5 Major Types of Conference Interpretation: How They Differ, and When You’ll Need Each One

Discover the 5 major types of conference interpretation and when to use each one for your event's success.

If you are an event organizer who has gone to great lengths to invite the best speakers and experts, you will want to make the best of it by delivering their words to the audience as efficiently as possible. After all, a message is only as effective as the way it is delivered—making interpretation the lifeblood of global conferences.

And choosing the right interpretation type for your event? It’s the difference between a productive exchange of ideas and a muddled, unproductive takeaway.

In this article, we’ll explore the 5 major types of interpretation that are most relevant to conference and event organizers, what they are, differences between them, and their best use cases to level up your event!

Types of interpretation

Lots of right choices go into a successful international conferences and meetings—from meticulous preparation to expert involvement—but one choice that is often overlooked is the type of interpretation to be deployed. It’s not just about hiring skilled interpreters, but ensuring their expertise aligns with the event’s needs.

That’s why it’s essential for event organizers to be well-acquainted with various interpretation styles, from simultaneous and consecutive to whispering, shorthand, and remote methods. Each method is an ideal match for a certain type of event, and knowing what type yours requires is crucial to its success.

Let’s demystify these different interpretation types and better understand their usage together!

1. Simultaneous interpretation

What is simultaneous interpretation?

Simultaneous interpretation is the real-time interpretation of a speaker’s words as they happen, allowing participants to understand the message as it is delivered. This efficient type of interpretation almost completely removes delays and ensures smooth, seamless discussions and understanding.

This type of interpreting is one of the most challenging out there as it requires decisive action, a clear thought process, and a mind built for multitasking.

When to use simultaneous interpretation?

Simultaneous interpretation is most often used where the flow of discussion is the highest priority and where a lot of ideas are exchanged very quickly, so it lends itself to academic and business conferences with back-to-back sessions.

1. International Academic Conferences

International academic conferences, by their nature, bring together individuals from diverse cultures and language groups with one single goal in mind: to exchange expertise and/or deliver a message.

Interpreting for highly technical international conferences can pose a challenge. This is why specialized professional conference interpreters familiar with a field’s jargon are highly sought after, as they ensure smooth communication and enable attendees to fully participate and contribute to the discussions.

2. International Business Conferences

In business conferences, experts in a particular sector gather to discuss new trends, business opportunities, and what lies on the horizon of their field. Many attendees from various organizations also use such opportunities to deliver presentations and pitches, often followed by questions from potential investors.

Their fast-paced environment and free-form exchange of ideas make them a good fit for simultaneous interpretation.

The need for soundproof booths and special equipment

Unlike other modes of interpreting where the event organizers only need to provide basic equipment, simultaneous interpreting requires quality, specialized equipment.

Equipment you will need for simultaneous interpretation include:

  • A soundproof booth
  • Headsets and mics for interpreters
  • Receivers for the audience
  • Quality broadcasting system

With the right equipment, you can minimize disturbance from the hustle and bustle happening at the event, allowing the interpreters to focus solely on the speaker’s words.

After all, it’s no fun to meticulously prepare everything only for the most important talk to be delayed because of an IT issue.

The benefits of simultaneous interpretation

  • It keeps the flow of discussion going. Because simultaneous interpretation is nearly live, attendees will never feel like it’s too late to engage with the speaker or raise a point they otherwise couldn’t.
  • It’s quick, concise, and to the point. Simultaneous interpreters are trained to work as fast as possible while still being as accurate as possible, lending this type of interpretation an edge in business meetings and international conferences where time is of the essence.

2. Consecutive interpretation

What is consecutive interpretation?

Consecutive interpretation is a delayed type of interpretation where the speaker stops after a paragraph or two, allowing the interpreter to step in and render their thoughts to the audience in the target language.

This type of interpretation is more organized and deliberate than simultaneous interpretation because the interpreter has time to prepare, so it is best used where the exact words and the way they’re delivered matter most.

Moreover, compared to simultaneous interpretation, consecutive interpretation requires less hassle around the equipment, as there is no need to deal with booth setups.

When to use consecutive interpretation?

Compared to simultaneous interpretation, consecutive interpretation is a more structured type of interpretation that is used in various settings where a direct, sequential exchange of information is necessary.

1. Business meetings and interviews

Consecutive interpretation is suitable for events like business meetings and interviews (although, depending on the size of the audience, whispering might also be used). It requires interpreters with a deep understanding of business jargon and expertise in the field.

Beyond language, consecutive interpretation also helps bridge cultural gaps as well. It allows for a more conversational flow, where participants can seek clarification to be on the same page. This highlights its importance in business and interpersonal contexts.

2. Legal/Medical

Consecutive interpretation allows the interpreter to fully comprehend the meaning of the message before conveying it. This can be crucial in legal or medical contexts where details matter and misunderstandings can have significant consequences.

Also, legal and medical discussions often involve the presentation of detailed information and nuanced arguments. Consecutive interpretation permits a clear and detailed transfer of information, ensuring that nothing is overlooked or misunderstood.

