Although very closely related, translation and interpreting are two disciplines that are not to be mistaken. Both basically entail paraphrasing a message in a different language, yet there is a fundamental difference: While translators work exclusively with written texts, interpreters translate orally.
This may seem like a trivial distinction at first, but the set of skills required for each task is completely different. Interpreters are required to translate on the spot and cannot rely on reference materials or dictionaries to help them. Therefore, all research must be done prior to the event so that key information can be put to memory. Interpreting also demands excellent listening skills, honed public speaking skills, and the ability to quickly deal with linguistic obstacles like idioms, colloquial expressions, and cultural references that require adaptation for the audience to understand.
There are basically three interpreting modes: liaison/ad hoc, simultaneous, and consecutive. Which service you require will depend on the particular scenario. Below you can find a description of each one to help you with the decision.
In liaison interpreting, the interpreter acts as a link between two individuals or small parties that interact with one another. Its main characteristic is that it allows back and forth communication as the interpreter switches between languages. The fact that it doesn’t require any equipment and it is meant for small groups makes it the most flexible of the three alternatives.
Just like in consecutive interpreting, the interpreter waits for the speaker to finish before he produces a translation. However, in liaison interpreting, there is more than one speaker. This dynamic involves shorter utterances that can be translated without the need for note-taking and frees the interpreter to move around and interact with the group.
This type of interpreting is the best choice for small meetings that require two-way communication. Some examples of this are business meetings, factory tours, and training sessions.
During simultaneous interpreting, the interpreter listens to the speaker through a pair of headphones and translates into a microphone at the same time. The translated signal is then sent to wireless receivers, which allows audience members to watch the presentation while comfortably listening to the translated speech.
Simultaneous interpreters need to process each concept being explained by the speaker, while at the same time producing an adapted version of what was said 5-10 seconds before. This is an extremely strenuous activity and can only be sustained for about 30 minutes at a time, reason why simultaneous interpreting is always performed by a team of 2 interpreters who take turns at the microphone.
This type of interpreting is the most appropriate when a single lecturer speaks to a large group of people for an extended period of time, such as in conferences, presentations, or dissertations.
Consecutive interpreting is a turn-based approach to interpreting. The speaker must take this into consideration and divide his speech into short and manageable segments for the interpreter to translate. Given that each interval can last up to 5 minutes, the interpreter must rely on his notes and memory to remain accurate.
The advantage of this type of service is that it doesn’t require any special equipment, which saves costs and additional planning. The downside is that it doubles the duration of the event, which makes it unpractical for longer meetings, and also demands a good share of patience from the audience.
Despite its shortcomings, consecutive interpreting is still common when dealing with high-profile speakers, whose voice must be heard out of respect or etiquette, or during short events that don’t justify the use of simultaneous interpreting. Some examples of this are press conferences, interviews, and short public speeches.