What Are the Different Types of Interpretation?

April 1, 2024
What Are the Different Types of Interpretation?

Most global companies retain professional interpretation services to grow their business. What is interpretation used for in business? When forging new partnerships, managing logistics, and providing fulfillment, interpretation can mean the difference between success and failure. Discover which types of interpretation services you need to manage geographically and linguistically diverse teams, connect with customers around the globe, and more!

What Is the Meaning of Interpretation? Definition and Examples

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

Given the growing number of business needs that interpretation services meet, specialization within the industry has led to one type of interpretation innovation after another. Does your business know which interpretation service it needs? What types of interpretation should you choose, and how can you access them?

Discover the different interpretation types available and the interpreter types that will help your company achieve its goals. 

7 Types of Interpreting

Savvy business owners know that professional interpretation can help you close an international business deal, transmit information to a diverse audience, and avoid a culture clash that could damage your brand. Let’s look at the seven most common kinds of interpretation.

1. Simultaneous Interpretation

Simultaneous interpretation represents one of the most sought-after types of interpreting in the business world. What is simultaneous interpreting? Simultaneous interpreting involves delivering a speaker’s words in another language in real-time. 

A classic example of a simultaneous interpreter in action occurs at an international conference. The speaker takes the stage and speaks in their native tongue. In booths around the room, interpreters translate the speaker’s words so the audience can listen in different languages. 

What is simultaneous interpretation used for? The standard simultaneous interpretation definition relates to converting one language to another in real-time. The live aspect of simultaneous interpretation represents the key to its usefulness – the speaker does not have to modify the flow of their speech in any way. The speaker simply talks as they normally would, while professionals who underwent stringent simultaneous interpretation training deliver the words in other languages. A courteous speaker who has used a simultaneous translation service before will slow the pace of their speech a little. 

These types of interpreters must prove themselves expert linguists and quick thinkers. The work requires a lot of brainpower, so simultaneous interpreters often work in pairs. Both interpreters sit in the booth for the entire speech, working in shifts of 20-25 minutes. 

2. Consecutive Interpretation

Another popular type of interpretation is consecutive interpretation. What is consecutive interpretation? The standard consecutive interpretation definition refers to a process where the interpreter translates every sentence or two from the speaker. The speaker must pause every couple of sentences to give the consecutive interpreter time to deliver a translation. 

What is consecutive interpreting used for in the business world? In business, companies use consecutive interpretations for meetings! From a conversation between two individuals to discussions between much larger groups, consecutive interpreting facilitates conversations that would otherwise present challenges due to linguistic differences. 

As with simultaneous interpretation, consecutive interpretation training proves rigorous, ensuring only the most competent linguists find themselves in high-stake situations where they manage the flow of conversations in a discrete manner. Countless partnerships have formed while using consecutive interpreters. 

This type of interpreting performs well in person, on the telephone, and via video conferencing. The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic created a notable spike in demand for remote consecutive interpretation services during the first half of 2020. 

For individuals who work in translation but wish to move into interpretation, consecutive interpreting represents a viable first step. Discover more about moving from translation to an interpretation role by clicking the link below. 

Read more: How can a translator become an interpreter?

Would you like to speed things up? We made a video summary of the article just for you.

3. Whispered Interpretation

Borrowing the French word for “whispering,” chuchotage interpreting sees less use than simultaneous or consecutive interpreting. The whispered interpretation definition relates to an interpreter who works with one or two listeners in a room. As the speaker orates, the interpreter translates live by whispering in the listeners’ ears. 

You might encounter whispered interpretation in meetings where only one or two attendees speak another language. The interpreter discreetly ensures the listeners can keep up with the conversation. 

4. Relay Interpretation

Relay interpretation involves multiple interpreters during either simultaneous interpretation or consecutive interpretation. One interpreter translates a speaker’s words, and a second interpreter translates the first interpreter’s translation. Let’s look at a couple of examples. 

Simultaneous Relay Interpretation

Simultaneous relay interpretation works well at conferences with multiple target languages or anytime you can’t find an interpreter for a particular language pairing. 

Imagine a conference delivered in German with delegates attending who speak English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Portuguese. With simultaneous relay interpretation, the first interpreter would translate from German to English. Then, the other interpreters translate from English to Spanish, Mandarin, and Portuguese. From the delegates’ perspective, it would seem like a standard simultaneous interpretation. 

Consecutive Relay Interpretation

A meeting where attendees speak various minority languages presents the perfect opportunity for consecutive relay interpretation. The interpreters would translate the words of each participant into one language, such as English. Then, during pauses, the interpreters would relay the message to individual listeners after translating it from English to the relevant minority tongues. 

