Common Types of Interpreting

Interpreting is an increasingly important skill as the world becomes smaller and more interconnected. Interpreters have much in common with translators, at least because they need to know the languages they interpret fluently and are specialised in one of the several different fields of interpreting.

Types of Interpreting

Professional interpreters tend to opt for one or more different types of interpreting. They all involve careful listening skills and an ability to deliver the interpreted version of the speech they are listening to relatively quickly.

The following is an overview of some of the more common types of interpreting

 #1 Simultaneous or Conference Style Interpreting

This is the sort of interpreting which is used in all the main international meetings and conferences. It is used, for example, at United Nations General and Special Assemblies, and the World Economic Forum in Davos. These are venues where dozens, sometimes hundreds, of different people attend. It is not practical or fair for all of these people to choose one particular language, so instead there is a sophisticated and quite complicated interpreting system used instead.

In a simultaneous interpreting system, interpreters are often located in a different room from the main conference yet have access to the speakers and excellent audio reception. As the speakers speak in their own language, each interpreter who has been chosen for a specific language pair converts what is spoken into the target language which is relayed via headphones to other speakers so they can understand what is being said. One of the challenges of being a simultaneous interpreter is to keep up with the flow of the speaker as that speaker is actually speaking.

#2 Whisper Interpreting

Whisper interpreting is a variation of simultaneous interpreting which is used in much smaller venues where the interpreter is physically close to the person they are interpreting for. The interpreter listens carefully to the main speaker and ‘whispers’ what is being said in the ear of the person they are sitting next to who cannot understand what the speaker is saying. Similar skills are needed as those of the simultaneous interpreter.

#3 Consecutive or Business Meeting Interpreting

Consecutive interpreting is similar in some ways to simultaneous interpreting but it is much more likely that the interpreter is physically present in the same place as the people who wish to communicate with each other. One of the speakers usually talks for a few minutes while the interpreter listens carefully and takes notes about what is being said. Then the speaker stops and the interpreter does their best to convey the meaning of what has been said in that time, using the notes they have made. This is the sort of interpreting that is common when smaller numbers of people get together at a meeting. There may only be a need for a single interpreter present to do the interpreting between two different languages. Business meetings, court appearances and interactions between hospital personnel and patients in a hospital setting are typical examples of where consecutive interpreting takes place.

#4 Over-The-Phone Interpreting

This is a service that may be provided commercially or is something that is offered by a government department in a country in which it is usual for some people to find it hard to understand the official language, such as migrants, asylum seekers or refugees.

Business people may use a commercial phone interpreting service when they want to communicate with clients or business associates who use another language other than their own. It may be a scheduled service or one that is provided on demand. Basically, one speaker talks into the phone which has a three-way hook-up, so that the phone interpreter can translate what the first speaker is saying to a second speaker. Usually, this is a form of consecutive interpreting, so each speaker would typically speak for a short period, and then the interpreter would relay what that person is saying to the other person.

A variation of phone interpreting is a video conferencing setup in which the interpreter and the two or more speakers have both audio and visual contact.

Phone interpreting tends to be somewhat less accurate than interpreting that takes place when visual contact is possible as the interpreter cannot use body language and visual facial clues as to the nuances of what is being said.

#5 Escort Interpreting

This is something that a large organisation may provide for any of their personnel who regularly travel overseas, or it may be provided by a host business or government agency or organisation to help communication when someone is visiting from overseas.

The escort is a specialised interpreter who accompanies someone wherever they go on official business when they are away from home in a place where they would find it difficult to communicate because of a language barrier. The style of interpreting is similar to that of consecutive interpreting. One advantage of this type of interpreting is that the interpreter and the person they interpret forget to know the way they talk much better, making interpreting accuracy much more effective.