easily. At a small networking reception, where you’ll be moving around the room as you speak, they would find it much harder to do so. 

Noise

It’s also worth considering the level of background noise that will be present. The interpreter will need to hear your words very clearly in order to convey them accurately in another language. 

Specialist Knowledge

You also need to ensure your interpreter has sufficient specialist knowledge. For example, if you’re holding a meeting to inform a patient that she has choledocholithiasis, I would advise you to check that the interpreter is familiar with the term beforehand. The same applies if you’re going to be using specialist legal terminology, tech terms and so forth. 

The Consecutive Interpreter

So, what does the perfect consecutive interpreter look like in terms of their skills, training and experience? Let’s break these down one by one. 

Skills

A consecutive interpreter needs to have a wide range of skills in order to perform their role successfully. These are the minimum skills that the individual requires:

• Fluency in two languages 

• Active listening skills

• Fast-paced analytical abilities 

• Superb short-term memory

• Shorthand or other structured form of note-taking

• Clear diction 

• Cultural awareness

The need to speak two languages fluently is a given. As mentioned above, the consecutive interpreter may also need specialist subject knowledge, depending on the nature of the information that they will be working with. 

They must also have excellent active listening skills and be able to analyse and prioritise the information that they are receiving incredibly fast. 

A superb short-term memory is another essential, as is the ability to take rapid, structured notes. Being able to write in shorthand is a bonus here, but interpreters own sets of abbreviations and notes can be just as effective. The dots and squiggles don’t have to mean anything to anyone else, just the interpreter who is taking the notes and then using them as prompts to relay the speaker’s words in another language. 

The ability to speak clearly is also hugely important, for obvious reasons. 

Finally, it is important for the interpreter to have a keen cultural understanding of those they are conveying information to. This can help with everything from phrasing sentences the right way, including (for example) dealing with things like idioms, to ensuring the right use of tone.  

Interpreters may well have a range of additional skills. As I say, these are the bare minimum that you should expect a competent consecutive interpreter to have. 

Training and Certifications

There is a huge range of training and certifications out there for those interested in becoming consecutive interpreters. We’ll take a look at a few options here, but I should stress that this list is far from exhaustive. It’s more to give you a flavour of the breadth of training and qualifications that exists. 

• Online Resources for Conference Interpreter Training (ORCIT)

• European Commission virtual video library

• Specialist interpreter training courses 

• Academic interpreting qualifications 

ORCIT materials provide an excellent introduction to basic practices in interpreting skills and techniques. Freely available online, they are aimed primarily at trainee interpreters in the EU but many of the topics will apply equally around the world.  

The European Commission also provides some excellent resources through its virtual video library. From active listening to note-taking, these resources provide a solid foundation. 

There’s plenty of specialist training available for consecutive interpreters too, such as court interpretation training for those looking to use their language skills in the legal system. 

Higher education qualifications in interpreting are also available for those looking to go down the academic route. 

Experience

While training and certifications are an excellent way to gain additional skills and evidence their abilities to clients, consecutive interpreters also need to bring plenty of experience to the table. Not only that, but the experience needs to be relevant to the interpreting work that they are undertaking. 

Ideal Scenarios when Consecutive Interpreting Should Be Used

There are plenty of scenarios in which consecutive interpretation ensures that important conversations flow. Let me provide a few examples: 

Business Meetings

If you need to hold a business meeting with people who speak another language, consecutive interpretation is the way forward. The interpreter can allow the conversation to flow back and forth between those in the meeting. The discussions will take longer as a result of each speaker pausing for the interpreter to convey their words, but this is simply an accepted part of the format of such meetings. 

Press Interviews

If you need to speak to the media but don’t speak their language, a consecutive interpreter can open up the channels of conversation. 

Personal Interviews

It’s not just interviews with the press at which you can use an interpreter – personal interviews work just as well with a consecutive interpreter present to take care of the linguistic side of the proceedings. 

Medical Consultations

Whether you live somewhere that you don’t speak the language fluently or you’re heading overseas for treatment, consecutive interpreting is the ideal way to ensure that you fully understand the medical consultations that you’re taking part in. 

Human Resources Meetings

Do you have a multilingual staff team? If you have something serious to discuss with them, or a matter with legal implications, then using a consecutive interpretation service can ensure that everyone is on the same page. Other staff meetings, such as evaluations and reviews, many also benefit from having a consecutive interpreter present. 

Parent-teacher Conferences

Don’t speak the same language as you child’s teachers? No problem! Consecutive interpretation can enable free-ranging conversations to take place so that you can discuss your little one’s progress in depth. 

Attorney-client Meetings

You don’t have to speak your attorney’s language in order for them to represent you. But if you don’t, you’ll certainly need a consecutive interpreter with plenty of legal experience to help you understand what’s occurring. 

Insurance Claims Meetings

Consecutive interpreters can also help you to understand the proceedings in insurance claims meetings. 

Professional Sports

From baseball players to footballers, sportspersons who play in teams where they don’t speak the language often rely on a consecutive interpreter in order to participate fully. 

Tours and Travels

Another area in which consecutive interpreting is handy is for tourism activities, in particular when tours and travel are undertaken as part of a business trip. 

Challenges of Consecutive Interpreting

Consecutive interpretation is not without its challenges. I mentioned above that meetings take twice as long due to the need for the interpreter to repeat everything. This can mean that complex discussions take a LONG time to conclude. 

Speech patterns can also be an issue. Some people are very direct in the way that they talk. Others ramble from point to point in a rather convoluted way, often getting distracted along the way and sending the conversation off in another direction. This can be a challenge for the interpreter and thus for those listening in the foreign language. 

The use of language that doesn’t fit culturally with the foreign language listeners may also be an issue. Idioms and popular culture references that don’t translate well can leave everything feeling a little lost. 

Plus, of course, there are situations where consecutive interpretation simply isn’t the most suitable form of language conversion. If, having read the above, you think that a different type of interpretation might be more suited to your needs, simply click the link below to find out more about different methods of interpretation. 

Read more: What Are the Different Types of Interpretation?

Wrap Up

Are you ready to start using consecutive interpreting to achieve your multilingual goals? As we’ve mentioned above, consecutive interpretation:

• Requires the interpreter to possess a range of skills, qualifications and experience

• Differs significantly from simultaneous interpretation 

• May or may not involve the interpreter using notes

• Is suitable for a vast range of scenarios 

• Requires no specialist equipment

• Doubles the length of conversations

• May require specialist knowledge on the part of the interpreter 

Using a consecutive interpreter can open up so many conversations. How are you going to use consecutive interpreting next? 

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