Tips and Tricks: Simultaneous Interpreting

Simultaneous interpreting, most commonly seen in the UN, at conferences, in the courts, and in emergency medical situations, is the mode of interpreting that I find quite challenging to master. As its name suggests, simultaneous interpreting is when the interpretation is rendered almost at the same time the speaker is speaking. The slight delay is to allow for information gathering so there is context to interpret into.

Unlike consecutive interpreting where note taking is necessary, there is no time for that during a simultaneous interpreting session. Instead of using notes and your short-term memory, you would use your immediate short-term memory in this instance. In addition to the inability to take notes, another challenge in simultaneous interpreting is the necessary ability to multitask. Can you chew gum and walk at the same time? If so, you can multitask. But try to listen, comprehend, and analyze an ongoing speech, and then interpret it into a different language while still listening to the speech. How long can you last before you  mess up or lose track of the speech?

interpreting, simultaneous interpreting, 1nt, tips and tricks
Multitasking: drinking bubble tea while flying a balloon. (Credit:


As you can probably tell, it isn’t so easy. The speed and immediacy of simultaneous interpreting create a few challenges. Here are some ways to overcome the challenges.

Learn to anticipate. Because the message is still in progress as you’re relaying the interpretation, it helps to be able  to anticipate what is upcoming. Familiarity with the topic at hand is a must; familiarity with the speaker’s speech pattern is also beneficial, but that comes with time. To practice, pay attention to how people around you speak. You’ll find that often times, you can logically predict the next idea from the key words that are already given.

Increase your decalage. A decalage is the length of time between the start of the speech and the beginning of your interpretation. A longer decalage allows for higher accuracy because you get more context before interpreting. In your training, challenge yourself to increase your decalage.

Watch yourself.  One of the downsides to simultaneous interpreting is that sometimes, due to the speed in which the message needs to be conveyed, the interpreter isn’t able to catch everything, leading to some omission of the message or nuances. It is important for an interpreter to self-monitor all the time to make sure he is on top of his game.


Shadowing. A good way to start is by shadowing a 20-min-long, structured speech, such as TEDTalks. Try to avoid newscasts or radio shows as they tend to lack continuity between segments. Shadowing means to repeat whatever was said in the same language it was said, i.e., English>English. This will train your brain to listen and speak while continuing to listen at the same time. As you practice, you can slowly lengthen your decalage to help with your memory skills. Once you feel comfortable, you can start interpreting the speeches.

Brain exercise. Listen to a 30-second speech while writing out a series of numbers (doing another structured task). Try to repeat what you heard, using a recorder to monitor yourself, and see how much you retained and lost. This is will train your brain to somehow concentrate on both tasks without sacrificing quality.

Okay, enough with all the words. Here’s a nice demonstration of the three main modes of interpreting:


What other challenges do you find in simultaneous interpreting? How do you overcome them? I’d love to hear from you.

Good luck and happy interpreting!


9 thoughts on “Tips and Tricks: Simultaneous Interpreting

  1. I can think of two challenges right offhand: 1) When the speaker suddenly calls for response, and people who know the speaker’s language respond before I’ve even interpreted the question; and 2) when the speaker has been saying things that are conceptual and easy for me to store in short-term memory, and then they throw in some numbers I can’t so easily store along with the other stuff. This is where working with a team helps! They can “feed” me the details when I’m ready to put them out. I use a lot of decalage, and I always tell my partners this so they don’t worry, and also so they can feed me details as necessary (which I ask them before we interpret to be ready to do).

  2. notice that he did not ask for a round of applause for the interpretors . . . .after speaking of the importance of the interpretor, he did what most do, ignore the HUMANS who actually do the interpretation. we are rarely thanked by conference organizers and participants, even when everyone else in the room is.

  3. Hi,
    I have completed an interpreting qualification and I have found it most helpful in the sense that it has given me ground work to have a better understanding of the role of an interpreter. The listerning ques, the intonations and the spoken languages I am interpreting. I also found, to be a good interpreter, I had to master the my second language. I can get by with basic Samoan because I can inpovise with my own language, but I really needed to be proficient in my second language or the langue I am interpreting.
    This is how some interpreters trip up with their interpretations and explanations of medical procedures and including legal interpretations. Their second language skills are rather limited in bothth their understanding and verbal communications skills.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s