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Is there anyone out there who was taught, or learnt simultaneous without learning consec first, or in parallel? Are there any schools that teach only sim? Conventional wisdom says it can't be done, but there's no real empirical evidence to back that up, so I'm curious.

asked 12 Sep '14, 11:28

Andy's gravatar image


edited 12 Sep '14, 11:44

At PUC-Rio, in Brazil, students do a full semester of simultaneous before starting consecutive. After that the two subjects are taught in parallel, with two semesters of CI and four of SI. Up to fifteen years ago consecutive was barely taught at all at the school. It was practically all simultaneous, in a four semester graduate course. Therefore, everyone who went to PUC-Rio then was trained only in simultaneous. It can be done and doesn't affect the learning of SI. There are many fine interpreters that came out of PUC-Rio way back when, none of whom learned how to do consecutive at school, but most of whom are excellent in the booth.

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answered 12 Sep '14, 12:26

Branca's gravatar image


edited 12 Sep '14, 12:51

Thanks Branca, very interesting! And not just the odd student but whole generations of them!

(12 Sep '14, 14:47) Andy

May I chime in as an interpreter who trained in Heidelberg, consecutive with good old Heinz Matyssek, 30 years ago! I have been working at the EP and Council of Europe and in the private market ever since and training interpreters all over the world for about 25 years now. You do not pass a test at the EU without a strong consecutive! That being said, especially as a beginner you tend to work a lot in consecutive, as you get the smaller assignments, accompanying delegations, after dinner speeches, exhibitions, welcome speeches, etc. That is what you are trained for when you learn consecutive - and those speeches can go up to 10 - 12 minutes! You better know your consecutive and have a good note taking technique! Plus, consecutive teaches you to analyse, concentrate and go to the point. It trains your memory and prevents you from becoming a parrot! All the main strategies are already taught in consecutive - even décalage ( both ways , timeline and depth of meaning!) and that will be applied in simultaneous. All good interpreting schools start with con sec, be it for 6 to 8 weeks, until simultaneous starts. Once you learn how to analyze, get the SVO structure, to understand, you will be able to get the meaning, not the words! I even teach online at Glendon in Toronto, and we teach consecutive without notes for 4 weeks, then another 4 weeks for note-taking ( mix of Gillies and Matyssek, etc) and only in week 9 we start with the basics of simultaneous. For the rest of the course, both modes are taught in parallel. I am really very concerned about the fact that too many people out there think they do not need formal training for simultaneous and just go by trial and error and self training. This is discrediting the whole profession! I see it over and over again when I do my AiiC Training professional upgrading courses in latin America and Africa - all of the participants tend to be parrots - no techniques, no strategies, no analysis - word for word - no booth manners, no voice and presentation skills, etc.Plus, very often, their retour skills into english are really poor. There we go into the question again: what is a real B? To be continued....

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answered 14 Oct '14, 02:18

Hans%20M%C3%BChle's gravatar image

Hans Mühle

Hi Hans, totally agree that there are "many people out there think they do not need formal training for simultaneous and just go by trial and error and self training" and that training is essential. But what I'm curious about is whether formal training in sim ONLY (or first, or in parallel) also works. For PUC above it seems to.

(14 Oct '14, 03:17) Andy

Well, perhaps it works, I guess yes, but you would be only half an interpreter, won't you?? I have never really tried it, teaching sim without prior consec. Although, often, during the upgrade courses I would come across colleagues who have never done consec before. But you and I agree very much that consec would be the basis for a good simo. It is true that in the "informal" sector, it seems to work. The problem is that if those colleagues are called to do consec, they will be doing half sentences - far from being the professional way and clients are going to think that that is con sec! Apart from our ideas of learning how to analyze, summarize and presentation skills. For me that would be "interpreting light"! I am just wondering just how good those colleagues are in simultaneous....

(14 Oct '14, 03:44) Hans Mühle

Hi Andy,

In the U.S., pretty much every interpreter that I worked with (with very few exceptions) learned on the job, and never had any interpreting training. Firstly, there were really very few places to train; and secondly, they were mainly immigrants who fell into an interpreting job and found they liked it better than what they were doing. They never learned how to do conference consecutive, just half-sentences or sentence by sentence, and only because work forced them into it. (One colleague even offered to provide wireless equipment for free just to get out of doing consecutive.) Many of my boothmates were very good in simultaneous interpreting, able to play with words, use literary references, quote/interpret poetry, and follow the scientific concepts because they had a very good general education before coming to the States. On the other hand, in the U.S. the clients choose to ask for consec more often than happens in Europe (in the U.S. it is considered baby simul, so is charged at a lower rate), so everyone there ends up doing it sooner or later.

