Best of Both Worlds: Combining Consecutive and Simultaneous Interpreting Techniques

AIIC UK and Ireland Member Maha El-Metwally reports on technological developments in the fields of consecutive and simultaneous Interpreting.


Photo credits: Copyright: Maha El Metwally

Best of both worlds

As a first-time attendee at the FIT [International Federation of Translators] World Congress, I was impressed by the organisation, the number of participants and the variety of topics discussed at the event in Berlin. For me, the main highlight of the three days was a presentation by Esther Navarro-Hall of the Monterey Institute of International Studies on her system Sim-ConsecTM, which she has developed and refined over the course of the past decade.

Modes of interpreting

Conference interpreters use both simultaneous and consecutive interpreting. As the names suggest, simultaneous interpreting takes place as the speaker talks, while consecutive interpreting is done after listening to the speaker’s message. Consecutive interpreting requires note-taking during the speech, to help the interpreter’s memory. Most interpreters prefer simultaneous interpreting to consecutive, because it is the default method; they feel protected by the security of the booth, and they are less likely to forget parts of what has been said.

With consecutive interpreting, many interpreters dread:

- the pressure on the interpreter to finish (from the listeners), 

- the pressure on the interpreter’s memory,

- being on the spot,

- the fatigue, as note-taking is tiring.

With a quick show of hands, the interpreters who attended the Sim-ConsecTM session confirmed the above. According to Ms Navarro-Hall, research has shown that these various challenges mean that consecutive interpreting delivers only some 70-80% of the content. With Sim-ConsecTM, delivery could go up to 90%.

A middle way

Sim-ConsecTM combines elements from both modes of interpreting with cutting-edge technology to deliver a more accurate and more complete rendering of the speaker’s speech.

For this, the interpreter needs noise-cancelling earphones with a built-in microphone, smart paper and a digital pen.

As the speaker talks, the interpreter takes notes using the digital pen on smart paper. While the interpreter writes, the digital pen records the speech, and links the recording to the notes. Whenever the interpreter ticks part of the notes, the pen replays that particular bit of recorded speech, which comes in through the earphones. Magic! Essentially, you hear everything that was said twice, without delaying the interpretation.

Before attending Ms Navarro-Hall’s session, I had never heard of smart paper or digital pens. When I saw them in action and tried them myself, it felt as if I was following a lesson at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The technology is amazing; not only because of the communication between the pen and the paper but also because the pen takes pictures of the notes, which makes it possible to transfer them digitally.

Originally, this technology was designed to aid medical students in recording hours of notes and lectures. However, it lends itself to use in other fields – and interpreting is certainly one of them.

An alternative to the use of smart paper and digital pens is an iPad and stylus. The interpreter then uses the stylus to take notes on the iPad in an app like Notability or AudioNote. The app enables the iPad to record the voice of the speaker, which the interpreter can replay to interpret simultaneously. This method makes the dependence on technology rather heavy. The advantage of the first method is that, if all fails, the interpreter still has the written notes to work from.

As Sim-ConsecTM involves recording, the interpreter has to obtain the client’s permission to use this method and agree on what to do with the recorded material after the event ends. Ms Navarro-Hall also stressed that it only works for those who have already mastered the skills that an interpreter is expected to have.

Easing the pressure

At the end of this session, I felt eager to start practising with this exciting method. It will no doubt help me improve my rendering of consecutive speeches. Note-taking will still be tiring, and there will still be pressure from the listeners to be quick, but Sim-ConsecTM will ease the pressure on my memory and get me closer to truly comprehensive interpretation. 


This article was originally published in the ITI Bulletin. AIIC would like to thank the author and the Institute of Translation and Interpreting.

Recommended citation format:
AIIC. "Best of Both Worlds: Combining Consecutive and Simultaneous Interpreting Techniques". aiic.net. October 11, 2014. Accessed April 26, 2017. <http://aiic.net/p/6985>.