Simultaneous interpreting presents a unique challenge because it requires interpreters to work in pairs or even small groups. This is essential to ensuring consistently high-quality simultaneous interpreting which, unlike consecutive interpreting, operates in real time. That means that linguists transmit interpretations to listeners while the original speech continues uninterrupted.
Simultaneous interpreting, also known as conference interpreting, is most often used for large group settings and formal occasions with a single speaker, such as conventions, conferences and symposiums. So why does simultaneous interpreting require at least two interpreters?
Teamwork Prevents Interpreter Fatigue
Interpreting is an exhausting job in both the mental and physical senses. Interpreters must exercise intense listening skills, interpret words and entire phrases, and then relay them quickly — in a clearly enunciated and comprehensible manner — to listeners. It’s a fast-paced job that requires a great deal of attention and energy, and it’s difficult for any interpreter, even the best in the industry, to maintain high-quality interpreting over extended periods of time.
This is one of the central reasons why simultaneous interpreting is almost always done in teams. Having another person available to take over the interpreting duties every so often — usually every half hour or so — allows interpreters to have some respite from the intensity of simultaneous interpreting. Expecting just one person to handle the burden of simultaneous interpreting over a three-hour conference is unreasonable and could result in interpreting mistakes.
Teamwork Makes for Faster Interpreting
Since teamwork allows interpreters to work in shifts and catch a bit of a break, it also ensures that simultaneous interpreting is able to keep the pace. A fatigued interpreter may start to fall behind, leaving out valuable words or even full sentences.
The whole point of simultaneous interpreting is its amazing rapidity; having interpreters work in teams ensures that this is preserved. This is especially true for simultaneous sign language interpreting, which is more physically demanding due to the hand and arm movement it requires.
Teamwork Fosters Accuracy
When interpreters work in a team, a higher level of accuracy can be maintained because interpreters are less likely to become fatigued or lose focus. An interpreter that is exhausted is not going to be able to concentrate as well and may end up making mistakes as a result.
In some cases, interpreters working in teams may also verify one another’s work as they go, to ensure that all information is being interpreted correctly.
This might be seen in court room interpretation, for instance, where a simultaneous interpreting error could ruin an entire trial. While one interpreter keeps up a continuous stream of interpreting, the others can double-check the facts. If the active interpreter seems to be struggling with a concept or a word, non-active interpreters might help by writing down suggestions or clarifications. This avoids disrupting the ongoing interpretation while also reinforcing accuracy.
Always Expect Simultaneous Interpreting Teams
Having a team of simultaneous interpreters for a single assignment is an industry norm. When booking simultaneous interpreting services, you should always expect at least two professionals assigned to the job to ensure you get the consistent simultaneous interpreting you need.
And speaking of expectations, simultaneous interpreters often make use of soundproof booths and other conference equipment to perform their duties, so make sure to plan accordingly when making arrangements for simultaneous interpreting.