What are the different types of interpretation?

May 14, 2020
What are the different types of interpretation?

Businesses around the world use interpretation services for a wide range of purposes. What is interpretation used for? From forging new partnerships and supply chain connections to managing logistics, there are plenty of practical reasons for using interpretation. Professional interpreting services (along with translation services) can also be helpful when it comes to managing geographically and linguistically diverse teams, as well as connecting with customers around the globe. 

Let’s start with a quick interpretation definition. What is interpretation? When we talk about interpretation services, we are referring to the conversion of spoken words from one language to another. 

Given the number of needs that interpretation services meet, it’s not surprising that there is more than one type of interpretation. Does your business know which interpretation service(s) it needs? What are the different types of interpretation? And how can you access them? Or are you a translator who is interested in becoming an interpreter? 

Read on to find out about the different interpretation types available and the interpreter types that will best suit your or your company’s requirements. 

Simultaneous Interpretation

One of the most frequently required types of interpreting in the business world is simultaneous interpretation. What is simultaneous interpreting? Simultaneous interpreting is the process of delivering a speaker’s words in another language in real time. 

The classic example of a simultaneous interpreter in action is at an international conference. The speaker takes to the stage and speaks in their native tongue. Meanwhile interpreters, who are usually located in booths around the room, translate the speaker’s words so that audience members can listen in different languages. 

What is simultaneous interpretation used for? The simultaneous interpretation definition refers to the conversion of one language to another in real time. This is the key to its usefulness – the speaker does not have to modify the flow of their speech in any way. They simply talk as they normally would, while professionals who have undergone stringent simultaneous interpretation training deliver their words in other languages (although a courteous speaker who has used a simultaneous translation service before might at least slow the pace of their speech a little!). 

These types of interpreters have to be expert linguists and extremely quick thinkers. The work can be draining, so simultaneous interpreters often work in pairs. Both will be present in the booth for the duration of the speech, working in shifts of 20-25 minutes each. 

Consecutive Interpretation

Another of the most commonly used interpretation types is consecutive interpretation. What is consecutive interpretation? The consecutive interpretation definition refers to the interpreter translating after every sentence or two from the speaker. The speaker must therefore modify the pace of their speech so that the consecutive interpreter can deliver their meaning in another language every couple of sentences. 

What is consecutive interpreting used for in the business world? Meetings, meetings and more meetings! From a conversation between two individuals to discussions between much larger groups, consecutive interpreting can facilitate conversations that would otherwise be impossible due to linguistic differences. 

As with simultaneous interpretation, consecutive interpretation training is thorough, ensuring that only the most competent linguists are put in situations where they have to manage the flow of conversations in this way. 

Consecutive translation is an important enabling process in the business world. Countless partnerships have been developed while using these types of interpreters. 

This type of interpreting can be used both in person and for telephone and/or video meetings (which we discuss in further detail below). Suffice it to say, the coronavirus pandemic created a notable spike in demand for remote consecutive interpretation services during the first half of 2020. 

For individuals who already work in translation but are considering a move into interpretation, consecutive interpreting could be a good first step. You can discover more about moving from a translation role to an interpretation role by clicking the link below. 

Read more: How can a translator become an interpreter?

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Whispered Interpretation

Also known as chuchotage interpreting (from the French for ‘whispering’), whispered interpretation is a less commonly used type of interpretation than simultaneous and consecutive interpreting. The interpretation definition here involves the interpreter working with one or perhaps two listeners within a room. As the speaker speaks, the interpreter translates for those listeners only. 

Whispered interpretation is most appropriate for meetings and events where just one or two of those present speak another language. The interpreter can quietly and discreetly ensure that those listeners can keep up with the conversation. 

Relay Interpretation

Relay interpretation is a form of interpreting that involves multiple interpreters. It can be used for both simultaneous interpretation and consecutive interpretation. Essentially, it involves one interpreter translating a speaker’s words, then a second interpreter translating the first interpreter’s words. Let’s look at a couple of examples. 

Simultaneous Relay Interpretation

Simultaneous relay interpretation can be useful at conferences where there are multiple target languages or where an interpreter is unavailable for a particular language pairing. Imagine a conference is being delivered in Russian, but with delegates attending who speak English, Spanish, Mandarin and Portuguese. With a simultaneous relay arrangement, the first interpreter would take care of translating from Russian to English, with the others translating from English to Spanish, Mandarin and Portuguese. 

For the delegate’s perspective, there would be no indication that they weren’t listening to a standard simultaneous interpretation. 

Consecutive Relay Interpretation

A meeting where those present speak various minority languages is a good example of the need for consecutive relay interpretation. Each participant’s words can be translated into one language (such as English), then relayed to the individual listeners by the other interpreters, using the relevant minority tongues. 

