The Future of Simultaneous Interpretation

A few weeks ago, we covered a brief history of simultaneous interpretation. This week, we’ll take a look ahead, and see what the future holds for simultaneous interpretation.

Science fiction has always played a role in how we view technology. Some have even sighted older sci-fi films and TV shows as the basis for past and present devices, such as the flip phone and computers. Star Trek, in the 1960s, used a universal translator; a device for the translation of spoken languages in real-time. It scanned the brain-wave frequencies and created a basis for translation. While futuristic, it still used the basis of simultaneous interpretation that had been used successfully since the Nuremburg Trials of the 1940s.

Today, simultaneous interpretation is used on a daily basis, and employs thousands of professionals across the globe. Companies are continually trying to figure out more cost effective ways to conduct business internationally, and some have turned to machine interpretation and translation. However, both professional interpreters and developers of machine translation systems agree that electronic systems will never be able to replace the professionals.

That isn’t from lack of trying, though. Machines thus far have been successful with word-to-word translation, although missing some cultural and emotional context. Using similar technologies as automated telephone-answering systems, inventor Will Powell introduced a system in 2012 that was able to translate Spanish-English conversation. It only worked if the speakers were patient, and spoke slowly.

Then in November of the same year, Japanese mobile-phone operator NTT DoCoMo demonstrated a service that translates phone calls between Japanese and English, Chinese or Korean. Each party speaks consecutively, with the firm’s computers eavesdropping and translating the words in a matter of seconds. The result is then spoken in a man’s or woman’s voice, depending on the speaker’s gender.

This leads us to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. Both games will be host to more than 10,500 athletes from 206 National Olympic Comities. Interpreters will be working around the clock to make athletes, their teams, and other foreigners feel at home. Simultaneous interpretation and translation has received the Olympic golden push, and with new systems being developed continuously, only time will tell whether machine translation or seasoned professionals will be used.


You may also be interested in the following:

Ebook: A Resource for Working With Interpreters and Interpretation Equipment

Article: When should names be transliterated?

Article: The World’s Ten Most Translated Authors

Article: Why Translation Mistakes Happen



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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top