Different Modes and Types of Interpretation

By Site Admin | Oct 7, 2019

As globalization brings countries closer together, investors and companies are traveling to various countries in search of business opportunities. In many cases, interpretation is necessary for foreign companies to work with local authorities and partners. However, many clients and interpreters do not fully understand the various interpretation types. Each interpretation type is conducted in a different working environment, requires a different skillset, and therefore offers a different level of compensation. Clients and interpreters should carefully discuss the details of the event or project to select the most suitable interpretation type. If interpreters misunderstand the interpretation type for the job, their work quality might be affected and their reputation damaged. Similarly, if clients assume the wrong interpretation type, they risk over-paying, upsetting the interpreter, or in the worse case, having the interpreter walk out on the job, which affect the success of the negotiations or business discussions.

In this article, we are going to explain the different modes and types of interpretation as defined by Freelensia. You can view the full list of interpretation types when you search for interpreters on our homepage and listings page.




Modes of interpretation refer to the way in which the interpreter listens to the content that is being said and convey it to his listeners. We believe there are three modes of interpretation.


1. Consecutive Interpretation

This is the most common mode of interpretation and is used in most of the interpretation types below. In this mode, the speaker speaks for a short period of time (typically under a minute) while the interpreter takes notes. The speaker then pauses and gives the interpreter some indication that he has finished his part. It is now the interpreter’s turn to translate the spoken content to the second language, and the process repeats. This mode is extremely popular because it is relatively simple for the interpreters and the listeners to follow the content. The interpretation rate is also reasonable precisely because it is not difficult. However this interpretation mode takes twice the amount of time required for each event or meeting, hence for big seminars and conferences, it is not preferred. This leads us to the next mode of consecutive interpretation.


2. Simultaneous Interpretation

This mode is also called real-time interpretation or cabin interpretation. In this mode, the interpreter wears a headset (usually while sitting in a booth), listens to the spoken voice of the speakers and interpret into a microphone simultaneously. Only the most experienced interpreters are able to perform this mode, which justifies a higher interpretation rate compared to consecutive interpretation. You can read more about this mode in the *real-time interpretation types* below.


3. Whispering Interpretation

Also called chuchotage, this mode is similar to simultaneous interpretation in that the interpreter also interprets as he listens to the speaker. The difference is that the interpreter often sits next to the listener (usually one but occasionally two or three persons), and whispers the translated content in his ears. Depending on the requirements of the client, the interpreter may interpret the full content or provide only a summary. This interpretation mode can sometimes be very difficult because the interpreter is often distracted by the noise around him and must be able to control his voice. A whispering interpreter is often hired to accompany VIPs during formal occasions such as important business meetings or gala dinners.




Types of interpretation refer to the work location and conditions, the characteristics of the speakers and listeners and non-interpretation tasks the interpreter needs to perform. In Freelensia, there are 17 interpretation types. You can view the full list of interpretation types in our homepage or listings page when you are searching for interpreter listings.


1. Tour Guide



This is the most basic type of interpretation. The tour guide will advise the client (tourists) on the itinerary, present the attractions to the client, and interpret between the client and local people or shop owners. A tour guide needs to have good physicality, responsibility, and an upbeat character. An understanding of major tourist destinations, relevant vocabularies or in some case a tour-guide license is also required.


2. PG (Promotion Girl)


PG (Promotion Girl) is a special type of interpretation. Women are predominantly hired as PGs (therefore the acronym PG) but men can also be hired. As a PG, interpreters will be models for exhibitions, trade fairs, fashion shows, and photoshoot commercials. The main job of PGs is to introduce the products as well as represent the face of the company. Therefore, PGs need to be fairly good-looking and have above-average communication skills. On the other hand, PGs can get by with just a basic level of interpretation skills.


3. Booth Attendance



With some interpretation and communication skills, you can apply for a booth attendance position in exhibitions and trade fairs. This type of interpretation is popular among language students because in general, the job does not require specialized vocabulary. Interpreters will be staying in a company’s booth with a manager.  The interpreters need to be good at communication to answer customers’ questions, attract potential clients and get their business cards for further contact. With the advent of automatic translation software, the need for booth attendance interpreters are going down, but the value of a booth-attendance interpreter is also in setting up and cleaning up the booth, as well as various administrative tasks like data entry of name card information and following-up with potential customers after the event is over.


4. Exhibition Visit




A trip to an exhibition abroad is always an important event for a company. To make an exhibition visit most effective, it is recommended to find a common language for business communication. A skilled interpreter will be a big help for the clients to succeed and make the best out of the visit. To best serve their customers, an interpreter should have an outgoing personality, excellent communication skills, physical endurance and be adaptable and prepared to follow foreign habits to represent the customer in the best possible way. In addition, the interpreter and the client should meet in advance to brief about the company’s products and services, histories, and the intended purpose of the visit.


