Simultaneous Versus Consecutive Interpreting: Exploring the Differences

May 26, 2019

When you book an interpreter for a session, do you have an expectation of what type of interpreting they will use or how they will go about conveying the information to your client? Professional interpreters will use one of two types of interpreting; either consecutive interpreting or simultaneous interpreting. Each type is suited to different scenarios and most interpreters will specialise in one over the other.

Read on to find out more, as Mission Translate explores the differences between these two types of interpreting and the skills required to ensure effective communication.


Simultaneous interpreting often takes place during conferences and can involve many interpreters simultaneously interpreting the source language into one of a number of different target languages. This type of interpreting is normally used when addressing a large number of people.  A typical example of when this type of interpreting requirement is used is the conferences for the European Commission. Simultaneous interpreting may also be required during live media broadcasts or during high profile court cases.

Consecutive interpreting normally takes place in smaller settings. An interpreter will interpret back and forth between two people, or sometimes between small groups of people. This type of interpreting is used in a variety of settings, for example during a medical consultation, a meeting with a solicitor or if there is a small business meeting where one or more of the participants do not speak the same language. Consecutive interpreting usually only involves one language pair, although occasionally when more than language pair is required, an interpreter may whisper information to a participant to avoid interruption or confusion.


At the European Commission, simultaneous interpreters work in sound-proof booths and receive the speakers sound via headsets. The interpreter then simultaneously interprets the content to a delegate, who selects their relevant language channel, whilst also being present with the speaker. A simultaneous interpreter will normally interpret in just one direction from a specified source language to a target language; therefore this type of interpreting is not interactive between the speaker and delegate/listener.

This type of interpreting requires a specialist set-up with microphones, headsets and wiring to special sound-proofed booths. Normally cameras and screens are also required for the interpreters to have sight of the speaker.

The term simultaneous interpreting is slightly misleading, as it is impossible to interpret at exactly the same time as the speaker. Instead, an interpreter will listen to a sentence or phrase for long enough until the meaning of that section of speech is conveyed and then interpret it to the listener. The reason it is simultaneous is because whilst interpreting to the listener, the interpreter has to listen to and comprehend the next section of speech, as there will be no pause from the speaker.

Unlike simultaneous interpreting, consecutive interpreting takes place with the interpreter present in the same room as the other participants and in this instance, no specialist equipment is required. One person speaks and once a few sentences have been communicated, they will pause and the interpreter will interpret the information to the other person/people. The interpreter will then also interpret any responses back. An interpreter will often use a notepad to assist with the recall of the information.

Skills required?

Completing simultaneous interpreting demands a very high level of concentration.  As you can imagine, there is a large amount of information that the brain is required to process in a relatively short space of time. For this reason, these interpreters can only work effectively for twenty to thirty minutes before requiring a break.

A simultaneous interpreter also needs to be decisive in their interpreting. There is no time to reflect upon their best choice of words. Any pause in interpreting and the next chunk of dialogue is missed. And in a conference setting such as the EC, there is certainly no opportunity to halt the speaker and ask them to repeat what they have just said!

Consecutive interpreters develop their own method of note-taking that allows them to quickly and effectively interpret ideas from one speaker to another. Although, they have more time to reflect on the phrasing that they use, the method they develop still has to be efficient enough to enable the conversation too flow as smoothly as possible.

Although a consecutive interpreter is present with the participants of a session, they still aim to be as inconspicuous as possible. Eye contact and direction of speech should always be between the two speakers, with the interpreter simply providing the conversion of the information. Professional interpreters will be experienced in this role, but for those participating in the session, who perhaps are not used to working with interpreters, initially the experience can be a little unnatural.

Mission Translate has an extensive database of both consecutive and simultaneous interpreters in over 250 languages. If your organisation is faced with a language barrier and would like further information on how to book one of our professionals, please visit our website or give us a call. Our team are always happy to meet your requirements.

By Lorna Paice

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