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7 Types of Interpretation You Have to Know

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8 min

Interpretation has constantly been evolving depending on the organizational needs. The three basic interpretation modes are simultaneous interpretation (SI), consecutive interpretation, and whispered interpretation. 

However, linguists suggest there are more than simultaneous interpretation, consecutive interpretation, and whispered interpretation to interpretation modes. Ready to jump into the world of interpreting right away? 

Here are 7 key types of interpretation you can’t miss: 

Simultaneous Interpretation

Simultaneous interpreters translate the speech in their head and deliver it in the preferred language instantly, with a minimum delay, in a matter of milliseconds. It requires immediate comprehension from the audience and speaker as the original speech continues with no interruptions.

Commonly referred to as conference interpreting, simultaneous interpretation has high demand mainly because it saves time and engages diverse audiences. Besides large-scale conferences and business meetings, governmental institutions such as European Commission, European Parliament, United Nations, and others use this mode the most to connect meaningfully despite the language barriers. 

Remote simultaneous interpretation (RSI)

Simultaneous interpretation is the most challenging mode for interpreters. They have minimal time, but it doesn’t stop them from staying in the same tone and register as the speaker. As stressful as it would look, in the long term, simultaneous interpretation actually contributes to the interpreter's ability to perform dual-tasks, thus multitasking. You might not see the changes immediately, but you’re likely to benefit from them in the future!

Right now, this mode is getting even more attention with its remote applications. Remote simultaneous interpretation (RSI) can be done entirely virtually or in a hybrid set-up with some interpreters working in booths at the venue and remotely from home at the same time. RSI platforms like Interactio also provide live statistics, dedicated support, event recordings, and more to boost user experience. 

Curious to learn more about remote simultaneous interpretation? Read What is RSI? Remote simultaneous interpretation: Complete guide

Consecutive Interpretation

Consecutive interpretation mode relies heavily on taking structured notes. When used at on-site events, consecutive interpretation can only occur if an interpreter stands in close proximity to the presenter. While the speaker delivers a speech, the interpreter remains silent for a few sentences. The original speaker has to take a pause every few sentences as the interpreter constantly interrupts the speech to deliver it in the target language. 

Since the interpreter and the speaker have to take turns during consecutive interpretation, event duration increases, and audience engagement drops. These are the key reasons why consecutive interpretation loses in popularity to simultaneous interpretation.

To maintain audience engagement against all the odds, consecutive interpreters rely on their short-term memory a lot. After reading their notes, they need a lot of practice to deliver the message concisely. Though active listening is a significant part of interpretation, it differs from your regular talk with a friend. When listening, a consecutive interpreter’s goal is to remember and reproduce the meaning with the highest accuracy possible - a task that takes a lifetime to master. 

Whispered Interpretation

Whispered interpretation is also called chuchotage (whispering in French). A whispered interpreter interprets the message in their head and “whispers” it to the client. The interpreter leans over and communicates the message in a client’s preferred language in a quiet voice. Just like simultaneous interpretation mode, whispered interpreting carries the challenge of immediate understanding: you have to listen, understand, translate and deliver the speech at the same time.

While it can be suitable for smaller meetings, whispered interpretation is hard to imagine at large-scale events such as conferences. Imagine what would happen if all 300 delegates at a governmental session had their personal whispered interpreter! The process of communication would become chaotic, with 300 interpreters and 300 clients constantly whispering to each other. 

Relay Interpretation

Relay interpretation is your best mode when there are no interpreters available for a particular language pair. For example, if Finnish to Latvian interpreters are missing, a mediating process could take place. In this case, a Finnish interpreter would interpret the speech into a more commonly spoken language - English. Another interpreter would provide English to Latvian interpretation, thus covering the rarely spoken language. 

Relay interpretation requires precision and synchronization, and interpreters can do it both simultaneously and consecutively. The downside of relay interpreting is long delays: on average, relay interpretation is longer than any other mode of interpretation. 

Liaison Interpretation

Liaison, as a process, is established as a close working relationship between people or organizations. It is the most informal mode of interpretation that can lack some accuracy when compared to consecutive interpretation. Word-to-word interpreting is not required here.

The main goal of liaison interpreters is to build connections during small meetings or business negotiations when clients do not speak each other's language. Also known as dialog interpretation, liaison interpretation generally takes place between two to four clients. The focus of liaison interpreting is fostering relationships and successful negotiations rather than communicating the essence of every word. This is the reason why liaison interpreting is the least precise interpretation mode.

Travel Interpretation

Travel interpretation (also known as escort interpretation) is a mode of interpretation that stands out from others from a cultural perspective. Travel interpreter accompanies the client to the previously agreed destination and helps them overcome the language barrier through interpretation. Travel interpreter is responsible for interpreting from language A to language B and (frequently!) handling client’s administrative tasks during the trips. That’s why clients in need of travel interpretation select interpreters based on various aspects: personality, languages spoken, cultural knowledge, and understanding of the location to which a client is traveling.

Over-the-Phone Interpretation

Over-the-phone interpreting (OPI) is one of the remote interpretation services. Such service providers tend to operate in more than 100 languages. Governmental institutions often use OPI on occasions related to healthcare or public concerns in countries like the United States. 

However, there are some disadvantages: users and interpreters can’t see the speaker. Body language and facial expressions play a huge role in interpreting. Another aspect arises from the technology itself - interpreting over the phone is usually followed by background noise.

There is another thing to highlight: over-the-phone conversations do not take a very long time. They are specialized and usually don’t go into the depths of a matter. However, if that would be the case, OPI interpretation wouldn’t be the best choice. Wondering why? Connected on the phone, interpreters don’t see the client's emotions and other non-verbal cues, which leads to confusion, long pauses, and interruptions on both sides. 

After all, it’s worth mentioning that these 7 types are sometimes called differently among clients and service providers. Don’t worry if you come across a whole different type of interpreting that wasn’t discussed here - we are here to keep you updated.

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Published on

October 6, 2021

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