The Benefits of Consecutive Interpretation

  • It shines where every word matters. By design, consecutive interpreters get more time to organize their thoughts and to put their translations together neatly, which leads to a minimal risk of error.
  • It facilitates effective communication. The sequential nature of consecutive interpretation enables effective communication by providing pauses for participants to process information, ask questions, and seek clarifications.
  • A booth set-up is not required. A big plus of consecutively interpreting an event is that you don’t have to worry about setting up a booth and the audio system.

3. Whispering

What is whispering Interpretation?

Whispering interpretation is a type of interpretation that is used for a variety of situations, mainly:

  • Small-scale meetings or events
  • Larger meetings or events where only a handful need interpretation
  • Small groups that need interpretation on the move

The interpreter usually sits in close proximity to the small group of audience and delivers the translation at a low volume so as to not disturb the flow of the conversation. In other cases, the interpreter delivers the interpretation to the audience via a portable microphone and broadcasts the translation directly to the audience via headphones.

When to use whispering interpretation?

Whispered interpretation is ideal for small events where a small number of audience requires interpretation, be they negotiations or meetings.

It’s also used as a fallback in case a full audio setup for simultaneous interpretation is not available, but it must be stressed that it can only work at its best in small-scale events.

The benefits of whispered interpretation

  • Special equipment is often not required. Because whispered interpreters often work with a small audience, they rarely need specialized equipment to do their job. Even when the equipment is required, it’s rarely a hassle to set up. Mic-receiver sets are portable and practical as long as the interpreter is reasonably close to the listeners.
  • It doesn’t disturb the discussion. The speaker can keep talking while the interpreter delivers their translation, which makes it perfect for international business negotiations or meetings.

4. Shorthand (subtitles)

What is interpretation with shorthand?

Simultaneous interpretation with shorthand is a combination that has become popular recently to deliver the speaker’s message in real time both through interpretation and written texts.

It involves the stenographer capturing the main points, essential ideas, and key details expressed by the simultaneous interpreter and relaying them to the online audience in the form of subtitles.

When to use shorthand?

Interpretation with shorthand for subtitles is quickly becoming the go-to choice for hybrid (on-site + online) event organizers. It enables event organizers to provide both simultaneous interpretation for the in-person attendees and subtitles for those watching online.

The benefits of shorthand

  • You kill two birds with one stone. Shorthand interpretation allows event organizers to efficiently provide simultaneous interpretation and written subtitles at the same time.
  • You can improve accessibility. Subtitling your online event instantly makes it accessible to a wider audience including individuals who have difficulties hearing.

5. Remote interpretation

What is remote interpretation?

Remote interpretation refers to interpretation from a location that is separate from the participants in the conversation or event. Instead of being physically present, the interpreter works remotely, often using technology to connect with the speakers and listeners. This approach has become increasingly prevalent due to advancements in communication technology.

Types of remote interpretation

  1. Over-the-Phone Interpretation (OPI): Interpreters provide their services over the phone. Participants in the conversation can be in the same location or dispersed geographically.
  2. Video Remote Interpretation (VRI): Interpreters deliver their services through video conferencing platforms. This method allows for visual communication and is particularly useful when non-verbal cues are important.
  3. Web-Based Platforms: Some platforms are designed specifically for remote interpretation, allowing interpreters to connect with participants over the internet. These platforms may support various languages and provide features like document sharing.

When to use remote interpretation?

Remote interpretation is an extremely versatile service, making it ideal for multiple scenarios where the mold doesn’t quite fit any of the previously mentioned services.

  1. Online meetings and conferences In virtual or hybrid meetings, conferences, or business negotiations involving participants from diverse locations, remote interpretation platforms can be employed to facilitate communication in multiple languages.
  2. Emergency or Urgent Situations In emergency situations, such as medical emergencies or crisis response, remote interpretation allows for quick access to language services without the time constraints associated with travel.
  3. Limited Availability of Local Interpreters In regions where there is a shortage of qualified interpreters, especially for less commonly spoken languages, remote interpretation can be a practical solution to ensure access to language services.

The benefits of remote interpretation

  • International teams are perfectly suited for it. When your team is all around the globe and you’re already doing your meetings online, you already have your set-up ready for a remote interpreter!
  • It levels up your pool of choices. Talent that is otherwise hard to hire due to geographical or budgetary constraints becomes accessible the moment you consider remotely interpreting your event.
  • It’s accessible anywhere, anytime. It doesn’t matter where you need it or when you need it. Because they don’t need to commute to any office, remote interpreters can be very helpful in last-minute situations.

Have you figured out what type of interpretation your event needs?

If you have, perfect! Let’s start preparing to make your event one to remember.

If you haven’t, don’t fret! We’re more than happy to lend you a hand. Let us know the details and we’ll let you know exactly what you need.

At JOEL Localization, our expert language professionals help event and conference organizers break into the Korean market one word at a time.

Shoot us an e-mail to get a free quote and to find out how we can make your event a success!

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