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What is Simultaneous Interpretation and How Does it Work?

what is simultaneous interpretation?

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The world is experiencing a significant surge in global interactions. People from different cultures and backgrounds are interacting more with one another and this development has spurred growth on a worldwide scale. Unfortunately, language barriers serve as a hindrance to cross-cultural engagements and failure to overcome linguistic gaps can lead to the ineffective exchange of thoughts, ideas, and emotions.

As we live in an interconnected world, interpretation services play a vital role in allowing everyone to be heard and understood. Now that virtual international conferences, meetings, and events are becoming more prevalent, simultaneous interpretation is key to effective communication.

What is Simultaneous Interpreting?

Simultaneous interpretation is when the interpreter renders the speaker’s meaning in one language to another in real-time. In a nutshell, the interpreter speaks at the same time as the original speaker. Unlike consecutive interpretation where the interpreter waits for the speaker to pause before reformulating the message, the interpreter listens, understands, analyzes, and reformulates the speaker’s message without pausing.

Simultaneous interpreting is the preferred mode of interpretation for events that have multilingual participants. Let’s take the United Nations General Assembly as an example. Effective communication is vital for their meetings since people who have different linguistic backgrounds take part in this event. In a sensitive and fast-paced environment such as this, simultaneous interpretation smoothens the flow of information for all participants.

What Do Simultaneous Interpreters Do?

Simultaneous interpreters are highly skilled language professionals who specialize in simultaneous interpretation. They have native proficiency in the languages they speak, possess a strong understanding of the subject matters being discussed, and can accurately convey complex information that captures cultural nuances. During meetings, conferences, and hybrid events that have attendees across different linguistic backgrounds, simultaneous interpreters facilitate effective communication and allow all participants to take part in the event.

How Does Simultaneous Interpretation Work?

Simultaneous interpretation is used in settings where real-time communication is essential, such as webinars, conferences, meetings, court proceedings, and international broadcasts. It is a demanding interpreting mode requiring interpreters to have a high level of proficiency in their working languages, as well as excellent listening, comprehension, and memory skills. Achieving precision, accuracy, and fluency during such encounters requires advanced training.

Here’s a brief rundown of how simultaneous interpretation works:

1. The interpreter actively listens to the speaker

The process begins with the interpreter actively listening to the speaker in the source language. This process requires intense concentration since the interpreter is tasked to analyze the speakers’ words, tone, and nuances. However, it is important to understand that listening for interpreting is a different kind of listening compared to listening for casual conversations. Listening to interpret means filtering out all extraneous personal thoughts and reactions focusing only on what the speaker is saying and understanding its meaning as quickly as possible.

2. The interpreter analyzes and decodes the message

Once the interpreter has heard the message, they must understand what was said, which includes analyzing important factors such as cultural nuances, the speakers’ expressions, tone of voice, and the subject matter terminology being used. How these elements combine determines what the speaker intends to say.

The interpreter then must make split-second decisions about the most appropriate way to reformulate the message in the target language of the audience. This step not only requires linguistic proficiency but also a deep understanding of the subject to ensure accurate and context-relevant interpretation.

3. The interpreter produces an equivalent and culturally sensitive message

After analyzing the message in its source language, the interpreter produces an equivalent and culturally sensitive interpretation for the target audience. This step must be done with care because linguistic and cultural elements may lead to distortions in the speaker’s message and intent. The final message is interpreted in real-time and this facilitates effective communication for participants who speak different languages.

The Benefits of Remote Simultaneous Interpretation

Traditionally, simultaneous interpretation has been provided on-site with interpreters being stationed in soundproof booths or using portable interpretation equipment. But thanks to advancements in communication technology, simultaneous interpretation can now be done remotely.

Event platforms such as Boostlingo Events provide real-time interpretation for virtual, hybrid, and even on-site events. If you’re planning to host a webinar, hybrid event, or conference, or if you need to hold a meeting with multiple participants and languages, remote simultaneous interpretation (RSI) brings a lot of benefits to the table.

