What is Language Interpretation and The Different Types of Interpretation

Language interpretation has been a part of our lives for centuries. Whether for trade, business, government agendas, medical reasons, and many others, language interpretation is a natural part of how humans in different parts of the globe communicate. However, translation and interpretation, while they seem to be similar, have important differences in conveying a source language into a target one and although they are two sides of the same coin, they do differ. What’s more, is that there is not only one type of language interpretation. There are many. But what does language interpretation mean, what are the different types, and what is the right type of interpretation for your business? Let’s take a look.

What does language interpretation mean?

Language interpretation can be briefly described as the process of verbally conveying a message from a speaker of a source language to a target language. In some cases, this can happen in real-time, in others, there’s a time lag. In addition, the contexts of language interpretation may differ, depending on the client’s or subject’s needs. There are numerous benefits to language interpretation and some of these include the fact that it can help foster new partnerships, it can improve levels of communication with and management of remote teams, it helps to connect customers globally, and many others.

The different types of interpretation

Interpreting services vary, depending on the client’s needs. In fact, the client can vary on a case-by-case basis. For example, interpreting services may be used and required by governmental organizations, businesses, at conferences, trade shows, and other events, in a medical or educational setting, and so much more. Essentially, and as mentioned above, interpreting services are required when a source language needs to be conveyed into a target language in real-time or as near real-time as possible. But what are the different types of language interpreting services you should be aware of? Here’s a breakdown of the most common ones.

  • Simultaneous: simultaneous interpretation, as the name implies, takes place simultaneously when the original speaker’s words are almost immediately conveyed to an audience from the source language to the target language. Simultaneous interpretation involves the interpreter carefully listening to the words conveyed by the speaker and then immediately or almost immediately (sometimes there’s a five to 10-second lag) conveying the spoken meaning in the target language. This method of interpretation is commonly used by governmental and inter-governmental organizations such as the European Parliament and the United Nations as well as at trade shows and conferences. It is usually aimed at large audiences and increases the level of audience engagement with the speaker and their words.
  • Consecutive: consecutive interpretation is similar to simultaneous interpretation with a small difference. Whereas simultaneous interpretation happens in real-time, with consecutive interpretation, there’s a long time lag. How does this work in practice? The speaker of the source language speaks an entire sentence or a paragraph to complete a single “thought” and then pauses for the interpreter to convey this meaning. Essentially, this process takes longer, about twice as long, because of these pauses.
  • Whisper: whispered interpretation takes place among small groups of people, usually at business meetings. The speaker speaks and then the interpreter essentially “whispers” the message conveyed to their client. This type of communication is useful in small settings with fewer participants.
  • Liaison: also known as dialog interpretation, liaison interpretation also takes place among small groups of people. It’s usually at business meetings to foster a climate of partnership and to complete negotiations. In addition, it is not as accurate as other types of interpretation because it is not done word-for-word, but rather, it’s done to convey the gist of the speaker’s message to the recipient.
  • Relay: this type of language interpretation takes place when there are more exotic or minority languages that not many interpreters are familiar with. For example, we have language A (as a more exotic language) which is first translated to English, and once the English version is translated, it is this version that is then translated from English to language B.
  • Remote simultaneous: remote simultaneous interpretation or RSI is a more recent development in interpretation. Here, interpreters can either work virtually from home or in booths in a hybrid setting to convey the source language into the target language simultaneously. The physical presence of the interpreter is not an actual requirement and they’re able to perform this service remotely.
  • Travel/escort: travel or escort language interpretation takes place when a business person or another type of individual is traveling and requires the services of an interpreter who is not only familiar with the target language of the country being visited but also knows the cultural rules and nuances of the population. Travel interpreters are also required to help their clients with administrative and organizational tasks.
  • Language interpretationScheduled telephone interpreting: as the name implies, scheduled telephone interpreting occurs during a scheduled telephone session. In this case, the interpreter is not seen by either of the parties involved in the call. It can take place either simultaneously or consecutively, depending on the main speakers. However, it should be noted that this type of language interpretation is not as accurate as it could be because small nuances in body language and other cues are missing for the interpreter to convey.
  • On-demand phone interpreting: with this type of language interpretation, organizations use it to ensure that their immediate interpreting needs are met. It also takes place by phone and once again, non-verbal cues can be omitted from the interpretation because the interpreter may not see the client or subject and is, therefore, unable to pick up on such subtleties.
  • ASL interpretation: American Sign Language or ASL interpretation is the interpretation that is provided to the deaf community in various contexts including education, government, legal, business, and others. Here, sign language interpreters convey the message from ASL into English and vice versa to the intended audiences.
  • Medical interpreting: medical interpreting is somewhat different to medical translation. Whereas medical translation will require the translation of medical documentation, medical interpreting deals with helping patients navigate the healthcare field more effectively, especially those patients who find themselves in a different country and require an interpreter to convey their ailments and symptoms in a different language.
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What is the right type of interpretation for you and your business?

The right type of interpretation for you and your business will depend on your specific needs. It will depend on your target audience and its size as well as how quickly you’d like the message to be conveyed to them. In addition, the services performed by your interpreter may broaden in scope if you’re traveling. Furthermore, if you’re planning on closing a deal or negotiating one, you may need whispered interpretation. Relay interpretation can come into play if you’re dealing with an exotic or a minority language for which there is not a wide knowledge base. Ultimately, you need to consider your business’ needs and then make the final decision.

Final Thoughts

Language interpretation and the translation may be considered different sides to the same coin. However, there are some fundamental differences in terms of how a source language is conveyed into a target language. The primary difference is that language interpretation takes place verbally. However, language interpretation has several different facets and it’s important to choose the right type when looking at your business needs.