The Difference Between Consecutive and Simultaneous Interpretation

What is the difference between a translation and an interpretation? These two words are often used interchangeably, but technically, “translation” refers to a written document in one language being rewritten into a different language. Interpretation, on the other hand, refers to “aural translation,” or the act of listening to someone speak in one language and, in real time, aurally restating what was said in a different language.

While it may sound a little confusing, in reality, a brief description of the task is usually enough to clarify whether you need a translator or an interpreter. When someone says, “We need a translator to help us at a meeting with visitors from Japan,” we know they need an interpreter (not a document translator) to provide real-time, on-site language assistance at the meeting.

Once it is clear that you need an interpreter, the next question is, “Do I need a consecutive interpreter or a simultaneous interpreter?”

How are these two types of interpretation services different? When should you use one or the other? We provided you with a brief introduction to our Japanese interpretation services in a previous post, so be sure to read up on that information if you have not yet seen it. In today’s post, we will explore the somewhat subtle, but important, differences between consecutive and simultaneous interpretation.

If you need a Japanese-to-English interpreter, then visit us at to find the right interpreter for your project. We will help you find an interpreter with the right skillsets and price level who is able to come to your location anywhere in the US. Some interpreters are able to accompany you or your Japanese guests on business trips around the US or the world.

Consecutive Interpretation 

We will begin by looking at consecutive interpretation. This form of interpretation is often used during small business meetings, negotiations, formal interviews, press conferences, and other professional settings, where linguistic accuracy and communication of delicate nuances are more important than speed. Consecutive interpretation requires the speaker to pause every one or two sentences so that the interpreter can translate and convey what was said to the other party. Discussions conducted with consecutive interpretation will typically take twice the time to cover the same material, as every sentence will be spoken twice: once in the original language, and once in the target language.

Some businesses will use consecutive interpretation, not just for language assistance, but also in a tactical way to help with their business negotiations. Since the interpreter must repeat each sentence before the message reaches the other party, it provides a chance for the speaker and/or their colleagues to make any corrections or changes before the translation reaches the other party. Also, the interpretation between each party’s speech reduces the pressure to respond immediately to the other party, acting as a nice buffer to think over what to say next.
In general, consecutive interpretation should be used in bi-directional discussions between parties where the objective is to exchange information or to reach some form of conclusion between the parties, and when meeting those objectives is more important than finishing on time

Simultaneous Interpretation 

Unlike consecutive interpretation, which requires the speaker to stop and allow the interpreter to convey what was said, simultaneous interpreters translate what is being said in the original language in real time. Yes, they listen in one language and speak in another language at the same time! Because the interpreter must speak at the same time as the speaker, special equipment is used to prevent the interpreter from speaking over the speaker’s voice. The interpreter speaks quietly into a wireless transmitter, which then transmits the translated target language to listeners who are wearing a wireless receiver headset. At large international conferences (think United Nations) the interpreters will often sit in a soundproof booth and listen to the speaker through their own headset and then convey the information to the audience’s headsets. In a smaller, more flexible setup, the interpreter will use a portable transmitter and listen to the speaker live while whispering into their transmitter so that the audience can hear the target language coming through their headsets.

In general, simultaneous interpretation is used to provide one-way information to an audience. This can be a presentation to a sitting audience, a training class, or a guided facility tour. In all of these cases, most of the information flows from the speaker to the audience, and the event must stick to a fixed time schedule. If/when there are any questions from the audience, that part is usually handled with consecutive interpretation.

One other important aspect to note about simultaneous interpretation is that you will need to hire a team of two or three interpreters. As you can imagine, listening in one language and simultaneously translating into another language requires intense concentration. Because of this, simultaneous interpreters work in teams of two or three and take turns interpreting every 10–15 minutes so they can maintain the high level of concentration demanded by the job. This means that you will need to budget accordingly for hiring two to three interpreters and for renting the special interpreting equipment.

Do You Need a Japanese Interpreter?

Now that you are familiar with the differences between consecutive and simultaneous interpretation, get in touch with us at to request more information about the Japanese interpretation service you need. While the above two are the two primary interpretation services used today, they can be used in combination or in a variety of different ways depending on your specific circumstances.

We look forward to speaking with you soon!

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