Frequently Asked Questions about Conference Interpreting

Q. What is simultaneous interpretation?

A. Simultaneous Interpreting is when an interpreter listens to a presentation and relays it in another language with no significant delay.


Q. What other types of interpreting are there?

A. Consecutive interpreting. This is where the presenter pauses after each phrase or sentence to allow the interpreter time to relay it into the other language. Although this is generally less expensive than simultaneous interpreting, the meeting will take twice as long as normal, and it can only be used when there are a maximum of two languages (usually English plus one other).


Q. Are all simultaneous interpreters the same?

A. Simultaneous interpreting is the most difficult form of interpreting. Only a small percentage of interpreters can truly interpret simultaneously, that is: listen to someone speaking one language, and, without pausing, speak the same idea in another language.

A professional simultaneous interpreter should be able to speak both languages fluently, without a strong accent that would make him or her hard to understand. The best interpreters also speak in an interesting way so that their voices are a pleasure to listen to.

If your event will be discussing ‘technical’ subjects make sure you let us know when you request interpreters, so we can select those who have a background in your subject area. An interpreter who is very knowledgeable in legal matters may not be the best person for an electronics conference!


Q. How many interpreters will I need?

A. Simultaneous interpreters generally work in pairs. This form of interpreting is very concentration-intensive, so the interpreters will normally work as a ‘tag team’ to cover the sessions. If the meeting lasts less than 1 hour, it may be possible for a single interpreter to cover it. For top-level events, such as government conferences, a team of 3 may be required. You might also need a team of 3 if the working day is very long. Most interpreters expect a working day to be between 6 and 8 hours of actual meeting time. Of course, if you have more than one room requiring interpreting at the same time, or more than one foreign language, you will need more teams of interpreters.

Tip: To keep expenses down, try to plan the schedule so that the meetings requiring interpreting take place one after the other, in the same room, rather than all at the same time in different rooms.


Q. Can the same person be used to interpret from English to Spanish and from Spanish to English, for example?

A. Some interpreters are equally comfortable in both directions, others prefer to work only into their mother tongue. If you expect to need interpreting in both directions, be sure to let us know.


Q. What kind of support will interpreters need to do their best work?

A. The most important support you can give your interpreters is written materials to prepare from. We cannot stress enough the importance of helping the interpreters prepare themselves for your conference. If possible, we recommend that you supply us with advance scripts of the presentations. If these are not available, you should procure abstracts, copies of overheads or PowerPoints that will be used, sales brochures, and a list of acronyms and abbreviations that may come up. You should also let us know of any web-sites that would give us background information. All materials should reach us at least a week before the first day of interpreting.

Expect to provide meals and refreshments and drinking water for your interpreters while they are working, and if they have been flown in from another city, you will need to provide all other meals too.

At meal and break times, remember to give your interpreters a break too. Do not expect them to do informal interpreting at the meal table for instance. By lunch-time, their brains may need to be ‘de-fried’, and that requires taking a break from thinking! If necessary, we can hire bilingual hosts to help facilitate meal-time conversations. Hosts are often available at much lower rates than professional interpreters.


Q. Will the interpreters be local?

A. If possible, we will use local interpreters for your conference to minimize your expense, but our prime objective is to exceed your expectations. If we are confident we can do this with local interpreters, we will do so. But if we are in any doubt about whether that is possible (especially if your conference is technical, high-level, needs a large number of interpreters for a certain language, or needs a professional interpreter for an exotic language), we will recommend flying in interpreters. If this is the case, expect to provide round-trip airfares, taxi-fares, hotel rooms and meals.


Q. What else will I need?

A. For simultaneous interpreting, you will also need to rent equipment so that your delegates can hear the interpreter’s voice. Please give us a call at 888-556-3887 so that we may help you determine what type of translation equipment is right for your conference.

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