Does simultaneous translation exist?

 | Interpreter insights

As interpreters, we at Calliope get a lot of requests for simultaneous translation. But there’s no such thing.  Here’s where the confusion comes from.

Simultaneous translation or simultaneous interpretation? | CalliopeTranslation is the most widely used word to describe the act of transforming words from one language to another.  It’s no surprise, then, that some people will request simultaneous translation.  

After all, interpretation is indeed a form of spoken translation.  However, interpretation is not the same as translation, and simultaneous translation is a contradiction in terms.

Interpretation happens either simultaneously or consecutively, but it always happens in real-time, in live situations like conferences and meetings. In fact, in our profession, we are commonly referred to as conference interpreters.


After the fact vs on-the-spot

Translation, however, always happens after the fact.  Someone will produce content in one language – a written text, the script of a video, a movie – and then a translator will transform those words into another language.  Depending on length and contractual agreements with the translator, the act of translation can take hours, days, or weeks.  

Interpretation, though, happens on the spot.  Simultaneous interpretation in particular happens as the person is speaking.  We simultaneous interpreters sit in booths at the back of the room, where our equipment allows us to listen and then convey meaning and intent – all of it in real-time.

Translation also can be more precise. After all, translators have more time to choose the most appropriate words in relation to the original text.  As interpreters, we don’t have that luxury, so we’re more focused on conveying meaning and intent rather than sticking to the original words. 

So, if you come to us for simultaneous translation, we will understand you – even if it doesn’t exist.  We’ll simply interpret your request as a need for simultaneous interpretation.   


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