Fear is not an Option: Consecutive vs. Simultaneous Interpretation

By June 13, 2014March 25th, 2020General

By Valeria B. DelMar

A scary yet exciting adrenaline rush. That’s the common factor between the simultaneous and consecutive modes of interpretation. Of course, this natural and sudden response to stress comes about for different reasons within a variety of interpreting scenarios.

In the simultaneous mode, the rush usually surges because of the catch-up game you play in trying to keep up with the speaker’s pace while maintaining a steady and accurate delivery pleasing to the listener’s ears. The speaker stands at a podium before a head-set-wearing audience and is completely oblivious to your interpreting efforts. You and your partner are relegated to a cramped booth, likely with terrible lighting, and an audio system you pray is working adequately. In the excitement you may find yourself beaming with pride that your research paid off and you’re able to interpret the latest technical advancement in autism research and its scientific implications impeccably. Both laypersons and scientists in the audience can grasp the intended meaning behind the speaker’s words through your rendition. Or perhaps you’re patting yourself on the back for coming up with le mot juste for that double entendre punch line that the speaker thought was so clever.

In the consecutive mode, your fight or flight response may be activated due to your trying to avoid a moment of embarrassment or panic when, despite the benefit of time that this mode allows, you realize that you’ve never before heard a certain term the speaker used. Maybe you question whether you have the appropriate vocabulary to convey the intended meaning perfectly. In other moments, a seemingly pure translation of a concept crosses your mind, but as the sheer mental acrobatics of the interpretation process take their toll, it disappears as it reaches the tip of your tongue! Panic also hits you as a novice interpreter when you look down at your notes only to find that you must now decipher your very own semi-bilingual mix of hieroglyphics, usually involving lots of squiggly arrows, harsh lines, and concepts drawn in ways that would never win you a round of Pictionary, even with your forgiving family. Ah, but then you realize you have the luxury of picking the brains of the very participants you are interpreting for and that you can do so with an artful demeanor and skillful strategy in which you manage to save face and come out of your assignment feeling like Rocky Balboa triumphantly running up the stairs.

But let’s be honest, after a long day of interpreting, whether in the simultaneous or consecutive mode, our brains turn to mush and we’re eager to make it home, slip into comfortable clothes, and precious, restorative oblivion.