Skip to main content
InterpretationLinguava Community

Simultaneous and Consecutive Interpreting

By November 21, 2019November 2nd, 2022No Comments

When it comes to interpreting between different languages, two of the most common forms of interpreting are simultaneous interpretation and consecutive interpretation. But what is the difference? When should we use them? Here we will look at what each type of interpretation involves, from the number of participants to the setting and supplies needed.


What is it simultaneous interpreting?

A simultaneous interpreter will relay a message into the target language at the same the speaker is speaking.

How does it work?

  • Real-time interpreting, with only a few seconds of lag
  • No need to plan for extra time
  • Two interpreters are needed to allow for rest breaks to maintain the quality of interpretation; it is mentally taxing to listen and interpret at the same time, and studies show that quality decreases after 20-30 minutes without a break


  • Group of individuals (3 or more)
  • Multiple speakers of the same language are present, in addition to individuals who do not speak that language


  • A family therapy session: bilingual family members may speak to the provider in English, and LEP family members need to know what is being said in real time; family members may converse with one another in Spanish and the provider needs to know what is going on in real-time.
  • Several English-speaking staff, a bilingual child, and the Russian-speaking parents of the child at an IEP meeting
  • Several Vietnamese speakers at a conference presented in English
  • Individuals who are not able to participate in turn-taking, and whose utterances must be interpreted in real-time, are present


  • Some mental health patients


  • Interjections are more likely
  • Speakers of the same language respond to each other without waiting for the interpreter to interpret into the other language
  • Group is too large for interpreter to manage turn-taking


  • Trainings
  • Conferences
  • Meetings
  • Family counseling sessions

Supplies Needed

  • Headsets and microphones, especially in the conference setting (in small-group settings, these may not be necessary)
  • Detailed information about the appointment, as well as materials such as slideshows, should be provided to the interpreter ahead of time, particularly for specialized topics
  • The interpreter may use a pen and paper to make note of names and numbers.


What is it consecutive interpreting?

A consecutive interpreter will relay a message into the target language after the speaker has finished speaking.

How does it work?

  • Each speaker’s utterances are interpreted after they finish speaking
  • Extra time needed
  • One interpreter can generally cover a consecutive appointment because the interpreter is able to alternate between listening and speaking.


  • 1:1 or a limited number of participants


  • A patient and a provider for an annual checkup
  • A parent-teacher meeting where only the teacher and parents are present


  • Participants wait for the interpreter to finish interpreting into their language to respond
  • Turn-taking is natural because without waiting for the interpreter the parties won’t understand each other
  • For longer utterances, some pauses to allow for interpretation and check for comprehension from the other party
  • If more than 2 people are present, the group is small enough that the interpreter is able to manage the flow of communication, asking parties to pause if necessary and preventing interjections


  • Physical exams
  • Imaging
  • 1:1 counseling

Equipment Needed

  • Interpreters may use pen and paper to take notes in order to accurately interpret longer utterances.
  • Basic information about the nature of the appointment should be communicated to the interpreter ahead of time, particularly if it is a specialized appointment

To sum everything up, in simultaneous interpretation the interpreter translates as the speaker is talking and during consecutive interpretation, the interpreter translates after the speaker has paused or completed their message. We hope you enjoyed learning about the differences between simultaneous and consecutive interpreting.

At Linguava, we are dedicated to reducing communication barriers and providing equity to all members of our community through language access services.

If you are interested in learning more about incorporating language access into your organization or would like to book a training session, contact us today.