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?

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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!

Thoughts on Interpreting: Deliberate Practice

I’ve been thinking more about the topic of “practicing” since my last post. Some of my readers responded that for interpreters, only practice with headsets is considered actual practice, and keeping up with literature, celebrity blogs, or newspapers in the target language cannot be categorized as such.

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I disagreed with this statement a few months ago, but the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. For Elisabet Tiselius, practice is deliberate and intentional, it is an act with a specific goal in mind. Reading and radio listening can  help us stay familiar with the language and its usage and thus can be considered as part of our effort to keep up with our language skills, but it cannot replace practice for gaining interpreting skills.

On top of acquiring and retaining terminology, interpreting requires attentive listening and comprehension skills. Although this doesn’t sound too difficult, consecutive interpreting also requires good note-taking skills and simultaneous interpreting requires analytical and multitasking skills. Actual practice is the only way we can train our brains to listen, analyze, and extract the information into its target language all at the same time. You cannot acquire these skills by studying theory at your desk. You need practice.

Knowing the technique of interpreting isn’t enough to be a good interpreter. Practice is what will take you to where you want to be. With practice, you’ll become used to the modes of interpreting, and it will become natural and more fluid.

Good luck, and happy interpreting!