5 Things You Didn’t Know About Relay Interpretation

Even people who know about relay interpretation may have some gaps in their knowledge, and we’re going to fix that today! If you are totally unfamiliar with the topic, no need to worry either. We’ll start off with a simple explanation.

Relay interpretation is a type of interpretation that is used when interpretation between two languages is unavailable and must be done through a proxy language. For example, if a Vietnamese-Spanish interaction needs to be completed and no interpreters who speak both languages are available, a Vietnamese-English interpreter and an English-Spanish interpreter may work together to facilitate communication. The first interpreter translates the Vietnamese speaker’s words into English, and then the second will interpret the English words into Spanish. Often this is used at conferences that have speakers of multiple languages, but also can be used in any situation requiring interpretation. Now that you have a bit of background information, here are five facts you may not have known about relay interpretation:

  1. It can be simultaneous or consecutive

Relay interpretation is most commonly used for conference interpretation at events at which speakers of multiple languages will speak. For example, at a UN conference hosting speakers of all six of its official languages, an Arabic speech may be interpreted first into English and then from English to all of the other languages. But simultaneous interpretation is not the only instance in which relay interpretation is used. Any time that an interpreter of the exact required languages is unavailable, relay interpretation can be used to acquire the needed languages. Relay techniques can be used for simultaneous and consecutive interpretation, video or phone interpretation, and even sight translation.

  1. You may not know it’s even occurring!

In most instances of simultaneous interpretation, the transmission of speech occurs through private microphones and headsets. If you happen to be a recipient of interpretation services at the event, you still might not even know that relay interpretation is occurring. Since all of the transfers occur through headphones, the only difference you may notice is a slight delay in the interpretation.

  1. It requires special equipment

Normal simultaneous interpretation requires specialized sound and transmission equipment, and if you are looking to use relay interpretation, you must make sure that your equipment has some additional capabilities. Interpretation equipment consists of a microphone, headset, and transmitter for the translator and headsets and receivers for the audience. The translator also may require an interpretation console as well, especially for relay interpretation. A relay interpreter requires an interpretation console with high functionality that can alternate between receiving from the other transmitters and transmitting to various receivers.

  1. It makes international events with speakers of multiple languages possible

As long as all of the translators are able to relate to a common language, everybody in at the event will be able to understand any speaker’s message. If absolutely necessary, a message may have to travel through two or even three relays, but the fewer legs of the transmission, the more accurate the message will be.

  1. It has more potential problems than normal interpretation

The most obvious drawback of relay interpretation is increased likelihood of mistranslations. It is nearly impossible for a translation to capture precisely the same meaning as its original statement. So, each time a message is transferred to another language, some of the original meaning, tone, and connotation is lost. The fewer translations, the more accurate the message.

Another issue that can result from relay interpretation is a delay in communication. Simultaneous interpreters relay a translated message while they hear the original, but it is impossible to avoid a slight pause. With multiple relays, the delays in communication grow, and this can be an inconvenience if not a problem depending on the event.

Have you even used relay interpretation? What do you think are some pros and cons of relay interpretation? Tell us in the comments below!

You may also be interested in the following:

Ebook: Benefits of Simultaneous Interpretation

Article: A series of 5 articles about simultaneous Interpretation including tips for beginners

Article: Simultaneous Interpretation and the Brain – Which parts of the brain are responsible for the ability to do simultaneous interpretation?



    Nisar, the dynamic force behind Translation Excellence, stands tall as its founder and CEO. This isn’t just any company—it’s a global heavyweight in boutique language services. Hailing from the vibrant city of Kabul, Afghanistan, Nisar brought his passion and expertise to the U.S. shores in 2001. In the realm of languages, he’s a titan. With 19 years under his belt, he’s worn hats from a linguist and instructor to a cultural bridge-builder and curriculum craftsman.

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