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Why Simultaneous Interpretation Is So Important

Aug 11, 2008
Many people go about their daily lives without giving a second thought to simultaneous interpretation and how it can have a huge impact on the society we live in today. Simultaneous interpretation is a critical part of the meetings of the United Nations, just about every meeting of the heads of several countries at once and many large multinational corporations. Without simultaneous interpretation, the business world would come to a screeching slowdown. So, what is simultaneous interpretation and why is it so important?

In simultaneous interpretation, an interpreter sits in a soundproof room and listens to the person speaking on a set of headphones. As soon as the interpreter figures out what is being said, he or she speaks it directly into a microphone. From there, whatever the interpreter says into the microphone is transferred to the person being spoken to by the speaker. With this simultaneous interpretation, heads of state and other VIPs can have meetings and conversations with people who speak a language that they do not.

It is important to note that simultaneous interpretation is not the same thing as direct translation. With translating, the words of each language are studied closely to give the best possible translation. Translation is much more accurate, on a word for word meaning level, than simultaneous translation. Because the interpreter is just doing the best he or she can to convey the overall message of the person speaking and they are under a time crunch, there is less accuracy involved.

Besides simultaneous interpretation, there are other ways for people to understand what others are saying without actually knowing the language. For example, with whispered interpreting an interpreter stands next to the person being spoken to, whispering the translation into his or her ear. Besides being distracting, it is widely regarded as being fairly unprofessional.

Another alternative to simultaneous interpretation is consecutive interpretation. In this form of interpretation, the person speaking breaks his or her speech up into several segments. He or she will speak until the end of that particular segment, at which point the consecutive interpreter will basically repeat what has been said. This trade off of speaking time goes back and forth until the end of the speech. Obviously, there are some problems with this way of interpreting, such as the interpreter forgetting part of the speech. However, this technology has really come a long way and overall, the best is simultaneous interpretation, hands down.
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