Simultaneous translation: learn how it works

Profissionais de tradução simultânea

Understand how one of the main segments of translation works

The work of translators is quite varied and versatile. Although translators works in the field of linguistics, different branches can be pursued, like simultaneous translation, for example, one of the most sought after segments.

Those who have witnessed an interpreter in action, whether in person or not, have become impressed by their agility. Interpreters need to act quickly not to compromise service quality and there is a great deal of technique, theory and practice involved.

Learn more about simultaneous translation, how it works, when it is needed, and what advantages it provides.

What is simultaneous translation?

It is a service in which a speaker and an interpreter speak almost simultaneously, with the speaker speaking in their native language and the interpreter in the requested target language, so that the audience who doesn’t speak the speaker’s language can attend meetings, gatherings and conversations in general.

People usually mistake this type of translation for consecutive translation, when a translator speaks at specific intervals, when the speaker pauses their speech. This buys translators some time so that they can organize their ideas and convey the message as reliably as possible.

Historically, simultaneous translation has officially existed since the late 1920s. In 1925, businessman and philanthropist Edward Filene had the idea of including this type of translation during the League of Nations. A patent was received by an IBM employee on behalf of Alan Gordon Finlay.

Since Filene was not an engineer, he involved Briton Alan Gordon Finlay in the process, who worked in Geneva at the time. Both used telephone equipment at the time to set up the system, and named the procedure telephone interpretation.

Originally, the system was called ” Filene-Finlay simultaneous translator “, which was offered to AT&T but rejected. Subsequently, IBM took part in the process and developed the system with the help of its founder, Mr. Thomas John Watson.

One of the most famous applications of the simultaneous translation system took place at the Nuremberg Trials, where the world was amazed by linguists who provided very high-speed translations between English, French, Russian and German.

Since then, this type of translation has been incorporated by the United Nations, the European Union, and other government agencies and companies around the world for use in their meetings, conferences and operations.

Curiously, some experienced linguists believe the Nuremberg Trials, which began on November 20, 1945 and ended on 1 October 1946, would have taken at least four times longer to complete if it hadn’t been for simultaneous translation.

Another curious aspect is a French word, “chuchotage”, which means “whispering”. This technique is reported to have been used at a European visitor’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, and the quality of the service provided by the interpreter was so high that he was able to translate the conversation non-stop.

How do simultaneous translations work?

Interpreters use sound transmitters and translate and speak – very briefly – to listeners, who use sound receivers to understand what translators are saying.

The above-mentioned chuchotage technique is based on the same linguistic process, but no technology is used, meaning interpreters have to translate and whisper what is said by the speaker in the ear of the recipient.

Clearly, technology has helped translators provide this type of service, in a way they  can more clearly listen to what is being said and the message can be directed to a larger number of people, who will also be able to understand it effectively.

Today, simultaneous translation is used a bit differently than it was in the past, but the technique and expertise of interpreters offering simultaneous translation are still the same. They are required to master both the source and target language to effectively provide the service.

Interpreters must also have good communication skills and cope with the presence of an audience, as their services often involve considerably large audiences.

Simultaneous translation is said to be one of the most challenging translation segments, without, in any way, diminishing other linguistic areas. Simultaneous translation requires a great deal of agility, skills and precision.

As with the translation used in movies, series, and other contents, simultaneous translation also requires extensive language expertise, as well as general knowledge about the politics, social issues, economics, and historical conditions of the countries where the source languages are spoken, so that interpreters can make the necessary adaptations without compromising speech originality.

So, in addition to being quite a popular translation service, it is also very important that the selected interpreters be highly qualified, thus offering the best possible results to all stakeholders.

When is simultaneous translation used?

In congresses, political meetings, corporate events and, basically, in all occasions where oral translation is needed in a quick, convenient and efficient way.

Simultaneous translation helps eliminate language barriers because people from different nationalities are able to attend meetings together and understand each other. In other words, this translation segment has limitless potential.

With the above historical and detailed explanation, it became clear why simultaneous translation is one of the major translation services, which should still be available for many years to come given the fact that communication is crucial in our society.

If you need top-quality simultaneous translation services, don’t hesitate to choose an experienced and competent translation agency. So, no matter where you need the service, you can be sure everyone will be able to communicate effectively.

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