Global Accessibility

Accessibility is one of the primary advantages of RSI. Since interpretation is provided on an event platform, participants of online meetings and conferences can enjoy the event in their preferred language regardless of where they are and how they connect. This is highly beneficial for multinational organizations that have headquarters in different countries.

Let’s take the case of Hanesbrands as an example. The company formally launched a Global Anti-Bribery Compliance program and they wanted to build multilingual online training to share with vendors from different regions. Integrating Boostlingo Events allowed them to provide training in multiple languages without awkward or lengthy pauses. Through the platform, the company was able to provide training programs 5-8 times a year for three regions, each in 3-5 different languages. RSI enabled their teams to understand and be aware of training materials seamlessly, resulting in vendor compliance.


Another notable benefit of RSI would be its cost-efficiency. On-site interpretation services can be quite pricey as travel expenses, accommodation, daily allowances, and venue setup for on-site simultaneous interpreters add to the total cost of services. RSI can be much more economical since interpreters can work from their location while still being in a professional environment and providing quality language support.

Let’s examine the case EvalYouth for better context. EvalYouth wanted to host online events with 150+ participants in 3 different languages simultaneously. They initially wanted to run a 6-hour multilingual event with 10 speakers in three different languages, so they needed an affordable solution. Instead of flying speakers for a face-to-face conference, acquiring RSI services significantly reduced their expenses. In addition to their cost savings, RSI fostered engagement and inclusion on a recurring basis.

Eliminates Logistical Challenges

RSI can eliminate the logistical challenges that come with on-site interpretation. Requiring interpreters to be physically present at an event entails extensive planning since organizers need to set up physical booths and provide extensive audio equipment. Opting for RSI instead will streamline the event’s logistics and allow event organizers to prioritize the experience of their participants.

For additional context, let’s examine how RSI made all the difference for Plan International Canada. The company needed to conduct a meeting with attendees who spoke English, French, and Spanish. They had a limited budget and were facing physical space constraints, so they needed a solution that didn’t require interpretation booths. In this case, RSI was the answer they needed; they were able to provide seamless communication for over 100 participants without the need for interpreters to be physically present.

Overall, utilizing RSI led to a successful meeting and helped the organization achieve its objectives. Today this NGO recognizes Boostlingo Events as a vital asset for communication and network strengthening and continues to use the platform for their meetings.

Flexibility and Scalability

Whether an event will involve a few participants or host a global audience, RSI can easily accommodate different situations. Organizers of events can analyze the requirements of their attendees and easily scale language support without the need for extensive planning.

As an example, the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) needed to host weekly meetings that had participants speaking in French and English. Using Boostlingo Events allowed the organization’s members to easily be involved in discussions, brainstorming sessions, and other interactions without being hindered by linguistic constraints. RSI isn’t just built for large conferences but is an effective solution for small internal meetings as well.

Ease of Use

RSI platforms such as BoostEvents can seamlessly integrate with third-party applications. Users don’t have to worry about technical disruptions since they can easily be used with popular apps such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and more. This compatibility enhances the experience of attendees, by allowing them to toggle between languages and navigate through the platform seamlessly.

In the case of PAC LA, they needed a multilingual meeting platform with multiple audio channels to provide accurate simultaneous interpretation for all their participants. The company originally hosted monolingual webinars but due to their growing global presence, they needed to shift to multilingual webinars to improve engagement for all attendees.

Integrating Boostlingo Events into their multilingual meetings allowed them to deliver content in multiple languages simultaneously. As it stands, the user-friendly interface of the platform has proved to be an all-in-one solution for PAC LA, by letting them host over 20 multilingual webinars.

Why Do Simultaneous Services Cost More Than Consecutive Interpreting?

