Consecutive interpretation and some conference interpreters.

April 10, 2012 § 11 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

I have always known throughout my professional career that some of my colleagues in the conference interpreting field do not like consecutive interpretation. I have listened to speeches about all the meaning that is lost when we use consecutive, I have sat through endless conversations about how the true conference interpreter only does simultaneous work, and I have heard many colleagues refer to consecutive interpretation as a lesser mode used by court and medical interpreters.

Unfortunately, I have also listened to some of their consecutive renditions.  I want to be clear about something: I love conference interpreting; I firmly believe that it is the most complex and demanding field of our profession, and I know that most of my conference interpreter colleagues are the best in their countries and fields of specialization. Nobody gets to be a conference interpreter by accident.

However, there are situations in the real world that require of fast-thinking and improvising.  I cannot remember all the times when after being hired as a conference interpreter to work in the booth, I have been asked to interpret a press conference, or I have been asked to interpret while the dignitaries are given a tour of a facility, or a foreign guest requested that I approach so she can tell something to the host before an event.  All these situations require consecutive interpretation, and they are essential to the success of the conference or event.  I have found my start in court interpreting, and my continuous work in the courts, even if these days it has been brief, to be an incredibly useful asset for this type of work.

With the advent of “consecutaneous” interpretation (the new mode used in many courts where the questions to a witness are simultaneously interpreted and only the answers are rendered consecutively) some court interpreters now tend to ignore the consecutive mode as they consider it obsolete and inaccurate.  In my opinion, we should always try to practice and use consecutive interpretation as we never know when we will really need to use it, even in an interpretation field where we rarely need to.  Please let me know what you think.

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§ 11 Responses to Consecutive interpretation and some conference interpreters.

  • Daniel García Pallaviccini says:

    Mr Harry Obst, a distinguished interpreter himself and the author of “White House interpreter” gives a very convincing argument of why consecutive is the superior skill, and the one more likely to provide an accurate rendition. Simply put, if you want to interpret an idea, you’d better listen to all of it, as context will give you clues. I am not as distinguished an interpreter as Mr Obst, but I think he is right.

    Besides, what you describe as “consecutaneous” (I had never heard that!) is increasingly common.

  • Brenda Bibiloni-Kreisher says:

    I started my career as a Court Interpreter in California, but have been working as a Conference Interpreter in Puerto Rico for over 15 years. For me now the consecutive mode is most challenging. I beleive you have to be more accurate than in simultaneous ( no chance for poetic licences!). Plus I feel safe in my booth , when doing consec you have to perform for an audience and deal with numerous interjections from everybody. As a Conference Interpreter I have the utmost respect for my colleagues who do consec everyday.

  • Micky Friedman says:

    I actually find myself doing more and more “consecuchuchoting” where I am wispering for one delegate into one language and doing consecutive into the other for all the other delegates. Whatever the situation, I agree that it is becoming more and more difficult to forecast what will happen and to know exactly what mix of modes will be needed. In fact, even when the client says he needs simultaneous, I shy away from recruiting colleagues who do not do consecutive just to be on the safe side.
    Speaking now as a teacher of interpretation, I must say I still insist on teaching consecutive first and only once the students have mastered that mode, are they introduced to simultaneous.

  • Scott Robert Loos says:

    First, I believe it is essential to distinguish among conference consecutive, seminar consecutive and court consecutive. I studied to be a conference interpreter before I began to work in court. Delivering a segment of a speech delivered to a group is quite different from witness-stand question-and-answer consecutive; the Rozan-method notetaking connected with consecutive was designed for conference consecutive, often labyrinthine paragraphs whose style and word choices were to be mirrored but not necessarily reproduced. No rules of evidence applied in those situations. My experience indicates that the simultaneous target version of the question posed and the answer delivered in a courtroom is quite different from the interpreter doing consecutive on the witness stand.

  • Tolken says:

    I’m surprised to hear people are rejecting consecutive. It is less used in conference context nowadays. But as you say, press conferences, or company visits, or liaison, or court. And as several others have said; it is a very good way to start learning the interpreting skill. So, I would agree with you, consecutive is alive and well, and equally important as the other interpreting skills.

