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Language interpretation is the act of rendering, verbally or signed, a message in a source language into a target language. The fact that it is done verbally is what differentiates interpretation from translation. In translation, messages are written in the target language, while in interpretation, they are spoken or signed.

Depending on where you check you can find different classifications of types of interpretation. 

In this article, we will discuss types of interpretation based on the way the interpretation is performed and the modes or mediums through which it is delivered. 

Types of interpretation

Simultaneous interpretation

In this mode of interpretation, the interpreter delivers the message in the target language in real-time, at the same time as the speaker is still talking. 

Simultaneous interpreting is a very challenging mode of interpretation as the interpreter must listen to a speech in one language, make sense of it in their head and deliver it in another language, in real-time and while the speaker talks. This is the mode of interpretation that is used in large-scale conferences, governmental meetings or any other meeting or event where the duration and flow of the meeting are important factors.

In traditional simultaneous interpretation setups, interpreters work from an interpreting booth where they get a view of the room, wear a headset and interpret into a microphone. They work in pairs and interpret for intervals of 20-30 minutes.

Consecutive interpretation

This type of interpretation requires the interpreter to wait for the speaker to finish their speech or statement before proceeding to deliver that same message in the target language. Since the interpreter has to wait for the speaker to finish talking, they usually take notes to remember what’s being said and later use them to deliver the interpretation.

Some scenarios where consecutive interpretation is used are official statements and diplomatic visits.

Bilateral interpretation

This is the type of consecutive interpretation done when two parties who don’t speak the same language meet. In it, the interpreter relays the message after the speaker has paused or finished speaking in each language in turns so that the conversation between the parties can happen. Situations, where bilateral interpretation is used, include doctor appointments, business meetings, negotiations, court hearings or police interviews.

Modes of interpretation

Whispered interpretation or chuchotage 

This is the case when the interpreter whispers the message in the target language while the speaker is talking, to a small audience of maximum of four people. For this, the interpreter needs to be located close to the audience and this is typically done in small meetings and settings. 

In-person interpretation

This mode occurs when the interpreter is located on-site, in the same location where the communication is taking place. When simultaneous interpretation is done on-site, interpreters work in pairs from interpreting booths, where they get a view of the room where the meeting is taking place, a microphone, headsets and they work from an interpreting hard console, where they choose what language they listen to, mute themselves, etc. Attendees then listen to their interpretation using traditional radio receivers.

For the consecutive and bilateral interpretation types that take place in person, all the interpreters need is a notepad to take their notes.

Over-the-phone interpretation (OPI interpretation)

This mode of interpretation allows two people who don’t speak the same language to connect using an interpreter over the phone. This kind of interpreting is usually done consecutively so, the interpreter lets one party speak, then relays the message in the other language. When the interpreter finishes, the other party responds and when they’re done, the interpreter renders the message into the first speaker’s language.

OPI typically occurs when there is no interpreter available on-site or when the two parties wanting to communicate are in different locations. Some settings where this is used are health care, government, financial or emergency telephone call centres.

Remote interpretation

In this mode of interpretation, the interpreter is not located on-site. Depending on the type of interpretation and systems used, we can distinguish between Video Remote interpretation and Remote Simultaneous Interpretation.

  • Video Remote interpretation (VRI):

    Typically done using a web camera or videophone system to provide sign language or spoken language interpretation services between two parties who can’t otherwise communicate. The most common type of interpretation used in this mode is consecutive as the interpreter has to wait for the speaker to finish before conveying the message.

    Used when the interpreter in the language needed is not available on-site, or when a user with a hearing impairment needs to communicate with someone in a different location. Some settings where VRI is used include health care, social services, police, government or financial services.
  • Remote simultaneous interpretation (RSI):

    The newest addition to the remote interpretation family, RSI was born in 2014 with Interprefy producing the first-ever remote simultaneous interpretation platform. In this interpreting mode, interpreters can work from anywhere in the world if they have a laptop or desktop and a stable internet connection. They log into an interpreting soft console in the cloud and work in pairs, just as they would if they were in an interpreting booth.

    RSI offers excellent flexibility as it can be used in remote, in-person or hybrid settings. It's typically used in events, conferences, webinars, business meetings, etc and users can listen to interpretation using their mobile phones, laptops, desktops or traditional radio receivers.

As we’ve seen, the types and modes of interpretation can be combined to better meet the needs of both the users and organisers and the meeting settings. Understanding the differences between each mode and type is crucial to choosing the solution that better meets your event and meeting requirements. 

Still unsure if RSI is for you? Book a call with us below so we can shed some more light and help you make the right decision. 


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Patricia Magaz

Written by Patricia Magaz

Learn about the latest developments at Interprefy by Patricia Magaz, Content Strategist at Interprefy.