5. Factory Visit



In a factory visit, a foreign company visits a local manufacturer, tours the assembly lines, inspects the products or verifies the quality. The hired interpreter will have to come to the factories and listen and give interpretation to both parties while they are discussing subjects. This type requires the interpreter to have strong specialized vocabulary knowledge and typically several years of experience in the respective industry might be needed.

Factory and exhibition visits are similar in terms of interpretation and appear more often in developing countries such as China, Vietnam, and Indonesia.


6. Escort


An escort interpreter or travel interpreter is a general term to describe the interpretation type whereby the hired interpreter helps the client to navigate while they are traveling on business trips. These interpreters may accompany clients to a single meeting or to a handful of meetings. Escort/travel interpreters are not just interpreters but often act as a cultural guide, responsible for everything from ordering food to closing the business deals. This type of interpreting is often used for a meet-and-greet, an interview, a sightseeing tour, helping foreign guests to visit a site/city, event hosting and so on. Therefore, interpreters have to be knowledge experts of the local culture, location, and business etiquette.


7. General Business Meeting



With this interpretation type, the client is joining a business partner in a business meeting. The discussion may be about a future sales contract, a potential collaboration scheme, or complains about existing products or services. In a general business meeting, the technicality of the content is generally low to medium. Therefore, interpreters only need to remember clearly the interpreting procedures and general business terms and etiquette in order to perform successfully.


8. High-Level Business Meeting



High-level business meeting interpretation can be compared with the previously described general business meeting interpretation type. However, in high-level business meetings, your clients may be C-level management or other VIPs, so interpreters must be extremely experienced and have mastery of both interpretation languages equally well. In addition, the interpreter must know to use the highest level of honorific speech (경어 in Korean and 敬語 in Japanese). One mistake may undermine the relationship between clients, working partners or even two countries!

In some cases, the meeting participants are not high-level, but the meeting content is complicated and interpreters may categorize the event as a high-level business meeting. At Freelensia, since interpreters are not allowed to create different listings for different industries, some interpreters use this interpretation type to create a listing with a higher price that which compensates them for the additional complexity.


9. M&A Negotiation (Mergers & Acquisitions Negotiation)




An M&A negotiation is a special type of high-level business meeting. In an M&A negotiation, a buyer meets a seller to discuss the sale of the seller’s company. In most cases, there are financial advisers helping both sides negotiate the deal. The target price may range from a few million to several hundred million USD. As such, the interpreter must have familiarity with financial, business, negotiation as well as contract terms. Confidentiality is another issue and interpreters may have to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). Given the importance of the deal, the client is willing to pay a high price for this interpretation type, if a suitable interpreter is found.


10. Police Investigation / Interrogation



When the police talk to people (suspects, victims, witnesses, experts)  it’s important that both parties understand everything that’s being said. If the interviewee cannot speak the same language as the investigator, an interpreter must be present to properly interpret and relay the information provided. Although this type of interpretation is one of the oldest, still very little is widely known about it. A police interpreter must have solid legal and criminal knowledge, handle stressful situations and above all remain impartial. This interpretation type is common in developed countries such as the United States, England, Germany, etc. due to the large influx of immigrants moving to these countries.


11. Court Hearing (Judicial Interpretation)



Court interpreters are called upon for judicial cases, such as court hearings, commercial litigations, or arbitration sessions. In such a session, if any witnesses have been called to the stand who don't speak English, they have a reliable way of expressing themselves. The job may also require interpreters to read aloud documents in a language other than that in which they were written. The difference between this interpretation type and police interpretation is that the judicial setting is a lot more formal, so, a comprehensive understanding of the legal system is required and the discussions can get into tiny technical details.  Like police interpretation, this interpretation type is also common in developed countries, and in many cases, the court interpreter requires a license to perform this work as they are paid a higher rate compared to police interpreters.


12. Medical Visit



When a foreign patient visits a hospital for health examination or treatment, or when doctors or medical supply companies come to demonstrate new equipment and procedures to local doctors, medical interpreters are required.  Medical interpreters work in all specialty areas and across a wide range of medical facilities including hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and mental health clinics. Interpreters for this type must be excellent listeners. To accurately interpret all communication they hear, they must also be attentive to non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language. This type of interpretation is also more popular in countries with an established healthcare system, such as France, Japan, or Singapore. They may also need to have a license to perform their work, which makes medical interpretation a high-paying job.

