Because we often receive questions about our profession, we have included this page to share some information about how interpreters work. For more, check our FAQ page.


1) Simultaneous interpretation. This is the best-known kind of interpretation and by far the most unobtrusive. The interpretation and the original speech take place simultaneously, without interruption. Interpreters listen to the speaker through earphones and interpret into microphones. Participants listen to the interpreter’s voice through an earphone attached to a small, usually portable, receiver. This method is the most comfortable for participants and the least disruptive.

2) Whispering, or chuchotage. Sometimes it is impossible to use electronic equipment; in these cases, interpreters may sit beside persons needing their services and interpret in a very low voice. This is a good method for last-minute needs in a short meeting when only a small number of people require interpretation.

However, whispering cannot be used effectively for more than two people, and recipients cannot contribute to the discussion because there is no one to interpret to the rest of the participants. It can be quite uncomfortable for both listeners and interpreters. Interpreters often have difficulty hearing the speaker over the sound of their own voice, recipients can easily miss what is being said, and the speaker can be distracted by the sound of the interpreter’s voice.

3) Consecutive interpretation. The speaker pauses periodically during the message, allowing the interpreter to render the interpretation. This method is useful when equipment would prove impractical, as on field trips, outdoor events, or private meetings in an office.

However, the meeting progresses much more slowly with this method, taking approximately 70 percent longer to complete. Participants who know both languages can become bored or even distracted by paying more attention to the interpretation than to the message itself.

4) Sight translation. In the setting of a meeting, interpreters are sometimes handed a copy of an untranslated document and asked to “read" it to participants in the target language.


A two-language meeting is usually handled by two interpreters working in a single booth and interpreting from Language A into Language B and vice versa; however, international organizations and organizers of other major conferences sometimes prefer to have one two-person booth for each language, for a total of four interpreters. The numbers increase dramatically when more languages are added.


1. Teamwork. Responsible interpreters never work alone (except in very brief meetings lasting up to an hour and a half). Interpretation is mentally very taxing, and interpreters cannot do a good job unless they take frequent breaks. During their shift off the mike, interpreters must not only give their brain a break, but must continue paying close attention to the proceedings, lend a helping hand with terminology, fetch any necessary documents, alert the sound technician to problems, and so forth. One interpreter working alone simply cannot do all this.

2. Preparation. In order to do the best job possible, interpreters need to study the subject matter in advance. Therefore, the client should provide as much documentation as possible – meeting documents, background information, useful Websites, etc.

3. Sound. Interpreters cannot interpret what they cannot hear. They need to receive crystal-clear, static-free sound that comes from one source only. It is extremely important in a conference setting for a sound technician to be present in the room at all times and be available to the interpreters. If interpreters and technician work together as a team, the meeting will run more smoothly.

4. Documents. Interpreters should receive copies of all documents that will be handed out in the room so as to render a smooth interpretation of text read aloud on the floor. Interpreters need copies of the agenda, the list of participants, press releases, and all working documents.

5. Visibility. Interpreters need a full view of the entire assemblage. Human speech is a complex phenomenon that conveys meaning in many ways including words, gestures and expressions. An interpreter who cannot see the speaker may be missing part of the message. Moreover, interpreters need a clear, unobstructed view of all visual presentations. They cannot help the speaker describe something that they themselves cannot see.


When you hire professional interpreters, you can be confident that your information is safe. Interpreters abide by a strict code of ethics that honors the privileged nature of information learned in the line of duty.