5 October 2021

The differences between simultaneous and consecutive interpreting

Categoria: Linguistic Services

Simultaneous and consecutive interpreting are the best-known types of interpreting, but there are major differences between them.

Before examining them, it is worth reviewing what is meant by the term “interpreting”. Interpreting involves verbal translation of a communication from one language to another. At conventions and conferences, it usually takes the form of the two specialized techniques interpreters use in their work: simultaneous interpreting and consecutive interpreting.

The main goal of interpreting is to facilitate transmission and understanding of a message by translating it from one language to another. This aim is achieved through approaches, methods and techniques that vary depending on the context and the customer’s needs.

Let’s take a look at the differences between simultaneous and consecutive interpreting.


The main difference between simultaneous and consecutive involves time.

In simultaneous, the interpreter translates the speaker’s words almost perfectly in sync with their delivery so as to avoid pauses and interruptions in the speaker’s discourse. By contrast, in consecutive the interpreter allows the speaker to talk for 5-10 minutes, takes notes and then, during a break in their speech, translates all of the expounded concepts.

This does not mean that simultaneous interpreting is perfectly synchronized with the speaker’s speech; there is always a time lag, albeit minimal, between the speaker’s delivery and the interpreter’s translation. However, the break that occurs in this case is almost imperceptible compared to the break in consecutive.

Consecutive interpreting requires the speaker to pause after expressing one or more concepts so that the interpreter can relay what has just been uttered to listeners. This dynamic therefore involves a time delay, allowing the professional to take notes, rework the text and express it in the target language in the best form so that the message is not affected by linguistic or cultural bias.

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Simultaneous interpreting does not involve a gap in time to rework the text. The translation must be immediate, so the translated version will usually be more literal and less polished than the result obtained by consecutive interpreting.

The time factor is connected to a second difference between simultaneous and consecutive interpreting: the number of interpreters.

A team of two interpreters usually works in the simultaneous interpreting booth, continuously taking turns to translate through the microphone in real time. This type of interpreting can be mentally exhausting in terms of memory, energy and concentration, so — to maintain a high level of performance — it is necessary to take turns and have constant support from a colleague.

Although the interpreter will be well versed in the subject matter of the speech, they may need help translating very technical terms for which they do not know the exact counterpart in the other language, or support in writing down figures and numbers when the speaker is listing them in bursts, which is why it is necessary to work in pairs to provide this service.

Consecutive interpreting involves a very different situation and dynamic.

In this case, a single interpreter is adequate to translate the verbal exchange between participants in short events such as a press conference or an interview. Since, in this instance, the interpreter does not have to translate the speech in real time, they can take notes on what is being said and then rephrase the translation more calmly, recalling terms that they might have overlooked if it were simultaneous.

The different contexts in which the two types of interpretation are delivered also permit us to define a third difference: the tools used.

Simultaneous interpreting requires specific equipment: soundproof booths for interpreters, microphones and headphones. In consecutive interpreting, on the other hand, you only need a notepad (recently replaced by a tablet) on which to transcribe, with the aid of symbols, the concepts expressed by the speaker in a way that correctly translates the speech without missing any relevant information.

What type to choose and when

Simultaneous and consecutive interpreting techniques are very different from each other so they are naturally used in very distinct contexts.

Simultaneous is the perfect interpreting service to use at large events such as conferences, congresses and conventions with an audience in the room. Simultaneous interpreting is the easiest and fastest way for the speaker(s) to communicate with a large number of people who may speak different languages.

In these circumstances, the translation booth is positioned in a way that provides the interpreters with a clear and complete view of the location and especially of the speakers. Translating a speech not only means transposing the words uttered by the speaker into another language, but also giving the listener the same tone and nuance as in the original delivery.

Observing the non-verbal language of the speaker — their gestures and gaze — helps the interpreter to tune into the speaker’s words and convey, in addition to information, the same feelings and emotions to the audience.

Consecutive interpreting, on the other hand, is often used in small meetings with few participants and a short duration, where there is direct contact with the speaker.

The continuous alternation between speaker and interpreter in these conditions is smooth and natural, without undermining the dynamics of the event, though it may not be appropriate in the case of a large audience, multiple speakers and a prolonged event.

Having clarified the characteristics and context that favor simultaneous rather than consecutive interpreting, however, it should be added that, in addition to the approaches we have outlined above, there are also other interpreting methods — such as whispered interpreting (sometimes called chuchotage), tour-guide style interpreting (sometimes called bidule), liaison interpreting, relay interpreting — and sometimes working conditions can be atypical and hybrid, making it difficult to know which is most suitable.

This is why at Way2Global we are always willing to assist those seeking interpreting services in choosing the best method for their needs.

Our range of services includes all types of interpreting and our team consists of native speakers specialized in our target sectors, covering every country in the world. They are coordinated by our Project Managers, who also specialize in managing interpreting services all over the world.


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