Simultaneous Interpretation is one of the most difficult forms of interpretation that brings with it all kinds of difficulties and drawbacks. As a language student studying to be an interpreter, Simultaneous Interpretation is still my biggest weakness – I find it extremely difficult if not nearly impossible at the moment. I imagine that there are a lot of interpreters out there that share this opinion, so this week we’ll be looking at some of the things that make Simultaneous Interpretation the intimidating monster that it is.


No Breaks


            In Simultaneous Interpretation, there are no breaks. The speaker starts speaking and doesn’t stop until they are completely finished with their thoughts. This means that the interpreter must maintain the same pace as the speaker throughout the entirety of the speech. Some speakers recognize that the interpreter needs time to process what they are saying and will courteously alter their speed, but this is of course not always the case.

            This idea of no breaks is incredibly daunting for many, including myself – the speaker does not stop and neither do you. There is no time to process the speaker’s utterances other than the space in between sentences, and most of the time that space is used up by the time you even being interpreting yourself. In legal or business environments, the speaker or speakers might talk for upwards of 10 minutes before they are finished, which is a great deal of work for us interpreters. Processing the utterances AND interpreting them while maintaining the style, tone, intent etc. of the speaker is difficult in and of itself, and doing so for a great deal of time like 10 minutes takes an incredible amount of energy and endurance. This requires constant effort and training to maintain, which goes to show just how difficult this field can be.


High Level of Speech that Must be Transferred to the Target Language


            Speaking of specialized environments, much of Simultaneous Interpretation takes place in these sorts of venues. Legal environments, business meetings, presentations, etc. are some of the most common places for Simultaneous Interpretation, and they all bring with them extremely specialized vocabulary and high levels of speech. All of this must be accurately transferred into the target language.

            Combine this with the fact that there are no breaks and you have a recipe for a serious headache come time that the speaker drops some weird jargon you’ve never heard before. It’s not like consecutive interpretation where you have time to ask for clarification and figure out a solution that way – you’ve only moments to find a suitable equivalent or substitution. Moreover, some fields like the Legal Field, for example, have very specific ways of speaking that have very specific equivalents. A lot of these fields have very real consequences for errors in comprehension, so there’s that much more pressure on the interpreter to get it right. That’s a lot to prepare for all at once!


Decalage (EVS)


            Decalage or Ear to Voice Span (EVS) refers to the time between the speaker’s utterance and the interpreter’s interpretation of that utterance. This is normally a few moments, as naturally the interpreter cannot read the speakers mind (usually). It’s been said that maintaining this decalage is the mark of a truly good simultaneous interpreter – in other words, the ability to process more information before interpreting while simultaneously acquiring MORE information is what distinguishes a good simultaneous interpreter from a great simultaneous interpreter.

            There are many ways to work on this, the most common being shadowing exercises. First, listen to a speaker and repeat what they are saying in the source language. This reinforces the idea of processing before interpretation and works to improve memory and recall. Once this is easier for you, start trying to alter and replace words without changing the meaning of the message. Exercises like these will help develop and maintain this decalage which can later be applied in the target language.


Listening While Speaking


            By far, the most difficult part of Simultaneous Interpretation for me is listening while speaking – the ability to process the speaker while interpreting myself. This to me is like exhaling through your nose while breathing in through your mouth; it’s completely unintuitive and frustrating, and requires a MASSIVE amount of work to even begin to do it. The main pitfall of this is the fact that both processes require active thought for me still, and as everyone knows, most of the time multi-tasking just doesn’t work.

            For Simultaneous Interpretation to work, one of these processes has to just happen – it has to be mindless. Simultaneous Interpreters must subconsciously do one thing so that their mind is free to consciously do another. Like decalage, this takes a lot of work to achieve but can eventually be done. A lot of exercises used for improving decalage can be transposed to apply to this concept as well! You could shadow a particular speech while writing specific things down, for example, to teach your brain to focus on one thing while another is happening. The most important thing to realize is that this is not natural, and does require a lot of effort. The sooner you start, the easier it gets!



            What are some other things that make Simultaneous Interpretation difficult for you personally? How did you go about confronting and solving these issues? Leave a comment below, and check back next week for another edition of Links Interpreters Love.


– William Cerkoney