Types of interpretation

Updated: Sep 20, 2020

There are quite a few different types of interpreting services which can generate some confusion, so let's break it down to make it a bit easier to understand.

The main modes of interpretation are: consecutive - simultaneous interpretation and sight translation (yes, the latter is considered a form of interpretation).

Consecutive interpretation is one of the most common types of interpretations in which the interpreter listens to the speaker, sometimes up to 15 minutes consecutively, or more, and then interprets into the target language. While the speaker is talking, the interpreter has to take notes which will help him remember what the orator said.

In some occasions, the interpreter might have to interpret into and out of the target language; this could be the case of a conference or a seminar.


  • It doesn’t require electronic or technical equipment.

  • The quality of the interpretation is usually better, as the interpreter has more time to translate and therefore to choose the right words and tone.

  • Participants have more free time which can be used to further discuss certain issues.

  • It’s cheaper than simultaneous interpreting as, for the latter, at least two simultaneous interpreters would need to be hired.


  • It takes about twice the time it would take if the interpretation was to be done simultaneously, as the speaker has to make pauses in order to give time to the interpreter to interpret the message into the target language.

  • Consecutive interpretation is usually meant for the speech to be translated only into one foreign language.

Simultaneous interpretation is when an interpreter translates a message from the source language into the target language in real time. In this case, the orator doesn’t make pauses to give time to the interpreter to interpret the speech. Simultaneous interpreting is typically used in large group settings, such as international conventions or diplomatic conferences.

The interpreter could be also asked to interpret into and out of the target language. This could be the case of an interview.

When it comes to simultaneous interpretation, interpreters usually work in pairs; while one colleague is busy translating incoming speeches in real time, the other gives support by locating documents, looking up words and tracking down important information. Since this kind of interpretation requires intense concentration, every 30 minutes the pair switches roles.


  • It saves time as the interpreter has to translate in real time.

  • It can save money if the venue is rented on an hourly basis.

  • Delegates can select their preferred language on their headsets as there are often multiple simultaneous interpreters working at once.


  • It’s usually more expensive as at least two interpreters will be needed for each language

  • The equipment needed such as sound - proof booths, headsets, microphones and wiring is also expensive.

  • As simultaneous interpreters have to think very quickly and translate before hearing the end of a sentence, their translation might not be fully accurate and fluent.

Sight translation is the process of reading a document in the original language and simultaneously translating it into the target language. You can consider it a hybrid of translation and interpretation. It’s mostly used in courtrooms, hospitals and conference rooms.


  • It saves time as it’s a faster way of translating.


  • It’s mainly meant for short, specific documents as sight translating longer ones would be time consuming and quite pointless, especially since the recipient/s wouldn’t be able to remember everything that has been translated.

  • Any language that uses an alphabet different from the translator’s native tongue is likely to cause issues during sight translation.

Whispered (simultaneous interpreting): is similar to simultaneous interpreting but instead of using sound - proof boots and other technical equipment, the interpreter simply translates what the speaker is saying by whispering it into the client’s language. It’s normally used for formal dinners, one to one business discussions etcetera.

Ad-hoc/liaison interpreting: is typically used during small meetings, negotiations and visits of delegations. The interpreter consecutively interprets both into and out of the client’s target language. A few examples of ad-hoc/liaison interpreting are police interrogations, business meetings, cultural visits to museums and so on.

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