Consecutive Interpreting

Consecutive interpreting is where the conversation will be broken into small segments. The interpreter will listen and take notes at the same time the speaker is talking. They will use a shorthand technique to ensure quick note taking. After the speaker finishes a segment or a break in the conversation, the interpreter will start speaking in the target language to the receiving party.

The informal divisions or breaks in the conversation are initially agreed between the customers and the interpreter according to the complexity, circumstances and the aim of the interpretation. If the parties are not advised before the interpretation session, they tend to speak more than a single sentence and not wait for the target language interpreting. It is therefore hard for the interpreter to keep up. The lengths of these informal breaks will depend on the settings (formal or informal), subject matter (technical, legal or general business conversations) and the interpreter´s memory capacity. It is common practice for the source language speaker to pause after every sentence for the most accurate face to face interpreting.

Consecutive interpreting allows the interpreter time to listen and understand one whole sentence and this allows for a truer and accurate interpretation as compared to incomplete sentences in simultaneous interpreting. However, the disadvantage of consecutive interpreting is it takes more time because of the sentence by sentence interpreting.

Face to face consecutive interpreting is suitable for almost any occasion. It can be used by businesses, court proceedings, political speeches, medical interviews, or international treaties and negotiations. Because of the sentence by sentence procedure, the note taking approach deployed by the interpreter, and also taking into consideration of factors such as tone, body language and settings of the message as a whole, the resulting interpretation is extremely accurate with no loss in meaning and cultural context of the source language.

Simultaneous interpreting

This is where the interpreter will be listening to the source language and interpreting as quickly as she or he can into the target language. The key advantage about this type of face to face interpreting method is speed. No time is wasted for waiting or notes taking because the interpreter is doing the interpreting instantaneously. However, this method may result in a slight inaccurate interpretation because it is likely that the interpreter has not listened to the whole sentence before rendering it to the target language. As opposed to consecutive interpreting, it is sometimes more difficult to interpret the overall message using simultaneous interpreting because the lack of full understanding and context.

Simultaneous interpreting is normally deployed by an interpreter sitting in a sound-proof room listening to the source speaker. The interpreter will then interpret and speak the target language into the microphone that is connected to receiving parties´ earphones. Simultaneous interpreting is very suitable for large conferences or meetings with a single speaker and a range of foreign audiences. It is also ideal when the majority of the group speaks a common language and only a minority needs the interpreting service.

Face to Face Interpreting Conclusion

Face to face interpreting is without doubt an important tool for people from a different cultural and linguistic background to understand each other. The physical presence of the professional interpreter not only provides the source language interpretation, but he or she shares the sensitivity to the culture context and body language of the parties involved, allowing the most accurate face to face interpreting in those given circumstances. Whether to use consecutive or simultaneous interpreting will depend on the need of the customers as well as balancing the need for speed and accuracy.


Alvin Chai has a passion for languages and works for Prime Languages, a highly respected Language Services provider based in London. Prime Languages specialise in Interpretation Services including Face to face Interpreting. Please visit for more information and instant quote.

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