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The Science Behind Simultaneous Interpreting

the science behind simultaneous interpretation

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Interpreting is a difficult profession. Professional interpreters must have strong listening, communication, and interpersonal skills, as well as a good memory. Furthermore, interpreters working in professions such as legal and medical must often undergo a specific certification program in order to fulfill state or federal criteria.

However, one sort of interpreting is more challenging than the others: simultaneous interpretation. Here’s a look at one of the most well-known—but least understood—types of interpretation, as well as the science underlying it.

In this blog post, we will explore the science of simultaneous interpreting and examine the cognitive processes involved in this challenging activity.

The Cognitive Load of Simultaneous Interpreting

One of the main challenges of simultaneous interpreting is managing the cognitive load of the task. Interpreters must simultaneously process incoming speech, comprehend the meaning, and produce an output in a different language. This requires a significant amount of cognitive resources and places a heavy demand on the interpreter’s working memory.

Working memory is a critical component of simultaneous interpreting as it allows the interpreter to temporarily store and manipulate information. However, working memory has a limited capacity, and when it is overloaded, it can lead to cognitive fatigue, decreased accuracy, and slower processing speeds.

The Importance of Preparation

To minimize the cognitive load and increase accuracy, simultaneous interpreters must be well-prepared before the interpreting session. This includes researching and familiarizing themselves with the subject matter, as well as any technical terms, jargon, or cultural references that may be used.

Additionally, interpreters must be familiar with the style and delivery of the speaker. The interpreter must be able to adapt to the speaker’s pace, tone, and style to accurately convey their message.

The Role of Context

Context also plays an essential role in simultaneous interpreting. Interpreters must take into account the cultural and situational context of the speech to accurately convey the intended meaning. For example, idiomatic expressions, humor, and sarcasm can be challenging to translate as they may not have a direct equivalent in the target language.

To accurately interpret these types of expressions, the interpreter must understand the cultural context in which they are used and be able to convey the intended meaning to the audience.

Technology and Simultaneous Interpreting

Advancements in technology have had a significant impact on simultaneous interpreting. Interpretation booths, microphones, and headphones are now standard equipment at conferences, allowing interpreters to work in real-time and provide accurate interpretations to attendees.

Furthermore, the development of computer-assisted interpreting (CAI) tools has made the task of interpreting more efficient and accurate. These tools use natural language processing and machine learning algorithms to assist interpreters with terminology and translation suggestions, reducing the cognitive load and increasing accuracy.


Simultaneous interpreting is a highly demanding and complex task that requires excellent language skills, cognitive abilities, and a deep understanding of the subject matter. The cognitive load of the task can be reduced through preparation, familiarity with the speaker’s style, and an understanding of the cultural context.

Advancements in technology, such as interpretation booths and CAI tools, have made the task of interpreting more efficient and accurate. With the ongoing development of technology and continued research into the science of simultaneous interpreting, we can expect to see continued improvements in this vital field of language services.

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