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What are the 4 main types of interpreting?

If you’re looking into interpreting services for the first time, you may be coming across some unfamiliar and confusing terms.

On-site, telephone, video remote, conference, consecutive and simultaneous interpreting…

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry.

In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the 4 main types of interpreting by exploring the services that Ethnolink offers, including:

We’ll go through the advantages and disadvantages of each type of interpreting service and in a few short minutes, you’ll have a better idea of which type of interpreting service is most suited to your unique situation and needs!

Not sure if you’re looking for translation or interpreting services?
Find out
what’s the difference between translation and interpreting.


On-site interpreting

As part of on-site or face-to-face interpreting services, an interpreter will travel to the required location to provide in-person interpreting services.

Typically, this form of interpreting involves consecutive interpreting, whereby the interpreter listens to one speaker, takes notes, and then reproduces what the speaker has said in another language, and then does the same in the other direction.

Some of the advantages of on-site interpreting include:

  • Easier identification of verbal and non-verbal cues (such as body language); and
  • Building rapport and trust with your interpreter (this is especially beneficial if you will be working with the same interpreter over the course of multiple sessions).

On the other hand, some disadvantages of on-site interpreting are:

  • Higher costs, as you will need to cover travel costs and a higher booking fee;
  • Scheduling difficulties leading to restricted availability of interpreters; and
  • Travel risks (e.g., public transport disruptions and traffic congestion)

On-site interpreting services are especially common for medical and legal appointments.


Video remote interpreting (VRI)

Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) connects you with an interpreter via online video platforms, such as Zoom, MS Teams or Skype.

You can simply arrange for your interpreter to attend your online session at the appointed time, including providing them access to your meeting, and the interpreter will log on at the scheduled time to provide their interpreting services remotely.

Want to see what remote video interpreting looks like in action?

Check out this excerpt from our recent Ethnolink Education lesson, How to involve multicultural communities in your next translation project, where our very own Mandarin interpreter, Wenxuan, facilitated communication between our team and a Chinese-speaking community member.

In general, VRI provides some clear advantages, such as:

  • A high level of flexibility, with access to a larger pool of interpreters;
  • Being more cost-effective; and
  • Providing visual communication cues, as opposed to audio-only communication (see telephone interpreting).

Video remote interpreting because a very popular solution  during the pandemic, however it is certainly here to stay, due to the fact that it is a more flexible and cost-effective high-value alternative to more traditional on-site interpreting.

Of course, VRI does comes with its own challenges, such as:

  • Technological issues that are outside both the interpreter’s and client’s control;
  • Difficulty coordinating all participants; and
  • Need for professional equipment and setup to allow for a smooth experience.

However, you can mitigate these challenges by planning ahead, and our Interpreting Strategists can support you and provide some tips and tricks to ensure a smooth VRI experience.


Telephone interpreting


Telephone interpreting is another remote interpreting solution, similar to VRI, except it is undertaken over the phone.

Often, telephone interpreting service providers use booking platforms to help them automate the booking process, connecting clients to interpreters almost instantaneously.

However, at Ethnolink, we prefer a more personalised, white-glove approach, whereby our Interpreting Strategists directly pre-book all interpreting sessions, matching our clients to the most well-suited interpreter ahead of time.

Telephone interpreting has the advantage of:

  • Being quick, flexible and convenient; and
  • Also the cheapest of all our Ethnolink’s interpreting solutions.

However, it also has some disadvantages, including:

  • Being more impersonal; and
  • The limitation to verbal communication only.

Visual communication cues help interpreters to understand and convey a speaker’s thoughts and emotions more accurately, especially if the speaker is having difficulty expressing themselves.

Additionally, being limited to verbal communication only means that telephone interpreting is not appropriate for AUSLAN interpreting, for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing.


Conference interpreting


Conference interpreting is what people typically think of when they think of interpreting, as it is what is most commonly portrayed in pop culture (think Nicole Kidman in The Interpreter).

It’s also one of the most challenging types of interpreting, due to it taking place in a demanding, fast-paced environment.

Traditionally, conference interpreting has been an on-site service, where interpreters are set up in soundproofed booths, providing live, simultaneous interpreting at high-level business meetings and international conferences.

Simultaneous interpreting differs from consecutive forms of interpreting, and typically involves an interpreter relaying the message from one language to another in real-time, resulting in a fairly smooth output.

In this unique environment, experienced and capable conference interpreters can be difficult to find.

Because of this, interpreting providers such as Ethnolink prioritise recruiting conference interpreters with proven, demonstrable experience in this setting.

This service offers great advantages:

  • High-quality experience; and
  • Interpreting in real-time, in multiple languages.

But on-site conference interpreting can also have disadvantages, including:

  • Need for an on-site technical support team;
  • Need for specific equipment;
  • Travel costs and requirements; and
  • Overall higher costs.

During the pandemic, these disadvantages became especially challenging, as lockdowns and travel restrictions prevented on-site conference interpreting from taking place, and as a result, remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) became a necessary alternative.

Remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI)

RSI is a mode of interpreting that provides live, simultaneous interpreting services through a cloud-based platform.

Any interpreting service that leverages simultaneous interpreting can utilise RSI, and this mode of interpreting is not exclusive to conference interpreting; for example, workshops, webinars and induction sessions are all events that can benefit from RSI.

RSI platforms are able to accommodate a large number of speakers and participants with a technical support team working in the background, in addition to the teams of interpreters.


Some closing thoughts

By now, you know the 4 types of interpreting that are commonly available, plus a few interpreting modes, such as consecutive and simultaneous interpreting that are commonly used in interpreting services.

We will be exploring consecutive and simultaneous interpreting further in our upcoming blog post, What’s the difference between consecutive and simultaneous interpreting.

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