At conferences participants often ask us: “How do you do this? How can you listen and speak at the same time? That’s incredible!” I jokingly answer that interpreters are slightly schizophrenic: we constantly operate in two different languages and cultures.
It fact, when providing simultaneous interpreting services we convert speech from one language to another with about a two-second delay. This involves using complex techniques and strategies that require many years of study and practice.
When interpreting, it is vital that we fully comprehend the message not just the words so that we can convey the meaning accurately into the target language. We put ourselves in the position of the speaker so that we strike the “right note”- contextually and emotionally.
Simultaneous interpreters are “generalists” that almost always work for specialists. As a consequence, intense preparation and familiarization with the topic is indispensable for us. To achieve the best results we work closely with our clients in the run up to the event.
Given the inherent mental and physical demands involved (concentration and voice) we work in teams of two or three. It is necessary to alternate approximately every 20 minutes and assist each other with names, figures and other challenges (poor acoustics, heavy accents, unusual dialects etc.).
Simultaneous interpreters work in a variety of settings, including multiple-language conferences, congresses, symposiums, shows, workshops, TV broadcasts and gala dinners. We typically work in a noise-insulated booth. We hear the speakers through headphones and interpret simultaneously into a microphone. The signal is then transmitted to the listeners’ headphones.