Interpreting Modes

Interpreting involves communicating an oral or signed message between parties who do not share a common language. An interpreting mode is the way a message is converted and transmitted from one language to another. There is no best interpreting mode, rather, a mode is selected based on the setting, circumstances and parties involved in the interpreting encounter. Below is information on the three interpreting modes plus summarization — not a true mode but a method of last resort.


Consecutive Interpreting

Consecutive interpreting is the most common mode of interpreting. In involves rendering a message from the source language to the target language after the speaker/signer has paused. Ideally, the speaker pauses often, keeping his/her interventions short so that the interpreter (who should be taking notes while each party is speaking) can accurately interpret everything. Community interpreters work primarily in consecutive mode because it facilitates direct, dynamic communication among all parties.

Simultaneous Interpreting

Simultaneous interpreting involves rendering a message from the source language to the target language with a only a short delay while the speaker/signer is still communicating his/her message. Conference interpreters work primarily in simultaneous mode because it facilitates faster communication among large groups of people who often need interpreting performed in multiple languages at once. Ideally, specialized equipment, such as headsets, microphones, transmitters and interpreting booths are provided in order to perform simultaneous interpreting under optimum conditions.


In this video, interpreters Barry Slaughter Olsen, Co-President of InterpretAmerica, and Katty Kauffman, Conference and Court Interpreter, face a series of challenges to test their simultaneous interpreting abilities. Can Katty interpret a text message conversation in real time? Can Barry interpret a recorded speech that continually gets faster? Watch and find out!


Sight Translation

Sight translation involves rendering a message written in the source language into the target language. In other words, sight translation means translating a written text into a spoken or signed language.


Summarization involves listening/watching/reading a message (oral, signed or written) and then interpreting the essence or summary of that message. This method is often used by untrained interpreters and goes directly against the principle of communicative autonomy. However, summarization may be necessary in emergencies and when one of the parties can’t or won’t pause speaking or signing.