What is live translation?

November 14, 2020

I have been constantly asked by many people what is “live translation” and how is it effective for their meetings and events. Perhaps I can shed some light on this for those who are thinking about engaging this service in the near future.“Live translation” is an obscure term to describe interpretation, a form of translation performed orally by the interpreters live and on the go. By definition, translation is defined as any form of textual conversion from one language to another. It can be in written or oral form. Oral translation, more accurately, is referred to as interpretation to distinguish it from the wider concept of “translation”.Interpreters are also highly sensitive about their title and prefer to be addressed as “interpreters” as opposed to “translators”, so using the right title demonstrates the respect to our profession on the part of the clients who are looking for such services.

Simultaneous and consecutive interpretation

Interpretation can be generally classified into two categories: simultaneous interpretation (SI), or consecutive interpretation (CI), both offered “live”. The differences would be:

  • Simultaneous interpretation is carried out by two interpreters for the same job; whereas in most cases consecutive interpretation is carried out by one interpreter (for certain cases two interpreters might be needed);
  • Simultaneous interpretation requires equipment assistance in addition to the interpreters. This is because the interpretation is taking place at the same time while the speech is being delivered on the floor. The equipment is thus required to transmit the translated diction via a (physical or virtual) receiver to the audience. For consecutive interpretation, on the other hand, there is usually no need of any equipment (For an on-stage consecutive interpretation, however, live feed is needed via a ear monitor or similar device).
  • Simultaneous interpretation does not take up any of the meeting time as it is carried out in the “shadow”, whilst consecutive interpretation, on the contrary, would need to take about half of the meeting time (assuming only one language interpretation is needed). This is because speakers would have to pause after a few sentences for the interpreter to translate it into a different language.
  • The costs needed to perform a simultaneous interpretation service is more than twice than that of consecutive interpretation, taking into account that there are infrastructure costs involved for the former.

When hiring a simultaneous or consecutive interpreter, however, the rate is usually the same. There is usually a wrong perception by the clients/consumers that consecutive interpretation rate (for interpreters) should be lower than that of the simultaneous interpretation service. If the total cost is considered, the assumption would be true, but when it comes per interpreter manpower cost, it is never and should never be lower. The public perceives that the entry barrier for consecutive interpretation is much lower so it should be an easier profession and should be paid lower. For professional interpreters, however, it is not necessarily the case. In fact, in most situations, consecutive interpretation is more demanding than simultaneous interpretation, and the working hours are longer (considering one has no partner to take a turn with for a break). Moreover, interpreters can come in the spotlight of audience judgment due to false or ineffective interpretation. Therefore, why would someone want to take up a consecutive interpretation job that demands longer working hours and with higher clientele requirements at a lower pay?When you analyse from the perspective of interpreters, you can understand why we charge at least the same rate for consecutive and simultaneous interpreters.

Additional characteristics

Further, simultaneous interpretation has other varied forms from the standard booths-console. They  include, but not limited to:

  1. whisper interpreting without any equipment assistance (usually to one VIP audience only)
  2. whisper interpreting using portable tour guide system (usually for several audiences).

Consecutive interpretation also has different names when applied in different scenarios:

  1. community interpreting
  2. liaison interpreting
  3. business negotiation interpreting
  4. on-the-stage speech interpreting
  5. court interpreting, though occasionally simultaneous interpreting might be engaged for court or legal hearings to save the time but the result may not be as ideal as consecutive interpreting in a hearing.

For all these occasions, interpreters would charge in the same fashion, as there is no definitive difference in work difficulty that would give a way to a lower charge.Understanding the nuances and differences about “live translation” would allow users to have a more accurate procurement target on what they need for their meetings and events. If you still have questions, you are welcomed to drop me a note or shoot me a quick WhatsApp message here.

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If you want me to provide you Interpretation/Translation service in English to Chinese (Mandarin) and vice versa, or a quotation for conference interpreting services of any languages, simply contact me by phone or email.

Dr. Bernard Song