Simultaneous Translation Services: Past, Present and Future

March 20, 2023

Simultaneous translation services, also known as real-time translation or simultaneous interpretation, refer to the process of interpreting and conveying the meaning of spoken language from one language to another in real time. This type of translation has become increasingly important in our globalised world, where businesses, governments, and individuals frequently communicate across language barriers.

With the advent of technology, the field of simultaneous translation has undergone a significant transformation. In this blog, we will explore the history, present state, and future of simultaneous translation services and how human translators and technology can align to offer a better service.

conference, simultaneous translation services

The Past: Analog Simultaneous Translation Services

Simultaneous translation services have been around since the early 20th century. Previously, communication across language barriers relied on consecutive interpreting services, where only one or two sentences were relayed at a time. This method was laborious and timely for lengthy meetings or discussions.

At the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, Col. Leon Dostert came up with the idea of using microphones and headsets to listen, interpret, and deliver accurate, multilingual dialogue in real-time to speed up the trial. Interpreters sat in booths, using simultaneous translation to communicate the proceedings from German to English and other languages.

The success of simultaneous translation at the Nuremberg Trials led to its adoption by international organisations such as the United Nations, which uses simultaneous translation to interpret speeches and meetings in multiple languages.

Early versions of headsets and microphones were relatively primitive. Interpreters regularly shared microphones and had to deal with poor sound quality. The booths were also basic, with often little room to move around.

The process of simultaneous translation required (and still requires) not only significant skill but also huge amounts of concentration, with the necessary speed making it incredibly draining. Therefore, simultaneous interpreters often work in teams, allowing each person to take regular breaks.

united nations

The Present: Simultaneous Translation in the Digital Age

Today, digital technology has made the job of simultaneous translation somewhat easier. Soundproof booths and sophisticated headphones and microphones reduce background noise, providing interpreters and audiences with optimum sound quality. Interpreters no longer need to bring huge files containing glossaries and background information; instead, the information they require is stored digitally and accessed via tablets or digital notepads.

Another significant move forward in simultaneous translation services is the use of remote interpreting, using various specialist web conferencing software. As is common in many other areas of our daily lives, simultaneous interpreters can now provide their services remotely, logging onto sessions instead of attending in person. This technology delivers excellent benefits, such as improvements in cost-efficiency and language availability.

The Future: AI versus Humans

Like many other sectors, the translation industry has seen considerable advances in digital technology, with the emergence of AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning and virtual reality technology particularly interesting.

We’ve written previously about translation technology, such as machine translation, and how it is still not yet at a place where its output quality can replace humans. The same argument applies here. One of the most significant pitfalls of machine translation tools is their lack of accuracy when interpreting context and cultural nuances. Machine tools cannot account for idiomatic expressions or cultural differences, often leading to incorrect translations that can be confusing or even offensive to listeners. Therefore, human translators are still needed to verify quality and ensure any communication is appropriate for the target audience.

As well as the integration of machine learning and AI into simultaneous translation services, another interesting area of development is the potential use of virtual and augmented reality technologies. With virtual reality headsets, interpreters could immerse themselves in a virtual environment where they can see and hear the speakers more clearly. This process could enable them to provide more accurate and efficient translations in real-time.

As technology continues to drive innovation in this field, it is a fascinating space to watch!

video conference

With our world becoming increasingly globalised, the need for seamless communication across language barriers will only continue to grow. Simultaneous translation services will play a crucial role in bridging these language gaps, and with new technology, the service is only likely to improve and become more accessible.

Mission Translate offers high-quality in-person and remote simultaneous translation as part of our language services. To find out more, please get in touch with our team.

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