In the interpreting sector of language services, one of the two most popular methods is consecutive interpreting. In consecutive interpreting, the interpreter or the language services provider (if they are the ones supplying the interpreting equipment) does not need complex planning or specialist equipment. In this interpreting method, the interpreter waits for the speaker to pause before repeating what has been said in the specific language.
Consecutive interpreting is substantially cheaper than the other popular method, simultaneous interpreting, but it is not considered as real-time delivery because of the pauses the speaker has to make to allow the interpreter to translate.
Consecutive interpreting takes time
The interpreter waits for the speaker to finish saying a sentence or a short paragraph before translating what the speaker just said. Because it is a talk and pause method, the interpretation takes longer than simultaneous interpreting.
It does break the meeting's rhythm, but that is the nature of consecutive interpreting. In simultaneous interpreting, the interpreter is inside a soundproof booth. He or she listens to what the speaker is saying through a headset. There are only a few seconds' gap before the interpreter starts to speak in the target language, so the delivery of the translation of the speech is in real time.
In consecutive interpreting, the speeches are divided into several segments. The interpreter typically stands or sits beside the speaker, listening to what is being said and taking notes while the speaker finishes the segment.
Requirements for consecutive interpreting
When the speaker stops speaking, the interpreter then renders the portion of the message or the entire message, depending on how it was delivered, into the target language. If the speaker talks in a sentence or two, it is easier for the interpreter to translate. However, when the speaker talks longer, the interpreter has to take notes in order to deliver the message accurately.
A speaker can talk for five minutes before pausing. A consecutive interpreter has to have an excellent memory aside from being fluent in the source and target languages. Moreover, the interpreter needs excellent note-taking skills. They use a special note system, wherein they use symbols to represent words that denote emphasis, negation, entailment, consistency and more. More often, the consecutive interpreter is required to recreate, rather than memorize, the meaning of the speech.
A client has to brief the consecutive interpreters thoroughly before the project starts. They should have the background information about the speaker, the theme of the event, the company and the products. It is essential to provide the interpreters with the drafts of the speeches and brief them if there are special vocabulary, terminologies and other vital information the client or the speaker requires. The more background information the interpreter receives, the more accurate the interpretation will be.
Advantages of simultaneous interpretation
In consecutive interpretation, the interpreter may not have all the text, but he or she should have the majority of it. Even if the interpreter's delivery of the information is not complete, it is essential that the message he or she delivers can stand alone, when needed.
Consecutive interpretation is advantageous when used to render speeches, press conferences, training activities, job interviews and court witness testimonies. However, it is vital that the interpreters should have all the necessary information beforehand to get the whole idea.
Consecutive interpretation is a classic form of interpretation. It does not require special equipment like the ones used by simultaneous interpreters such as soundproof interpreter's booths, interpreter consoles, headphones and microphones. The overhead cost is lower when consecutive interpreting is used.
Consecutive interpreting is less demanding than simultaneous interpreting. The client can use one consecutive interpreter for a small conference, training or seminar that only requires interpretation into one target language. This situation is all right if the event is below two hours. However, if the event will discuss technical and tough subject matters, it is best to have two interpreters.
If the event schedule is for more than two hours, the organizer should provide two consecutive interpreters to work alternately.
What makes it easier for a consecutive interpreter is that he or she already has the summary of the message. Thus, it is faster to adapt the translation of the speech to the proper context. While listening to the speaker, the interpreter has the chance to reformulate what is being said based on the context, in order to deliver the message more naturally. Of course, the interpreter still needs to understand the entire speech and take down good notes.
Unlike in simultaneous interpreting where the interpreter has to listen to every word the speaker says and render it into the target language, in consecutive interpreting, the interpreter has time to focus on processing the text and recreating it so the listener can understand the message quickly. The interpreter is given more flexibility to tailor the message to fit the cultural context and make it more appealing to the listeners.
Instances when consecutive interpretation is not suitable
Consecutive interpretation is not suitable for live TV broadcasts or for large conferences or conventions where multilingual participants are invited. Why is this so? When there are multilingual speakers and listeners, everyone has to wait for the speech to be rendered into all the target languages before the speaker can continue with the speech. This means an extension of the event, which could be very costly and ineffective.
Consecutive interpretation works best in small events where only one target language is required.
Some issues with consecutive interpreting
When providing language services, it is inevitable that the translator or the interpreter comes across some problems. While consecutive interpretation is less complex than simultaneous interpretation, there are also issues that crop up, such as:
- Difficulty in listening and note taking
- Speaker talks very fast and is difficult to interrupt
- Speaker forgets that there is an interpreter and does not pause in his/her speech
- Speaker stopping too early or too frequently, making it difficult to understand the idea he wants to get across
- Participants chatting among themselves while an interpreter is trying to listen to the main speaker
- Speaker taking the floor again while an interpreter is deciphering his/her notes
- Speaker knowing the target language and interrupts and corrects the interpreter
As mentioned earlier, consecutive interpreting is a classic form of interpretation that started to be used long before the development of advanced technical tools to facilitate communication. Consecutive translation has an interesting history that is worth knowing.
Interesting facts about consecutive interpreting
Officially, consecutive interpreting was first used during World War I. However, the interpreting method was already regularly used by ambassadors, politicians and merchants.
According to the author of the "Paris Peace Conference," Harold Nicolson, interpretation came into existence because British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson were not linguists. Consecutive interpretation was in high demand between the two world wars.
The best consecutive interpreters who were considered legendary were the Kaminker brothers (André and Georges), Jean Herbert and Antoine Vellemann.
- The Kaminker brothers were consecutive interpreters for the League of Nations, the United Nations and the Council of Europe. André Kaminker had photographic (eidetic) memory. He had the ability to reproduce the dramatic gestures, emotional tone, pauses and significant phrases of the speaker without using any notes. He also held a world record for interpreting the speech of a French diplomat that was two and a half hours long. He interpreted the entire speech without interrupting the speaker.
- Jean Herbert was also a first generation interpreter. He used to be the chief interpreter of the United Nations interpretation service in the organization's New York City headquarters. He was also a consecutive interpreter for the International Labor Office and the League of Nations.
During their time, they were not allowed to interrupt the speaker. They relied on their intelligence, memory and intricate system of taking notes.
Interpreters were already employed during ancient times. It is believed that professional interpreters worked at the courts of the pharaohs of Egypt.
During Korea's Joseon period, there was a specialized group called ''jungin'' or middle people. They helped run the government and belonged to the Office of Interpreters, which was a special office. The jungin furnished government interpreters for the kingdom's courts and taught foreign languages to civil servants.
A Mayan vase was discovered showing a ruler receiving several people. In one of the shields in the image, the word CHIJLAM was written. The word means 'interpreter' in the classic Mayan language.
During the early times and during the time when interpretation became officially recognized, there were several more people who worked as interpreters and translators to facilitate communication.
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