What does a simultaneous interpreter do?

As the name implies, simultaneous interpretation requires conference interpreters to speak at the same time as the speaker does. When interpreting simultaneously, interpreters listen, understand, translate and speak all at the same time. (Please note that the term "synchronous translation" is incorrect. In order to grasp the speaker's message, the interpreters need to hear at least part of a sentence before they can start interpreting. Simultaneous interpreting is therefore not entirely synchronous; there is always a small time-lag of a few seconds.) Naturally, the concentration required for this highly demanding intellectual performance cannot be kept up endlessly even by vastly experienced interpreters. This is why you will always have at least two interpreters per foreign language sharing a booth and taking turns every 20 - 30 minutes.

This technique requires a specific set-up and technical equipment. With simultaneous interpreting, interpreters sit inside insulated booths and hear the speaker through their headsets so that they are not distracted by ambient noise. This allows them to concentrate fully on the speaker's words, which is essential if they are to perform their demanding job. The interpretation is then transmitted to the conference participants, who can each choose their preferred language on their receivers.

Where is simultaneous interpreting used?

Simultaneous interpreting is the method of choice for all bilingual and multilingual events where time is of the essence, i.e. congresses, lectures, seminars, press conferences, etc.

What is simultaneous interpretation equipment?

Simultaneous interpreting requires special technical equipment, also known as SI equipment, which consists of interpreters' booths complete with consoles, a central unit, infra-red beamers, delegate headsets with receivers and earphones, microphones for the speakers, and in many cases a PA system, too.

Please bear in mind:

  • Remember to allow enough space for the interpreters' booth(s) in the meeting room. Each booth measures 1.8 x 1.8 m (small model) or 2 x. 2 m (large model).
  • An unobstructed view of the speaker and the podium or stage and screen(s) is essential to the quality of the interpreting.
  • All speakers need to use a microphone. Interpreters' booths are insulated and speakers' contributions are transmitted into the booths by the SI equipment. The interpreters can only hear the sound picked up by the microphone. If videos are shown which are to be interpreted, the video sound must be transmitted to the booths.
  • Please note that in most cases the speed of video texts is far above that of ordinary language. Videos must therefore be shown to the interpreters in advance to decide whether simultaneous interpreting is feasible.
  • An essential part of a conference interpreter's job consists in preparing for the event with the help of documents provided by the event organiser (programme, texts of speeches, PowerPoint presentations, slides, notes, brochures, links to Prezis, etc.)

Participant at ICBR99 (International Conference on Bird Reproduction) from the University of Edinburgh

"Please pass on my thanks also to the translation team – we the visitors should have really thanked them publicly at the time for all their efforts in translating fast and technical French into English."