The Role of Conference Interpreters and What They Do

Last Updated On: January 9, 2023


conference interpreters

Conference interpreting is a verbal form of translation that is conducted by a professional interpreter and sometimes a team of interpreters. Interpretation at a conference is used to translate presentations, speeches, and conversations into the native or the preferred language of a conference audience.

What is conference interpreting?

A conference interpreter works in a formal environment such as at:

  • International conferences
  • trade negotiations,
  • a meeting between government heads,
  • legal proceedings.

The conference interpreter typically works simultaneously, which means the translation takes place in real-time.


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    Modes of conference interpreting

    A conference interpreter works in the heart of a debate and requires rapid reactions, steel nerves, and the ability to be quick thinkers on their own. A conference interpreter typically translates into their mother tongue from their second language. 

    There are three different types of interpreting which will depend on the type of meeting.  The interpreter may use one of the following interpreter modes: 

    • simultaneous,
    • consecutive,
    • whispering.

    Simultaneous interpreting (SI)

    Simultaneous interpreting does have its disadvantages if a person is performing an interpreting service the interpreter needs to provide the best possible outcome in a given period of time depending on the speed of the source speech. There are some advantages such as saving time and not interrupting the speaker’s natural flow.  SI may also be achieved by software when the program can listen simultaneously to incoming speech and speak out an interpretation immediately.

    Consecutive interpreting (CI)

    In consecutive interpreting, the interpreter begins to interpret when the speaker pauses so a lot more time (even double) may be needed. The interpreter will stand or sit as close as possible to the speaker. The consecutive interpretation could be conducted in a specific pattern of long or short segments depending on what the interpreter prefers.  The interpreter depends on memory in short segments while, in longer CI, the interpreter will depend on note-taking. The notes need to be legible and clear so there is little time is wasted when reading them. Consecutive interpreting that is not in small pieces is preferred so the interpreter has the complete meaning before translating it into the targeted language. This affords a truer, more accurate, and more accessible interpretation than where short CI or simultaneous interpretation is used.


    Whisper interpretation has been used for years and its aim is not to disturb the original speaker and anyone else present. The interpreter’s voice can only be low if the interpreter and the person needing interpretation to stand or sit as close as possible to one another. Whispering is actually not involved as it is too difficult to do an accurate interpretation.

    What does a conference interpreter do?

    The interpreter listens to the words spoken by the speaker and translates them into the targeted language while keeping the speaker’s message as accurate as possible. There may be several interpreters at a conference so all the delegate’s languages are covered and everyone is able to concentrate and understand the theme of the conference.

    Why is conference interpreting so important?

    By using conference interpreting speakers are able to participate more smoothly and effectively in the conference whatever the language. Conference interpreting allows all participating delegates to take part in the conference regardless of the languages they speak. It lets them engage with one another despite potential language barriers almost immediately; allowing the conversations to keep moving while also making sure listeners won’t get bored.

    If you need professional interpretation at your conference, hire a professional interpretation company that can provide experienced interpreters to aid communication and make the conference more accessible and successful.

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