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Conference interpreting is a catch-all term to describe interpreting at international conferences where several languages are spoken. Different types of interpreting can be used at conferences. Simultaneous interpreting is very commonly used, but consecutive interpreting or chuchotage can also be used. The latter refers to a variety of simultaneous interpreting where the interpreter interprets for a very small number of listeners without the use of technical equipment.
Consecutive interpreting is the oldest form of interpreting. The interpreting process is staggered, which means that the interpreter uses note-taking techniques to take notes as necessary while the speaker is speaking and then renders the speech into the target language. Consecutive interpreting requires the rendered speech to be streamlined and particularly well structured in order to unburden the listeners, as this type of interpreting significantly increases listening times. The individual passages to be interpreted can differ in length, but generally comprise one longer section that belongs together in terms of content.
Unilateral consecutive interpreting involves interpreting into just one language direction, and the passages to be interpreted tend to be longer (generally up to ten minutes). In the case of bilateral consecutive interpreting, usually referred to as bilateral interpreting or liaison interpreting, one interpreter interprets into both language directions, thus facilitating communication between two partners, e.g. in an interview situation or in negotiations. The passages to be interpreted tend to be shorter, with the interpreter usually working from memory and only using notes in certain cases.
Because of the large amount of time needed, consecutive interpreting is now rarely used at conferences. It is more common at celebratory occasions (such as speeches or receptions), at high-profile protocol events such as bilateral meetings of heads of state and government, or at cultural events such as readings or film premières.
Simultaneous interpreting is still a relatively recent type of interpreting, as it requires the use of conference equipment. The interpreter sits in a soundproof interpreting booth and uses headphones to hear the speaker. The interpreter renders the message almost at the same time (i.e. simultaneously), and the rendered speech is transmitted via microphone and is heard by the conference participants through their headphones in turn. This type of interpreting is very tiring both mentally (high concentration) and physically (voice strain), and the interpreter needs to have a honed interpreting technique as well as high professional competency. Due to the high strain involved in this form of interpreting, simultaneous interpreters work in teams of at least two, taking over from each other at intervals.
Chuchotage comes from the French word “chuchoter”, meaning “to whisper”. It is a form of simultaneous interpreting that is done without the aid of technical equipment. The interpreting is carried out for a maximum of two people. The interpreter sits between or behind the listeners and interprets to them very quietly. This is extremely tiring for the vocal chords and can only be done for a limited time.
Chuchotage now also refers to the use of a wireless microphone and approximately 10 to 20 radio receivers. The simultaneous interpreter sits near to the respective language group and interprets from the original language into the desired language by whispering into the microphone. This type of interpreting may be acceptable for small groups, but it is unpleasant and unprofessional in the case of several languages and larger groups of listeners (the whispering can be disruptive). Compact sets can be hired from corresponding providers.
Relay interpreting is a type of simultaneous interpreting where an interpreter working in a booth interprets from a smaller, less common language (e.g. Maltese) into a “larger” working language (e.g. English or French), not only for the listeners, but also as a source text for the other interpreter booths, which then “take over from the lead booth” and interpret into their respective conference language. The interpreter working in the lead booth is also called a “pivot” (from the French word for “interchange”).
For telephone interpreting the interpreter is connected to a minimum of two people via telephone. As for all interpreting, telephone interpreting involves conveying what is said in one language into the other language. Telephone interpreting generally involves liaison interpreting or consecutive interpreting.
Here the interpreter waits until the speaker has finished speaking before translating what has been said into the listener’s language.
Remote interpreting (RI) is a technical development in the field of conference interpreting, which is becoming increasingly important. Here the conference participants and the interpreters are in different places and appropriate technology is used to transmit the interpreting. Conventional remote interpreting is used for telephone and video conferences. Other potential assignments are events where there is not sufficient space for professional interpreting booths with technology for simultaneous interpreting.
Further types of interpreting have emerged recently with the event of new entertainment and information technologies as well as the increase in live cultural performances (festivals, galas, etc.). Media interpreting, which is a form of simultaneous interpreting, involves interpreting as closely behind the original language as possible for radio and TV to ensure that there is no gap in transmission. Voice management, intonation and the general sound of the voice play a special role in media interpreting. This means that the only interpreters who are suitable for media interpreting are those who have these additional qualifications as a natural talent or who have taken part in special voice training alongside other professional speakers.
For interpreting in front of an audience, “stage interpreters” are being used more and more. These are interpreters who have completed training as a presenter or a journalist.
Another important area is interpreting for the police or the courts.
Sign language interpreting refers to interpreting spoken languages into sign languages and vice versa. There is no universal sign language; each country has its own. As a result, it may also be necessary to interpret from one sign language into another.