Five Things to Remember During Simultaneous Interpretation

Simultaneous interpretation presents a unique set of challenges for the interpreter and numerous benefits for the listener. It allows attendees at international conferences to access the same information at the same time as everyone else. It provides for efficient and critical rapid-response services from medical personnel in emergency situations. It also enables conversation to flow naturally from one speaker to another, which lessens the burden on participants.

It is necessary to keep a few points in mind in order to insure a successful interpretation.

  1. Simultaneous interpretation is slightly misleading. There will always be a small pause between the speaker and interpreter to give the interpreter time to process and render the interpretation accurately. In the case of languages like Spanish or Japanese, it may be helpful to allow this extra time to account for word order differences.
  2. Although you are interpreting spoken language, don’t forget about body language and other non-verbal communication, and to provide culturally-appropriate equivalents when needed. This cultural awareness and adaptation is a vital part of a successful interpretation.
  3. Express yourself! When you are interpreting a speech, you are the speaker to the participants. They are listening to your voice and watching your cues. Interpreting successfully requires a willingness to express yourself confidently in a variety of situations even if you don’t particularly share the original speaker’s emotion.
  4. Don’t make it up. If you are in the middle of a simultaneous interpretation assignment and suddenly draw a blank, quickly reword in order to convey the same idea as closely as possible, but you should never guess at the exact language-equivalent for the sake of time. This weakens the effectiveness of your interpretation and can have negative consequences for your audience.
  5. Know your limits. It is not unusual for simultaneous interpreters to take a break after 15 or 20 minutes to allow another interpreter to take over. This is an incredibly demanding style of interpretation, demanding total concentration, rapid analysis of language, and quick decisions about the best equivalents in the shortest amount of time possible.

Following are some recommendations to assist those interested in working as simultaneous interpreters.

Practice in your native language. Spend some time repeating word-for-word right along with any material you may need to interpret in the future, such as a short speech. Your practice material should be no longer than 1-3 minutes to begin with, and you should record yourself and play it back to see how close you were.

Notice areas of difficulty. Did you hesitate, stumble over a word, or lose the flow of what you were saying? Also pay attention to the way you speak. Are you clear and easy to understand? Do you have a tendency to speak too softly or too loudly? Is your accent understood by most people you meet?

Work on problem areas until you are comfortable with how you speak and deliver the practice material, then move on to interpretation. You will likely find you will again need to revisit similar areas of difficulty because you are now filtering the material through a second language.

Although simultaneous interpretation is a demanding profession requiring a large set of diverse skills, it’s rewards are equally impressive. You get the personal satisfaction of knowing your work makes a real difference to your clients by helping them to communicate and interact in diverse settings. As a simultaneous interpreter, you can facilitate the legal process for non-native speakers, help international businesses and conference attendees communicate and exchange ideas, and help save lives by working with medical personnel in emergency situations.

Are you currently working as a simultaneous interpreter? What do you find most rewarding about your work? What are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them? Please feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments.


You may also be interested in the following:

Ebook: Top Ten Tips for Interpreters and Translators

Article: The History of Simultaneous Interpretation

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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