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answered 05 Oct '14, 19:19

JuliaP's gravatar image


...if you're counting, Andy, I've already confessed my shameful sin here: I guess I learned them in parallel, woe is me :-), starting with sim.

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answered 14 Sep '14, 21:26

msr's gravatar image


I'm still very much a beginner, having worked at barely more than a handful (or two) of conferences, but aside from one short court interpretation opportunity, all of my interpretation experience has been in the booth. One caveat is that I came to interpretation with close to 15 years of experience as a full-time and freelance translator.

I'm not sure why you claim that "conventional wisdom says it can't be done", because I always felt ready for SI (sight translation always felt easy, for instance) and I had been wanting to give it a try for years, while I'm still quite uncomfortable with the idea of doing CI, since I've only done it once.

In other words, I can't imagine why you couldn't work as a conference interpreter without having ever done CI. I've been told you never know when you may be asked to do CI at a conference, but it's never happened (so far) at any of the conferences I've attended.

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answered 03 Oct '14, 14:32

alexandrec's gravatar image


Hi Alexandrec, it is the "conventional wisdom" because it is/was the Seleskovitch doctrine. She, and ESIT in Paris, always taught consec for a year first. This has been the case since the early 70's if not before. The influence she had on the profession, and particularly teaching is hard to underestimate. And most schools in Europe (if not all) teach consec first and then sim, at least for a couple of months. There are still many teachers who believe that consec MUST be learnt first. That's why I asked the question.

cf p49 PÉDAGOGIE RAISONNÉE DE L'INTERPRÉTATION, Danica Seleskovitch "Seule une pratique approfondie du mode consécutif d'interprétation met en mesure d'intégrer en un savoir-faire réel, transférable à l'opération simultanée, les principes dont l'utilité aura été comprise dans les exercices précédents. Pour que les étudiants parviennent en fin de formation à produire une interprétation simultanée réussie, il faut qu'ils sachent appliquer les méthodes interprétatives pour les- quelles la pratique de la consécutive est la plus sûre des formations."

(03 Oct '14, 14:46) Andy

Thanks for enlightening me, Andy. If indeed, as conventional wisdom has it, a background in CI is an absolute must for SI, then I would suggest that this wouldn't necessary apply to a person with extensive translation experience.

(03 Oct '14, 15:13) alexandrec

"I've been told you never know when you may be asked to do CI at a conference, but it's never happened (so far) at any of the conferences I've attended."

It did happen to me: once the conference organizers failed to provide the sufficient number of headsets (for budget reasons, I suppose). Most of the conference was interpreted simultaneously, and two or three odd speeches in the other language of the conference as well as the discussion were interpreted consecutively.

At another conference, top-notch equipment (no budget cuts whatsoever) failed. Everything was repaired in ten minutes or so but I can very well imagine we would have had to interpret consecutively the whole thing otherwise.

There were also seminars which were interpreted simultaneously, but for an hour or two participants would split into two groups, with consecutive interpretation in each of them. (Usually I am informed about it in advance but once I wasn't.)

I won't argue these are frequent situations (they aren't). Plus, you could always say that's not what you've been hired for (especially if the organizers were planning consecutive interpreting but failed to inform you about it). However, being able to do a decent consecutive does make you feel more comfortable as you can handle situations of this kind if need be.

(04 Oct '14, 09:54) Joanna

One caveat is that I came to interpretation with close to 15 years of experience as a full-time and freelance translator. (...) I always felt ready for SI (sight translation always felt easy, for instance)

I can recall half a dozen former translators I've met during the past two years, who eventually did an MA in conference interpreting after a decade or two of professional experience. Less than half of them graduated, most of them had to repeat the exams to get their diploma.

I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that extensive experience in written translation would be a suitable substitute to the selection & training performed in interpreting schools, nor that any experienced translator would be suitable for the booth. Same applies when I do translations. My interpreting experience certainly is an asset compared to laymen, yet I know I'm not as good as a trained translator: I'm overall slower and have to learn things by doing (trial & error), which again is a waste of time and efficiency.

If you just started out randomly interpreting in the booth without training, only time (i.e. happy clients and happy colleagues and/or an accreditation with international organizations) will tell if you successfully have learnt sim.

(05 Oct '14, 05:29) Gaspar ♦♦
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question asked: 12 Sep '14, 11:28

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