Consecutive vs Simultaneous Interpreters

The Difference is Night and Day! 

Interpreting is to clearly understand the meaning of spoken words in one language and convey their meaning into another language, 

Interpreters deal with spoken words, translators with written words. Each task requires a distinct set of skills and aptitudes, and most people are better suited for one or the other. While interpreters often interpret into and from both languages, translators generally translate only into their native language. 

There are two major areas of interpretation: Simultaneous Interpretation and Consecutive Interpretation.  

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Simultaneous Interpretation

(also known as Conference Interpreters) 

Simultaneous interpretation is provided by interpreters who listen to the source language in progress and immediately interpret it into the target language. Most sessions are performed in soundproof rooms through an audio system, but this can also include a sub-group called whispered interpreting, which is performed directly to a small subset of the main group (normally up to 5 individuals –dependent on the nature of the room configuration and other equipment). Online conference interpretation is starting to become a big player in the North America market due to its low costs. 

Simultaneous Interpreters can’t start interpreting until he or she understands the general meaning of the sentence. This means the interpreter may not be able to utter even a single word until he or she has heard the entire sentence! This fact makes it very evident just how difficult the task of the conference interpreter really is: he/she must mentally translate the sentence into the target language while simultaneously listening to and comprehending the next sentence.

This is a very specialized skill that is far above the requirements needed to perform consecutive interpreting (sometimes called community interpreting).

The simultaneous interpreter must be very decisive as there is absolutely no time to weigh the merits of variants, or to recall just the right idiom in the target language. 

Conference interpreting is both a mentally and physically taxing task. It requires a high degree of concentration to listen, process, and convey ideas (not just words) coherently into another language, while concurrently listening to what is being said next. The mind cannot hold the needed level of focused concentration for long periods and is the reason conference interpreter’s work in teams or 2 or 3 – with frequent change-outs to a rested interpreter! 

Consecutive Interpretation   

(also known as Community Interpreters)

Consecutive interpreting is intermittent interpreting delivered while the source language speaker pauses during the meeting. It is important to keep in mind that, due to the intermittent nature of consecutive interpreting, schedule timing can almost be double the time required for delivery of a single language. 


The process sounds simple, but training and a good memory is very important. When a speaker pauses or finishes speaking, the interpreter then “re-frames” a portion of the message or the entire message into the target language. It is important for the speakers to provide pauses or breaks so that the interpreter can convey the message.

Consecutive interpretation is for situations involving a small number of people.

Examples would be medical appointments, business meetings, interviews, or any type of one-on-one exchange. 

Phone interpretation is now replacing these small face-to-face interactions, as it eliminates interpreter travel time, offers a wider availability of languages, lower costs for short meetings, and can accommodate last minute requirements with connection to interpreters within seconds. 

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