  • Julia Poger says:

    I started out working as a conference interpreter in the US, and then moved to Europe. While in the US, we used consecutaneous in some situations, and pure consecutive or simultaneous in others, depending on the job. But the jobs with pure simul and no contact with the delegates were vanishingly small. The US Department of State does a large percentage of its work in consec, especially treaty negotiations, because it is more accurate. I have worked with colleagues there who would do anything to avoid it, even offering equipment, that they would have rented out in other circumstances, for free so they could do simul with bidule rather than consec. This is often because in the US, and a lot in my language combination, the conference interpreters are native speakers of the foreign language with no training in interpreting school, so feel that consec is baby simul. When I arrived in Europe, I was gratified to see that consec was recognized for the difficult and exacting skill that is is, and can get paid more than working in simul. I do less of it here, more’s the pity, but enjoy it immensely whenever I do!

  • Irene Gosnear says:

    Those interested in the issue of Consecutive vs. Simultaneous in judicial settings might be interested in consulting Holly Mikkelson’s article “Consecutive or Simultaneous? An Analysis of Their Use in the Judicial Setting”, which is available on her website, At the risk of letting the cat out of the bag, Ms. Mikkelson points to research indicating that, in the context of witness testimony, consecutive interpretation may be more accurate than simultaneous.

    In more general terms, working interpreters are frequently called on to utilize the three modes of interpretation — sight, simultaneous, and consecutive — sometimes within the context of one assignment or proceeding. I am of the opinion that interpreters who stop developing their skills in any of those modes proceed at their own peril.

  • Julia Poger says:

    Not to take over the comments, but something just happened today. You can be in the booth all day doing mental gymnastics trying to fit square source language ideas into round target language ears at 85,000 mph, and no one will pay attention. But you get up in front of an audience and do 5 minutes of consec, and suddenly the entire audience is at your feet, telling you how wonderful you are. Consec is our best marketing tool.

  • Please, get a life and open your eyes. Outside of the booth and the court room lays a rich world of situations where interpreters intervene to allow communication to happen. More than often, they have been learning by doing, that is doing many things in circumstances that calls for liaison interpreting – yes there are many tags to call these situations and the service provided including the derogatory “escort interpreting” – be it in business settings – no, not the blue chip company with in-house meeting room and sim booths (stop visualizing your standard plushy environment) but the SME cramped room or the back-room of a grease smelling workshop – training sessions, medical institutions, public administration offices, booths at trade shows, wedding ceremonies (yes!) with multicultural partners getting married, war scenes – yes, Afghan and Iraki terps did not do Monterrey and have no clue about your next terp conference – at school helping with kids (and the parents) not yet fluent with the local language, and probably many more situations that can be listed.

    Contrary to most of you, trained conference interpreters or court interpreters, these people including myself have seldom gone through formal studies, are represented by no organizations, have no sense of organization, loath at getting together (for what, meeting a competitor?), have poor professional consciousness of being part of something bigger than themselves, and on top of that, they don’t read your blogs, mine included, they don’t know nor care about John Benjamins Publishing Company, they don’t know the AIIC, they don’t know Brussels or the UN as terping scenes, they massively work alone so booth manners is foreign to them, they don’t leave comments here, they don’t know you. And you usually don’t know them.

    That’s probably the main reason behind the eulogy for consec – short and long, don’t wrap it up conveniently under a single term – a eulogy delivered by the very people for whom the booth is the heart of the shrine. Mine is the meeting room, usually, of various sizes, and some are smelly.

  • Olga says:

    Consecutive Interpretation (further CI) is a choice form of bilingual round tables, and it’s always requested by the corporate execs and at the cabinet level meetings. Why? Allows time to think and hear your own thoughts translated, often into a language the speaker knows quite well. CI is not obsolete, and it is much more difficult than SI, like automatic versus stick-shift. I have been sitting in the booth most of my life pleased with myself at how good I am as an educated, trained, skilled simultaneous interpreter (SI) when I got a mic, and a half-hour speech in front of a mass of people. Pen, paper, and names and numbers were all written down… Memory training, developing EZ identifiable sign systems and the ability to remember in clusters and in pictures… SI is automatic, and comes up very useful, but stick is so much more fun…

  • Reblogged this on 21st Century Global Village and commented:
    In this blog, Tony Rosado introduced me to the term “Consecutaneous interpreter” (the mode where -in the same encounter- you use both simultaneous AND consecutive, in accordance with the needs of the participants).

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