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What is Simultaneous Interpretation?

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

Simultaneous interpretation, also known as real-time interpretation or conference interpretation, is the practice of interpreting speech from one language to another in real-time. This type of interpretation is most commonly used in large conferences, multilingual meetings, and other similar events where multiple languages are spoken. In this article, we will explore the history and significance of simultaneous interpretation, as well as the skills and techniques required to become a successful simultaneous interpreter.

History of Simultaneous Interpretation

The first recorded use of simultaneous interpretation dates back to the Nuremberg Trials, where a team of interpreters was used to interpret the proceedings in four languages simultaneously. However, simultaneous interpretation did not become widespread until the mid-20th century, with the advent of electronic sound equipment and the United Nations.

In 1945, the United Nations was established, and simultaneous interpretation became an integral part of its work. The first United Nations General Assembly session in London in 1946 was interpreted in five languages simultaneously. Since then, simultaneous interpretation has become a crucial part of multilateral diplomacy, with interpreters working to facilitate communication between world leaders at important international meetings.

Skills Required for Simultaneous Interpretation

Simultaneous interpretation is a challenging task that requires a unique set of skills. Interpreters must have a high level of proficiency in both the source language and the target language, as well as a deep understanding of the culture and context in which the communication is taking place. They must also be able to think and speak quickly and accurately, with minimal lag time between the speaker's words and the interpreter's translation.

In addition to language proficiency, simultaneous interpreters must have excellent concentration and cognitive skills. They must be able to maintain focus for long periods, often working in noisy and distracting environments. They must also be able to multitask, listening to the speaker while simultaneously translating their words into the target language.

Techniques for Simultaneous Interpretation:

Simultaneous interpretation is a demanding task that requires the use of several techniques to be successful. One of the most important techniques used by simultaneous interpreters is called "shadowing," which involves listening to the speaker's words and simultaneously repeating them in the target language. This technique helps interpreters to maintain their focus and minimize the lag time between the speaker's words and the interpreter's translation. More recently, remote simultaneous interpretation has become a trend, especially to cover hybrid or virtual events.

Another important technique used by interpreters is called "consecutive interpretation." This involves taking notes during the speaker's speech and then translating their words into the target language during pauses or breaks in the speaker's speech. This technique is often used in situations where the speaker speaks for an extended period, and the interpreter needs time to catch up.


Simultaneous interpretation is a challenging and demanding task that requires a unique set of skills and techniques. However, it is also a crucial part of international diplomacy and communication, helping to bridge the language barriers that often divide us. With the right training and experience, simultaneous interpreters can help to promote mutual understanding and cooperation between people of different languages and cultures, paving the way for a more connected and harmonious world.

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