An interpreter’s fields of activity are very varied – they include the most well-known technique of simultaneous interpretation, which is often used during meetings of international organisations but also on television or during conferences. This activity primarily requires flexibility and speed – but at the same time utmost attention to detail is an interpreter’s number one priority. Technical equipment such as an interpreters’ booth or mobile interpreting equipment (a portable microphone and wireless headsets) are necessary for simultaneous interpreting. The technique of consecutive interpretation works as follows: the interpreter takes notes during the speech presented in the source language and once the speaker has finished his/her speech (or a maximum 20-30 minute section thereof), the interpreter presents the speech in the target language.

An “official“ definition states the following (based on the well known definition by Otto Kade, 1968):

Interpretation means the translation of a text which is presented once (usually in spoken form) in the source language into a text in the target language which can only be controlled to a certain extent and which can hardly be corrected due to lack of time.

Even after more than four decades this definition is still universally valid because it also includes non-verbal forms of interpretation such as sign language interpretation. What the definition mostly focuses on is the basic process of interpretation and its most important characteristics: the lack of time and the fact that the source language text is only uttered once.

The conference interpreter

There is no universally valid job description for this profession because even within the relatively small field of translation studies no universal opinion has yet been formed. The International Association of Conference Interpreters’ (AIIC) working definition, however, is widely used:

A Conference Interpreter is a person who by profession acts as a responsible linguistic intermediary (alone or more often as a member of a team) in a formal or informal conference or conference-like situation, thanks to his or her ability to provide simultaneous or consecutive oral interpretation of participants’ speeches, regardless of their length and complexity. (AIIC 1984)

As a consequence an interpreter is characterised by his/her field of activity which is described more precisely by Pöchhacker: „[…] virtually any field of activity involving coordination and exchange across linguistic boundaries.“ (Pöchhacker 2004:16), as well as by his/her working method. The two interpreting techniques named in the definition, simultaneous interpretation and consecutive interpretation are not the only techniques used. Chuchotage (whispered interpretation) is widely used as well.


Sounds a lot more easy than it is. Translation is about the transformation of a written text into another language. What’s most important here is that a perfect balance between attention to detail and speed is found – each translation has as many versions as it has translators and it’s possible to work on and look for the perfect translation forever. The necessary speed and decision-making ability often depend on an interpreter’s experience. Possible changes can be made to find the ideal solution for any one client.

Here goes the “official“ definition:

The (usually) written translation of a fixed and thus permanently available or repeatable text from the source language into the target language.

Sources:, Pöchhacher, Franz (2004): Introducing Interpreting Studies. London/New York: Routledge.

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