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Types of Interpreting Services
and When to Use Them

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According to ISO 13611:2014, interpreting is defined as the process of “rendering a spoken or signed message into another spoken or signed language, preserving the register and meaning of the source language content”. It is an ancient human activity used as a connection bridge across different cultures throughout history and predates the invention of writing. Interpreting is not the same as translation, although they share the same purpose, which is to facilitate communication between people who do not share a common language. There are various types of interpreting services and they can take place in many settings and for various reasons.

As a process and profession is has evolved through time, and today interpreting is also performed in different modes and can be delivered in various modalities. What one chooses when picking an interpreting service, depends on the specific context and needs of the present situation, the characteristics of the event, the number of foreign languages spoken, the number of attendees and other factors.

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Interpreting modes

When speaking of interpreting modes we refer to the way messages are converted and transmitted from one language to another, in other words, to the method established for the delivery of spoken or signed language interpreting.

In consecutive interpreting, the interpreter begins to interpret after the speaker makes a pause, that is, speaker and interpreter alternate. This alteration can occur in a long or short segment fashion and the interpreter relies on his memory but also on note-taking for message rendition. Consecutive interpreting is called unilateral when it is performed only in one language direction. It is suitable for various occasions where a limited number of participants is involved, e.g. small business meetings, receptions or press conferences. Traditionally the interpreter sits or stands near the speaker and no special equipment is needed, apart from a notepad and a microphone in the case of larger audiences. Consecutive interpreting extends the duration of the event but has the advantage of being more conversational in style, as both parties are able to speak uninterrupted.

In liaison or bilateral interpreting, a less formal form of consecutive interpreting suitable for visits of delegations, small business meetings, interviews or negotiations between two parties, the interpreter translates from one language to another, and then back again. He acts as a mediator translating every party’s speech. The length of time spent speaking is much shorter as the speakers make more frequent pauses and the rendition is made in a more fragmented way. No special equipment is required and note-taking is usually not necessary.

In simultaneous interpreting, sometimes referred to as conference interpreting, the interpreter listens to, comprehends and instantaneously reformulates a speaker’s statements into a foreign language. It is a real-time process, and the message rendition must take place within the time allowed by the speaker’s pace, without altering the natural flow of the speech. It is usually used in large scale meetings and events where the interpreter sits in a booth in front of a microphone, receives input through earphones and interprets it in a simultaneous manner so that it reaches the audience through receivers tuned into the desired language channel.

Whispered interpreting, also known as chuchotage, is a variation of simultaneous interpreting. Here the interpreter does not sit in a booth, but rather stands or sits very close to a small audience (ideally up to two people) and whispers a simultaneous interpretation of what is being said without disturbing the original speaker and those listening.

Relay interpreting or indirect interpreting is the practice of interpreting from one language to another via a third one. It is a technique used in conference interpreting and is a great aid to monolingual speakers of languages of lesser diffusion. In relay interpreting, the first interpreter listens to the speaker and renders the message into the pivot language (the target language that is common to the other interpreters). The second interpreter receives the message in the target language and interprets it into a third language for audience members who speak neither the first nor the second language.

Sight interpreting is a different mode of interpreting, where the interpreter orally translates a written document into the target language, by silently reading the original text and simultaneously speaking the content aloud in the target language. It is usually applied in the judicial sector and in medical settings.

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Types of interpreting services

Nowadays there are various types of interpreting services offered, including the following:

Conference interpreting, either institutional or private, is the simultaneous or consecutive interpreting employed at conferences or large meetings, that helps companies and institutions reach a global or local multilingual audience and enables participants to navigate landscapes they are usually highly familiar with.

Legal or court interpreting takes place in courts of justice or other legal settings where a legal proceeding is held and aims to enable client participation in proceedings and communication between claimants and the adjudicating body.

Community or public sector interpreting facilitates access to community services such as education, social security, family services and health care for people/clients who do not speak the language of service. It is used to help linguistically diverse people overcome language barriers with public services and to enable them to navigate new landscapes.

Healthcare interpreting is another type of interpreting and takes place in any health care facility setting, including doctor’s offices, clinics, hospitals, home health visits, and public health presentations. It is provided to patients and their families or caregivers, clinicians, counselors, nurses and other healthcare professionals and aims to enable safe communication between patients and healthcare providers, to provide linguistic access to healthcare services, and to ensure patient safety.

Media interpreting, also known as broadcast interpreting, is a type of language transfer in the audiovisual setting used primarily for mass media broadcasts, including taped or live interviews, press conferences and major news and sports events. In this type of interpreting, the interpreter sits in a sound-proof booth and translates speeches in real time.

Sign language interpreting is interpreting between a signed language and a spoken language and helps ensure seamless communication with the deaf and hearing impaired. The interpreter renders the speech into the sign language of the deaf party but also converts the signs signed by the deaf part into oral language for the hearing party, which is known as voice interpreting or voicing.

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Interpreting modalities

When speaking of interpreting modalities we refer to the means for the delivery of interpreting services. These include the following:

On-site or in-person interpreting is considered the most “traditional” modality. Here the interpreter is physically present at the interpreting site and so are the rest of the participants. It is most commonly used in public and social service settings. It allows the interpreter to better observe and interpret body language but limits the number of assignments that can be covered on a daily basis.

Remote interpreting is a way of providing interpreting services when interpreters and communicating parties are in different physical locations. It can take place over the phone, by video link or through remote interpreting platforms. In Telephone or Over the Phone interpreting, instead of face-to face, interpreting is performed over the phone. This modality serves well for high-volume contact centers requiring on-demand services in multiple languages but can also be a solution in emergency situations, tight deadlines and remote locations, or in cases where an on-site interpreter isn’t available. Video Remote Interpreting shares the same features with telephone interpreting, but also enables interpreters to use body language and gestures to aid their work.

Having in mind the modes, modalities and types of interpreting services available and knowing what a particular situation calls for, the purpose of an event and needs to be covered, will help you choose the interpretation service that is best suited for you. Contact us for more information.

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