There are two basic modes of conference interpreting – consecutive and simultaneous. In consecutive interpreting the speaker pauses for interpretation after every few sentences. Simultaneous interpretation takes place (almost) simultaneously with the speaker. The interpreter is, in fact, running a sentence or two behind the speaker. She is listening to and analysing the new passage in the source language while translating the previous passage into the target language while vocalising the previous passage in the target language.
Simultaneous interpretation requires the rapid transference from one language to another, often of a highly technical subject matter, without affording the interpreter any possibility of looking up references or consulting with a colleague; without time to analyse the speaker’s utterances. The interpreter is at the mercy of the accent, possible mistakes and delivery of the speaker.
A thorough knowledge and understanding of both the source and target languages is an absolute requirement of the conference interpreter. This knowledge includes not only the language aspects but also its literature, culture, history and traditions. For example, interpreting for an American speaker is likely to require knowledge of basketball, baseball and American football and how you score on a slam dunk.
Conference interpreters normally work into their mother tongue. The reason is simply that the interpreter will be much more flexible in a language that they grew up with and adaptation is more often required in the target language. When a reference is made to a “slam dunk” and there is no such expression in the interpreter’s own language, the interpreter has to come with a similar idea in the target language.
Besides the linguistic skills required, a simultaneous conference interpreter must be a team player. They always work in teams of two or three and relieve each other every 20 minutes or so. Studies confirm that the error rate of any interpreter rises sharply after a finite period of work – maybe five minutes for a novice and forty minutes for a well-experienced person. To expect a simultaneous interpreter to work on his or her own for a half day is courting linguistic disaster due to mental fatigue and stress.
Interpreters do not turn on a lifetime of knowledge and vocabulary in an instant. They need to prepare for every job. That is why you should always remember to have a set of registration materials for each interpreter. We will also keep after you for advance copies of presentations and PowerPoints.