in All Things Localization

As the ancient art of telling one person what another just said, interpreting between languages is as much a part of cross-border communication as written translation, but that doesn’t necessarily make it impervious to change. Even for communicating within domestic markets, the innumerable ways that people and businesses rely on multilingual interpretation are experiencing a preference shift toward remote interpreting models that not only extend these services at added convenience, but also mitigate the need for in-person meetings that often fall outside the new norms of professional life. While the world vacillates between pandemic precautions and reopening, how much activity can remote interpreting really sustain though? As language service providers like CSOFT know, the need for in-person interpreting can still arise without warning and in disparate markets, to an extent that businesses are prone to underestimate. This makes it especially important to work with an LSP that can help simplify and classify interpreting scenarios, where many providers have instead chosen to complicate the terrain with sub distinctions that simply don’t add value to a service best defined as following two forms: simultaneous interpreting, and consecutive interpreting.

Those who have used remote options such as OPI (over-the-phone interpretation) are already familiar with consecutive interpreting, which describes a situation in which the initial speaker in the source language to be interpreted speaks at length, after which the interpreter will have prepared to deliver a translation in the target audience’s language. While there is no inherent reason why a talented linguist could not perform a translation of a phone conversation in real time, practical limits of telecommunications coming from having multiple speakers engaged on a single line do insist on consecutive interpreting as a standard methodology. Because interpreting is billed by time, it is important that your OPI solution provider come equipped with the resources to accurately capture and relay a conversation as quickly as possible and correctly in the pauses afforded for interpreting, while also delivering this as a seamless, easy-access service that can meet the pace of demand in the real world. Where OPI is distinct from consecutive interpreting at, say, conferences is essentially the quick in-and-out nature of the assignment, such that the pauses for interpreting are not an opportunity for linguistic embellishment or careful wordplay, but quick moments to seize. To meet the demands of clients such as hospitals engaging patients across languages, or even construction companies employing people from diverse linguistic backgrounds in overseas markets, OPI needs to be as efficient as connecting, inputting a PIN, and speaking one’s needs into a phone. Fundamentally, however, the same kind of service used at cross-border business meetings remains at work, in which speakers and interpreters take turns delivering information needed by alternating parties. That one use case for consecutive interpreting is focused on efficiency (OPI), while others are more focused on ensuring the quality of an extended discussion, attests to just how important it is to work with a service provider that can tailor the right solution to the interpreting scenario at hand.  

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By contrast, simultaneous interpreting challenges linguists to begin relaying a message across languages almost immediately after the original speaker begins. Some may be surprised to know that simultaneous interpreting applies to many of the same kinds of gatherings that consecutive interpreting might, with the choice between one or the other option often being dictated by factors such as audience size and the level of interaction or variability anticipated during an event. Simultaneous interpreting is not per se an example of technology-driven translation (such as machine translation post-editing would be for written content), but the use of headsets to deliver the translated version of an ongoing speech or conversation does enable audiences to access information seamlessly as passive participants, while linguists will work from a well-equipped station to broadcast the message in real time at just a moment’s delay. Thus, the key advantage of simultaneous interpreting is that is enables the distribution of interpreted information to a large audience without creating much of any friction to the experience of attending. While calling it conference interpreting would be a misnomer, large, programmed gatherings do make excellent use cases.

Seen as two overlapping poles of the interpreting service space, consecutive interpreting and simultaneous interpreting might still be confusing categories for those shopping for a solution. Seen from the perspective of those who need interpreting, what is often most important in obtaining interpreting is the question of how much planning the occasion affords. Some uses of each service emphasize on-demand flexibility for piecemeal items that occur at the speed of business operations; others emphasize the quality of discussions planned long in advance. Where a qualified language service provider with robust interpretation resources can truly benefit clients moving from priority to priority is in commanding the global coverage and in-market access to expert linguist talent to deliver solutions when and where needed, whether that is an individual interpreter to attend a board meeting, or a video remote interpreting plan that a medical service provider can access to communicate with patients in other languages.

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