Liaison Interpretation

A liaison interpreter is an interpreter who is engaged to act as a translator for two individuals. The liaison interpreter translates for each in turn, enabling them to converse freely and relatively fluidly. Liaison interpretation is a form of consecutive interpretation. 

In terms of a use case, picture a high-profile businessperson visiting the company of a fellow entrepreneur in a foreign country. The liaison interpreter would be available for the duration of the visit, accompanying the businessperson around the premises and translating as required. 

Escort or Travel Interpretation

Another type of consecutive interpretation, escort interpretation (also known as travel interpretation) is very similar to liaison interpretation. The difference is that these interpreter types are expected to accompany the client to a range of venues. That could include attending business dinners and business trips, sightseeing while overseas, attending cultural events and so forth. 

From the interpreter’s perspective, this can be an exciting way to see more of the world while also being paid to do so! 

Over the Phone Interpretation

Over the phone interpretation (OPI) does precisely what the name indicates – it’s a way of providing interpretation over the phone or via a video call. Understandably, this type of phone interpretation has seen a significant spike in demand as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read more about this by clicking the link below. 

An over the phone interpreter must be highly skilled at listening intently, as they lack the non-verbal conversational cues from which face-to-face interpreters benefit. The over the phone interpreter must also be knowledgeable in the subject matter being discussed, including familiarity with any industry-specific terms in both the source and the target language.  

OPI is the ideal way to facilitate conversations between business contacts in different countries who need to converse. Even before the novel coronavirus outbreak, businesses that wanted to save on the time and expense of a trip overseas would regularly turn to an over the phone interpreting company to meet their verbal translation needs. 

The cost of remote phone interpretation can also be attractive from a business perspective. The company won’t have to fund the travel costs and/or time of the interpreter outside of the time spent in the meeting itself. 

As with relay interpretation, OPI can be both simultaneous and consecutive. For a company exec giving an update to a staff team that speaks different languages, simultaneous over the phone interpretation would make most sense. Meanwhile, a company holding a partnership discussion with a new overseas contact is likely to need consecutive OPI. 

Read more: Phone Interpreters: Remote Interpretation in the Time of Pandemics

How to Know the Best Type of Interpretation for You

Are you still wondering which is the best type of interpretation to meet your business needs? Hopefully the above will have helped to guide your thinking. If you’re still unsure, though, think about the basics. What do you need interpretation services to achieve for your business and through what format of events?

If you’re going to be hosting an event where language translation only needs to work one way, such as a conference, then you will need simultaneous interpretation (including, potentially, relay interpretation). If, on the other hand, you want to hold a two-way conversation with speakers of other languages, then you will need some kind of consecutive interpretation service. 

How to Find the Right Interpreter

When it comes to finding the right interpreter types to meet your needs, it is definitely worth investing some of your time in the process. Don’t just opt for the first interpretation company you find on Google without doing any due diligence! Remember that the interpretation service that you use will be a reflection of your business. Your interpreter will essentially speak for you, so you need to be confident that you’ve hired someone with outstanding language credentials who can represent your business professionally and credibly. 

This means you need to be absolutely certain of the interpreter’s level of linguistic ability. Start by looking for interpretation services or freelance interpreters who have been well reviewed. Check that they relate to the specific language pairing(s) that you need, as well as mentioning other factors, such as attention to detail or customer service. 

It’s also key at this stage to look for an interpreter who has specialist subject/sector knowledge that relates to whatever it is that your business does. Do you use a lot of technical language? Is your product a medical one? Will the discussions for which you need an interpreter contain lots of legal phrases? Elements such as these all need to be accounted for when you’re looking for a language specialist to help you converse in other tongues. 

Freelance Interpreting Versus Interpretation Companies

You’ll need to consider whether you want to go down the route of using a translation and interpretation agency or whether you would feel more comfortable using a freelance interpreter. 

Each of these options has its merits. Freelancers can be extremely cost effective, particularly when they’re providing over the phone interpretation services rather than having to cover the cost of travel and its associated expenses (all out of your budget, naturally). 

Professional interpreting companies, on the other hand, provide plenty of flexibility. If your interpreter comes down with a stomach bug the night before your big event, the language service provider that you’re using should be able to quickly and easily find a replacement. If you use a freelancer, find a replacement will be very much on you to deal with! 

Final Thoughts

If your business wants to communicate its messages in other languages, you’re likely to need interpretation services (as well as translation and localization services to manage written content such as your website and marketing brochures). 

The language services that you use will speak volumes about your business. Are your interpreters skilled professionals who ensure that meetings run smoothly? If so, it’s a good indication to those with whom you are meeting, or to whom you are delivering an event, that you do things properly. 

An experienced interpreter will be able to play an unobtrusive role in almost all of your business settings. They have the potential to enable you to reach out the world with your ideas, services and products. 

Call the Tomedes team today to find out more about how best to meet your translation and interpretation needs.