Simultaneous interpretation, whether done remotely or on-site, can be expensive. The practice demands a high level of expertise and is normally done in high-stakes and sensitive environments. Fortunately, RSI is a lot more affordable compared to its on-site counterpart but it’s helpful to understand the different factors that can drive up the total cost of the service.

Skill Requirements

The additional education and training required for interpreters to perform simultaneous interpretation is one of the primary factors why RSI costs more. In addition to having linguistic proficiency, simultaneous interpreters must process information in real-time. They continuously make split-second decisions as to how to convey the speaker’s message accurately and completely. Furthermore, simultaneous interpreters can’t ask speakers to pause to clarify or repeat a term to capture cultural and terminology nuances and contextual connotations. Their advanced training provides them with the skills they need to make those decisions and maintain accuracy without interrupting the speaker.

Considering all the mentioned factors, interpreting in real time while navigating through different complexities is not easy. Simultaneous interpreters must continuously develop their skills to provide quality interpretation. Just as in other professions where specialists get paid more than generalists, simultaneous interpreters provide services at a higher cost.

Team Interpreting

Team interpreting refers to the practice of using two or more interpreters who share the responsibility of providing simultaneous interpretation. In team interpreting, interpreters function as equal members of a cohesive unit and rotate between responsibilities at pre-arranged intervals.

Research has long shown that simultaneous interpreting is one of the most taxing cognitive efforts the human brain can do. Similar to professions such as air traffic controllers, simultaneous interpreters require breaks after 30 to 60 minutes of interpreting. For this reason, it has long been industry standard that simultaneous interpreters work in teams and alternate every 15-30 minutes.

As is true for onsite simultaneous interpreting, RSI often requires team interpreting. In long conferences that have multiple speakers, team interpreting allows interpreters to perform optimally by helping them manage their fatigue and be supported during the whole event. Building teams of highly skilled interpreters doubles expenses and is another reason why the overall cost of RSI is high.

Equipment and Technological Needs

RSI is done with the help of specialized equipment. Quality headphones, microphones, video conferencing platforms, and even AI-powered tools help language professionals provide accurate and relevant interpretation. Maintaining, updating, and integrating new equipment is essential for quality interpreting and the costs of these technologies also contribute to the price of RSI.

Preparation Time

Delivering quality interpretation RSI demands meticulous preparation. Interpreters must coordinate proactively with the event’s organizers so that they can better understand the agenda, speakers, and topics. They need to research the relevant terminology and coordinate between event languages and interpreter teams. Just as event coordinators have many tasks to complete ahead of time to carry off a successful meeting or conference, interpreters need time and the appropriate resources to be prepared. In this way, interpreter preparation for RSI can add to the total cost of the service.

Market Demand

Overall, more people are starting to see the value of remote interpreting. During the pandemic, remote interpreting accounted for 95% of interpretation encounters compared to approximately 20% before the global health crisis. But now that the pandemic is over, the demand for remote interpretation services has remained constant.

Naturally, the shift to remote interpreting services has led to an increased demand for RSI. Organizations across different sectors are undergoing digital transformation efforts and are increasingly integrating RSI into their international conferences, webinars, virtual meetings, and hybrid events. Most importantly, some organizations could not have benefited from simultaneous interpreting before remote services became available to them.

Risk and Liability

RSI services inevitably experience occasional technical glitches, connectivity issues, or unforeseen challenges during an event. Providers must invest in risk mitigation measures and contingency plans to address these uncertainties promptly. While they may add to the total expense, RSI providers must have live technical support during events to minimize these threats.

Boost Your Events Through Remote Simultaneous Interpreting

As global interactions become the norm, remote simultaneous interpretation will continue to be relevant in multilingual communication. Whether it’s in a community, diplomatic, or educational setting, RSI will remain a vital tool for organizations by helping them overcome language barriers and achieve their communication objectives.

Planning a multilingual event? Elevate the experience of your attendees through remote simultaneous interpretation. If you’re looking for RSI services, make sure to visit the Boostlingo Events page to learn more!

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