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Whys and Wherefores

Everything you always wanted to know about interpreting...

What’s the difference between simultaneous and consecutive interpreting? How many interpreters? What kind of equipment is needed? Our responses to FAQs give you the answers.

If you have other questions that we haven’t answered here, just call or e-mail us. We’re always glad to help.

  • Interpreting - how does it work?

    Simultaneous interpreters sit in booths, listen to what’s being said via earphones and render the content of the speech into a microphone as the speaker is talking. The audience can hear the translated content on their headsets. Simultaneous interpreting has a number of advantages. You don't have to wait for the translation, the other participants are hardly aware of the interpreters and the speech can be translated into various languages at the same time. This is why simultaneous interpreting is the set-up of choice at conferences.
    Consecutive interpreters note down the content on a pad and subsequently render the whole speech or exchange in the language required. Here the translation comes after the event, so the whole process takes longer. But frequently the impact is stronger. At negotiations, the parties involved have more time to think about what’s been said. Technical equipment is not necessary. This is the mode of choice for bilateral talks, negotiations or dinner speeches.

  • And how much does it cost?

    As conference interpreters we charge by the day. As a rule, the fee will include the time we need to prepare for the conference. The total cost very much depends on the specifics of your event. Just tell us where and when it will take place, how long you will need us, and what the conference will be about. In most cases the Syntax interpreter will be able to give you an estimate right away. A detailed offer will follow shortly after (of course without any obligation on your part).

  • Why two simultaneous interpreters, not just one?

    Simultaneous interpreting requires total concentration. That’s why these interpreters take turns at 30-minute intervals. A professional interpreter can manage up to 40 minutes on his/her own, but anything beyond that makes at least two simultaneous interpreters indispensable to ensure that what they say is completely reliable. Depending on the length of the event and/or the complexity of the lectures and topics, three interpreters or more may be necessary.

  • Why three simultaneous interpreters, not two?

    The number of interpreters required depends on the length of the proceedings and the complexity of the lectures and topics. Half-day meetings (or full-day conferences with very long breaks) with translation between two languages call for two simultaneous interpreters. An all-day conference with highly technical content will require three interpreters.
    This is the only way to ensure that quality is as it should be from start to finish. Tell us what you have in mind and we’ll suggest the number of interpreters that we know by experience to be appropriate. No more, no less.

  • What equipment do I need for simultaneous interpreting?

    The “visible” equipment encompasses one or more interpreting booth(s) and wireless receivers for the audience. The booths are arranged so that the interpreters can see what’s going on and convey the entire communication. Also required are a transmission system and above all an experienced technician.
    We'll be happy to help you choose and hire the conference equipment you need for your event.

  • Isn’t a tour guide system like you get in museums a simpler and cheaper option?

    You may have come across tour guide systems in museums or when you’ve been shown round a factory. The museum guide speaks into a wireless microphone and his/her audience listens via wireless receivers. Sometimes systems like this are indeed used for “mobile” simultaneous interpreting, e.g. for a guided tour of a plant or for training sessions in small groups with plenty of interaction.
    But tour guide systems are not suitable for conferences or lectures on specialist subjects. The interpreters talk in the same room and at the same time as the speaker, and this will distract the participants. Nor is it ideal in terms of reliability. The interpreters cannot hear the speaker clearly enough (remember, they’re talking at the same time) and incidental noise can also interfere with comprehension. This way, 15 million can very easily turn into 50 million..

  • Why do interpreters need prior information and documentation?

    You can only give an account of something you’ve properly understood, and this is equally true of interpreting. So genuinely professional interpreters will always gen themselves up beforehand on what the event is about and the terminology required. For example, many company-specific terms are one-off affairs you won’t find in dictionaries. Accordingly, preparation means going through the complete set of conference documents. It may seem banal, but people’s names are important too. At a conference, it’s essential to address the right people (with their correct names!) so that they know that they’re the ones you mean.So it’s in the interests of the organiser to make sure the interpreters get all the relevant information. Naturally, professional conference interpreters are models of discretion at all times.
    Incidentally, thorough preparation for a conference rarely incurs any extra expense. It’s all part of the job.

  • How early should interpreters be given the documents they need for preparation?

    The earlier, the better. True, power point files on a USB stick during the conference itself can still be useful. But it’s always worth asking the speakers in good time for information on their talks and passing it on to the interpreters. That way, they’re better prepared than if they get the lowdown at the last minute. It usually makes good sense to have most of the documents available 2 weeks before the event in question takes place.

 

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