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Primer: Difference between consecutive and simultaneous interpreting (medical translation)Medical device and pharmaceutical companies are realizing that they require more and more "live" translation help (aka interpreting). From assistance with audits to international conferences to support for executives to legal proceedings, many drug and device companies may do not understand exactly what is needed.

What is the difference between consecutive and simultaneous interpreting?

Consecutive interpreting
In consecutive interpreting, the interpreter speaks after the source language speaker has finished speaking. The speech is divided into segments, and the interpreter sits or stands beside the speaker, listening and taking notes as he/she progresses through the message.

When the speaker pauses or finishes speaking, the interpreter then translates a portion of the message or the entire message into the target language. Many interpreters are trained in special note-taking and memory techniques that allow them to accurately render longer passages (sometimes up to six minutes).

Consecutive interpretation is best suited for situations involving a small number of people, or where a personal touch is required. Examples would be business meetings, press conferences, interviews, teleconferences, or any type of one-on-one exchange.

Simultaneous interpreting
In simultaneous interpreting, the interpreter translates the message into the target language as quickly as she can formulate it from the source language, while the source language speaker continuously speaks; the interpreter (usually sitting in a sound-proof booth) speaks into a microphone, while clearly seeing and hearing (via earphones) the speaker. The interpretation is transmitted to the target language listeners via their own sets of earphones. Two interpreters are usually needed for all simultaneous interpreting work due to the high intensity of the task.

Simultaneous interpreting is both a mentally and physically taxing task. People do not realize that an interpreter uses at least 22 complex cognitive skills while interpreting. It requires a high degree of concentration to listen, process, and convey ideas (not just words) coherently in another language, while concurrently listening to what is being said next.

Research has shown that after 25 minutes, the accuracy and completeness of simultaneous interpreters decrease sharply. The human mind cannot hold the needed level of focused concentration much longer than that.

Many simultaneous interpreters, fearful of not getting work or being perceived as unqualified, will work alone for extended periods of time. Consequently, they are not able to correct themselves, since their ability to recognize errors is also impaired. This can lead to serious and sometimes critical misinterpretations that can negatively impact others. Imagine misinterpreting a witness’ testimony in a court of law!

Other types of interpreting
Two less-known modes of interpreting are sight interpreting and summary interpreting.

Sight interpreting is "the rendering of material written in one language into spoken speech in another language" [PDF link]. These frequently occur in legal settings but can also be used when translating hand-written information, for instance, an interpreter can dictate translated information from clinical patient diaries for later transcription.

Summary interpreting is paraphrasing and condensing the speaker's statement [PDF link]. Unlike simultaneous and consecutive interpreting, this method does not provide a precise rendering of everything that is said into the target language. While summary interpreting may be inappropriate for court settings [PDF link], it is useful during quality audits and site visits.

One final point
Although some professionals offer both translation and interpreting support, they are really two different professions.

Interpreters deal with spoken words, translators with written words. Each task requires a distinct set of skills and aptitudes, and most people are better suited for one or the other. While interpreters often interpret into and from both languages, translators generally translate only into their native language.

For more interpreting-related information, take a look at the following:

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  1. cgtradmed said...
    And what about whispering, not in a horse's ear :-), but as an interpreting method? Is it still in use? In which context, places, etc.?
    Paulina said...
    I guess it is still in use, e.g. when there is a conference where only one participant doesn't know the language and setting up a booth wouldn't make much sense.
    Courtney said...
    There are two free, 30-minute online courses for interpreter and translator users at www.SpeakYOURLanguages.com/training.
    The three additional courses for untrained translators and interpreters at this site also provide answers to questions about different modes of interpreting.
    Anonymous said...
    WHISPERED SIMULTANEOUS INTERPRETATION http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/scic/what-is-conference-interpreting/whispering/index_en.htm

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