What do interpreters do?

diverse people showing speech bubble symbols

Following our previous post on the difference between ‘translation’ and ‘interpreting’, this post takes a closer look at the work of interpreters. While translators work with written texts, interpreters verbally translate the spoken word. Apart from their native languages(s), they are highly proficient in at least one other language and are able to alternate between languages rapidly.

If your business needs interpreting services, you should be aware that there are different modes of interpreting which you can choose from according to the setting and requirements of an assignment.

Consecutive interpreting

The first mode is called consecutive interpreting, where the speaker and the interpreter alternate. After each short unit of speech, ideally a few sentences at a time, the interpreter orally translates what has been said. Interpreters use note-taking methods to ensure accuracy, and thanks to training and experience, they are able to retain and quickly translate chunks of information. Consecutive interpreting works well in business settings as the interpreter can provide an instant translation to all parties, as well as for public sector interpreting, such as medical appointments or police interviews. Apart from a notebook and water, consecutive interpreters may bring their dictionaries or glossaries to assignments.

Simultaneous interpreting

The second type of interpreting is simultaneous or conference interpreting, where an interpreter verbally translates what is being said in real-time. This means they must listen to what is being said, take notes as required, mentally translate what is being said into another language, and then communicate this translation to the listeners – all within a matter of seconds! Conference interpreters work in soundproof booths using a microphone and headset, and delegates are given earpieces allowing them to listen to the interpreters.

interpreting booth at the European Parliament
Inside an interpreting booth at the European Parliament ©European Union 2013 – European Parliament

As the interpreter delivers an instant translation, there is no need for the speakers to stop at intervals to wait for a translation, which is why simultaneous interpreting works well for large conferences in particular. However, this mode of interpreting is exhausting so interpreters work in pairs and relieve each other at regular intervals. If an interpreter works for very long stretches alone, there is a higher risk of fatigue, which can result in translation omissions or errors.

Interpreters provide an essential service by enabling communication across people of different languages and cultures. Even in challenging or sensitive situations, interpreters remain impartial and continue to fulfil their role professionally. Providing them with a detailed brief in advance and ensuring their working conditions are comfortable therefore helps them prepare and do their job as effectively as possible. To find more information about our interpreting services, please click here.