What exactly does an interpreter do?

An interpreter deals with the spoken word, transferring words from one language to another language.

Interpreters hear information in one language and transfer or speak it in a second language.

Conference interpreters, who mainly work in booths using simultaneous interpreting equipment, work at conferences and international meetings. Most conference interpreters have an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in conference interpreting. Conference interpreters usually work simultaneously, or occasionally, consecutively.

Community interpreters work in a number of settings; garda stations, the courts, and some hospitals.

Different types of interpreting

Conference interpreting

This type is probably the most widely known type of interpreting.

Below is a list a non-exhaustive of the different types of interpreting modes (not in order of priority):

Consecutive interpreting

Either at a small gathering, during an official visit or dinner, the interpreter takes notes of the original speech and reproduces the entire statement in the target language. This type of interpretation does not require any technical equipment but does require note- taking skills in addition to language ones.

Simultaneous interpreting

This type of interpretation is the most commonly used one at conferences. Interpreters who always work in twos or threes are seated in a soundproof booth ideally overlooking the conference. They receive the speaker’s contribution through headphones and interpret it into the required language for the participants, who receive it through headsets. The main advantage of this type of interpreting is the simultaneity of the interpretation that brings a saving in time, and the possibility of interpreting more than one language at a time.


This type of interpreting is also called chuchotage in French. It resembles simultaneous mode but is supplied without a soundproof booth. Realistically an interpreter can only whisper if seated/standing between up to three listeners at one time.


This type of interpreting is used when accompanying clients on specific visits, such as: companies, visits of factories, banks, government departments, etc. The interpreter works both into and out of his/her mother tongue.

Community or Dialogue interpreting

This type of interpreting derives its name from the setting in which it is performed: hospitals, police stations and for different clients: refugees, asylum seekers, etc. either on the phone or on a person to person basis.

Legal Interpreting

This takes place when the interpreter enables communication between solicitors, barristers, judges and the plaintiff or defendant. It also includes interpreting in police stations.

Sign language interpreting

This type of interpreting is often overlooked. It is performed by an interpreter who ‘signs’ for a deaf person or by a deaf person who liases for the hearing community. It is also important to note that sign language can also be performed for blind people. – this requires some explanation.

Media interpreting

Interpreting is also performed for the media, either on TV or for the cinema. Interpreters work for TV stations on an ad hoc basis, often with no time for preparation. Simultaneous interpreting is also used at film festivals when there was neither time nor money to add subtitles to a film. Interpreters usually interpret the whole film on their own. Interpreting can also be performed via the Internet.

Remote or Telephone interpreting

This type of interpreting is quite common. (e.g. for presidents, ministers, etc…). Telephone interpreting happens a lot in the area of Community Interpreting as well.

Video-conferencing interpreting

In this setting, the interpreter looks at a TV screen and interprets for someone who is not in the same room. The interpreter’s performance can be influenced by specific technical difficulties, as for example a poor sound quality or just the fact that the speaker is not in the same environment and there are fewer visual clues as to speaker attitude etc.