13. Courtesy Visit


Courtesy visit or courtesy call is a formal meeting where a representative such as a president, prime minister or ambassador pays a visit out of courtesy to another head of state. This visit is almost similar to high – level business meeting because the participants are often government authorities and high-profile guests. In a courtesy visit, two interpreters sit behind the two leaders and perform consecutive interpretation. While the content of this visit is not usually detailed discussion, political manner and sometimes royal etiquette are required. Furthermore, a good grasp of current political situations between the two countries is required as the leader sometimes go off tangent on the discussion.


14. Consecutive Seminar


In this interpretation type, one or several speakers are invited to speak or present materials in a formal event, such as a seminar, conference or workshop. The interpreter in this situation typically stands behind the speaker and interprets each time after the speaker finishes a paragraph. In some cases, the interpreter can study the script or slides in advance. In some other cases, the interpreter must memorize what the speaker says and improvise on the spot. The interpreter must use formal language, speak with a controlled voice and avoid making little mistakes in front of his audience. While this is still a form of consecutive interpretation, the fact that the interpreter is in the spotlight makes the interpretation rate higher than other consecutive types, such as exhibition visit or business meetings.


15. MC



As a bilingual MC (Master of Ceremonies), the interpreter carries out both functions of the MC and the interpreter for business events such as seminars, factory opening ceremonies or company anniversary, as well as cultural events such as game shows, music festivals and sports gatherings. MC interpreters must sometimes prepare the MC script themselves and must convey not only the right content but also facilitate the event and set the mood of the audience. MC interpreters are masters of their facial expression, body language, and voice. Some MC interpreters are so good at their job that they become celebrities. As such, they command a much higher rate than ordinary MCs or consecutive seminar interpreters.


16. Real-time Seminar (Simultaneous Interpretation) – 1 Out of 2 Persons



Finally, we come to the most difficult and respected interpretation type. In this interpretation type, we also have a formal event like a seminar, conference or workshop. Unlike consecutive seminars, however, in this case, interpreters usually sit in a soundproof booth or cabin. For this reason, this type of interpretation is also known as cabin interpretation. The interpreters will listen to the speakers through headphones and interpret into the target language through a microphone. It requires incredibly fast mental processing and the ability for interpreters to remain highly attentive and focused – not to mention 100% accurate in their translated content. The high pressure and the shorter required time compared to consecutive interpretation makes it the highest-paying interpretation type. For the same reason, most formal events require a pair of simultaneous interpreters, with each interpreter working for 30 minutes at a time to prevent fatigue and mistakes. In addition, while one interpreter interprets, the second interpreter may help by taking notes, looking up terms in the dictionary or verifying the audio quality. The second interpreter may also take over if the first interpreter seems to be having some issues.


17. Real-time Seminar (Simultaneous Interpretation) – 1 Person Covers All



If the seminar is very short (a few hours) or the client’s budget is limited, the client may hire only one cabin interpreter to cover the entire event. This interpretation type is often seen in smaller seminars or corporate-training workshops. This type of work is the most stressful of them all because it forces the interpreter to focus for a long time. For this reason, some cabin interpreters demand 1.5 or 2 times the interpretation fees compared to when they work alongside another cabin interpreter. On the other hand, if the interpreter misses a word or a phrase, there is nobody to help him/her. There is also a risk that the interpreter may catch a cold or have an accident and can no longer work.


18. Real-time Assistant


This leads us to our final interpretation type. A real-time assistant in a seminar does not actually interpret. Instead, they will help the solo cabin interpreter note down complicated content from the speech, such as numbers, long lists, or technical details. The assistant may also lookup words from an online dictionary, oversee the overall flow of the program, work with client or AV crew over technical and administrative issues. This position is highly recommended for experienced consecutive interpreters who want to break into simultaneous interpretation because it helps them understand how actual cabin interpreters do their job through first-hand experience.



With this, we conclude our explanation of the major modes and types of interpretation. For a particular event, we advise both clients and interpreters to discuss the details of the event, such as the location, working conditions, characteristics of the speakers and audience, and other duties to be performed. This will help the two sides agree on the most suitable interpretation type, which interpreter listing that corresponds to and finally, how much the interpretation fee should be.

As investors and businesses continue to integrate with different parts of the world, the interpretation industry will continue to adapt and invent more types that are suitable to companies’ needs. The more interpretation types an interpreter can master, the higher the recognition the interpreter has in the community. With Freelensia, interpreters can learn about various types of interpretations and choose the most suitable ones in their listing. On the other hand, clients who are aware of the different interpretation types can feel more comfortable in selecting the best interpretation type for their events and choose an appropriate interpreter.