5. Liaison Interpretation

A liaison interpreter acts as a translator for two individuals as they speak in turns, enabling them to converse fluidly. Liaison interpretation represents a form of consecutive interpretation. 

Picture a high-profile businessperson visiting the company of a fellow entrepreneur in a foreign country. The liaison interpreter would accompany the businessperson for the entire visit, following them around the premises and translating as required. 

6. Escort or Travel Interpretation

Another type of consecutive interpretation, escort interpretation shares characteristics with liaison interpretation. Unlike liaison interpreters, travel interpreters accompany the client to several venues. An escort interpreter may go on business trips, attend business dinners, enjoy sightseeing with the client, or participate in cultural events. 

From the interpreter’s perspective, travel interpretation is an exciting way to see the world and get paid for doing it! 

7. Over-the-Phone Interpretation

Over-the-phone interpretation (OPI) occurs on the telephone or via video call. This type of interpretation saw a significant spike in demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read more about this phenomenon by clicking the link below. 

Over-the-phone interpreters must listen intently because they do not receive the non-verbal cues of a face-to-face conversation. The over-the-phone interpreter must understand the subject matter that the clients discuss, including industry-specific terms in the source and target language.  

OPI facilitates conversations between business contacts in different countries. Even before the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, businesses that wanted to save time and money turned over-the-phone interpreting companies to satisfy their oral translation needs. Remote phone interpretation appears attractive from a business perspective because companies avoid travel costs. 

Like relay interpretation, OPI works simultaneously or consecutively. For an executive updating a staff that speaks different languages, simultaneous over-the-phone interpretation makes the most sense. Meanwhile, a company holding a partnership discussion with a new overseas contact can make do with consecutive OPI. 

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

On Interpreting and Translation Services – How to Get the Best

How do you get the best type of interpretation for your needs? Consider the basics. What can interpretation services achieve for your company, and when?

If you plan to host an event where you only need one-way translation, like a conference, then simultaneous interpretation will do the trick. On the other hand, if you want to hold a two-way conversation with speakers of other languages, you should book a consecutive interpretation service. 

Find the Right Interpreter

Finding the right type of interpreter requires time and effort during the investigation phase. Do not hire the first interpretation company you find on Google without doing any due diligence unless you already know its reputation! 

The interpretation service you choose will reflect on your business. Your interpreter will speak for you, so you must feel confident that you hired someone with outstanding language credentials who can represent your business in a cordial, professional manner. 

Start by looking for interpretation services or freelance interpreters with many positive reviews. Make sure they work with the specific language pairing you need. Other factors, such as attention to detail and customer service remain crucial, as well. 

Search for an interpreter who specializes in your business niche. Do you use a lot of technical language? Do you sell medical products? Will you attend legal hearings with your interpreter? Consider all of the questions when looking for a language specialist to help you converse in other tongues. 

Freelance Interpreting vs. Interpretation Companies

Think about whether you want to engage an interpretation agency or use a freelance interpreter. Both options have their merits. Freelancers prove more cost-effective, especially for over-the-phone interpretation services. Then again, professional interpreting companies offer plenty of flexibility and reliable results.

If your agency interpreter comes down with a stomach bug the night before your big event, your language service provider should find a quick replacement. If your freelancer gets sick, finding a replacement in time may prove impossible! 


How do interpreters prepare for multilingual conferences, especially in simultaneous scenarios?

Interpreters prepare for multilingual events by researching the topics, understanding the context, and familiarizing themselves with specific terminologies to ensure accurate and effective communication during simultaneous interpretation.

How do consecutive interpreters maintain accuracy in long, complex messages?

In consecutive interpretation, interpreters rely on note-taking techniques and mnemonic devices to capture the essence of the speaker's message, ensuring they convey the content accurately and completely.

What challenges do whisper interpreters face in noisy settings and their solutions?

Whisper interpreters use specialized equipment, like whispering booths or wireless transmitters, to overcome environmental challenges, ensuring the message reaches the intended audience without disruption.

In what situations is liaison interpretation most effective, and how does it stand out?

Liaison interpretation is particularly effective in small group settings or one-on-one meetings, where the interpreter facilitates a two-way conversation, ensuring clear understanding and engagement between parties speaking different languages.

How do sign language interpreters manage fast speech or technical topics for clear communication with the audience?

Sign language interpreters prepare by understanding the subject matter, and they use strategies like asking the speaker to moderate their pace or clarify complex points, ensuring the deaf or hard-of-hearing audience receives a clear and accurate interpretation.

Final Thoughts

The language services that you select will speak volumes about your business. Hiring skilled interpreters who ensure meetings run smoothly sends a message to your counterparts that you do things properly. 

Your interpreter enables you to reach out to the world with your ideas, products, and services. Call Tomedes for a free consultation with one of our interpretation experts by dialing 985 239 0142 today.

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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