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Exploring languages and cultures
Exploring languages and cultures

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5.3 Methods of interpreting

Interpreting can itself take many forms, depending on the languages that need to be translated into and from, the number of speakers and listeners involved, the facilities available, the formality of the occasion, and so on.

  • In simultaneous interpreting, the interpreter delivers the message in the target language while the speaker continues to speak in the source language without stopping. The simultaneous interpreter usually works in a sound-proofed booth, listening to the speaker through headphones and conveying what is said into the target language through a microphone into the headphones of the listeners.
  • In consecutive interpreting, the interpreter speaks after the speaker finishes or pauses their speech. The consecutive interpreter generally sits next to the speaker and takes notes to aid their memory of what has been said.
  • Whispered interpreting is essentially simultaneous interpreting but with the interpreter speaking softly into the ear of a listener rather than working in a separate booth with a headset. For practical reasons, whispered interpreting is usually only used in one-to-one meetings.
Described image
Figure 12 Consecutive interpreting
  • When there are a large number of source and target languages involved (for example, in major international conferences), it may not be possible to find interpreters for all possible language combinations. In such cases a method known as relay interpreting may be used. It consists of getting an interpreter competent in the relevant source language to interpret into a language common to all of the other interpreters present, so that each of them can then render the message into their own target language. For example, a message in Swahili might first be rendered into English and then into a number of other target languages.
  • In conversational situations, a single interpreter may be used as the only mediator through the entire conversation, alternating languages as different speakers take their turn. This is known as liaison interpreting. It is a highly demanding modality due to the constant language switches involved.
  • Sight interpreting is a peculiar mixture of interpreting and translation, where the interpreter relays in speech the content of a written document to one or more listeners. It is sometimes used in legal or medical contexts, where previously unseen documents may become available during the proceedings.
  • Remote interpreting, where the interpreter is not physically present in the same location as the speakers and listeners, has become another option since the arrival of technological advances such as video conferencing. This is especially useful when an interpreter is needed at short notice and/or there are few local interpreters available.

As you can see, there are a number of different forms of interpreting, but the mechanics are only one of the elements that differentiate one form from another. To gain a better understanding of interpreting professions, it is essential to consider the social contexts in which interpreting is performed.