Simultaneous interpreters

Is anyone on here a simultaneous interpreter? I was watching some videos on youtube and it looked very impressive. How long does that take? What type of exercises do you do to practise it?

It is a real Job. There are schools to learn to be interpreter and simultaneous interpreter. Simultaneous interpreter who works for the UNO have a real important job. They have not only to interpret simultaneous but they have to know a lot in Politics, culture, expressions to translate perfectly to avoid every problem of a misunderstanding which could be serious at UNO.


Actually, I work as a simultanous interpreter. You can watch a video showing me work at a conference at

Our profession is not a regulated one, which means that officially you do not need any diploma to claim that you are an interpreter. However, almost all of us had some formal training. In Austria, that’s where I come from, we have three universities where they train interpreters. The time you need to be able to work as an interpreter mostly depends on the language you choose. It will take much longer to become an interpreter for Japanese, Chinese or Arabic for example than for French or Spanish (always seen from the standpoint of someone who speaks a European language as his or her mother tongue). For European languages our study courses lasted for at least four years plus roughly a year for your thesis. The average at our university was 7 years, I somehow managed it in 5 years ;-). You also need to take into consideration that you have to study at least two foreign languages even though later on some people decide to only work with one foreign language. As for the exercises, we actually started out with what is called “shadowing”. We would just try and repeat speeches in our own mother tongue. Then we would try and repeat some sentences of these speeches by heart to train our memory. It was still all in our mother tongue, though. After a few weeks we started listening to the first speeches in a foreign language and again we shadowed - there was no translation process involved yet. That came only later, let’s say after a couple of months. First we would only translate a few sentences at a time and then an entire speech. First the speeches were texts that we had already worked on and later on we were presented with speeches that were completely unknown to us. That was when the real thing started :wink: I hope that information helped. Greetings from Austria.

Hi, Lovelanguages. It was actually from your videos that I became interested in it! Thanks for yor detailed reply. How high a level do you need? When I watched your video I was first convinced you were English. I never realised fom your accent you were Austrian. Are you going to do that podcast with Steve?

Hi, James123,

First of all, thanks for your compliments. As for the level you need, I guess you need to be very comfortable with speaking the languages you work in and you need to be able to speak fast. You don’t have to be perfect, nobody is;-)

In my opinion and based on my experience it’s no problem if you speak with an accent as long as what you say is easily comprehensible. As for the technique, I guess it is a matter of practice and you must be quite stress resistant.

Yes, I’ll do that podcast with Steve.




Perhaps you can talk more about simultaneous interpretation in your conversation with Steve, in particular, how one can go about acquiring the skill at a non-professional level.


I have huge respect for simultaneous interpreters - but for me it would be an absolute ‘Alptraum-Beruf’! I mean the stress you guys are under must be unbelievable, right?

You can never know for certain if there is going to be a word you don’t know - and it could be a real key word.

And the idea of having to do this in a foreign language as well…! Argh! :-0

It might be interesting to practises though at a non-professional level so we can work on our understanding/fluency.

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I’d be pleased to talk about simultaneous interpretation if Steve wants me to talk about it. I’m not sure yet what exactly he wants to know about me :wink:
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Yes, we work under a lot of pressure and I have to admit that this job takes its toll on your health if you are not careful. Also, I don’t think I will be doing that for another 20 years or so. I’ve been doing it for 15 years now and I have to admit that I need more time to recharge my batteries and I don’t like to work five days in a row anymore. This is also why I reduced the number of “conference days” and decided to increase the time I spend with written translations. I still very much enjoy interpreting but I won’t accept any conference anymore. The thing is that if you work as a freelancer on the “free market” you work in a wide array of different fields. While this is interesting, it is also very demanding.

As for the “key word” you might not know, yes, that indeed is something almost all of us fear. It is even more of a nightmare if that happens during consecutive interpretation. In a booth there are always two of us and as a rule your colleage will stay with you while you are working to help you out. We mostly write down numbers for each other and if I get into trouble my colleague ought to notice that and help me find the right word. In the past that used to be much more difficult but nowadays I don’t “leave home without my notebook” :wink: It contains lots of electronic dictionaries and that has become some sort of a safety net for me. Actually, I rarely need to use it, and if I use it I must be very quick since I have to listen, translate, look up the word and keep listening. It is hard, but it you can do it. Of course, it would never work if you had to look up lots of words.

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Today there are lots of tools available on the Internet with which you can practise interpreting just as efficiently as we did during our training. However, you would need some sort of a tutor to guide you, especially at the beginning. If there is no opportunity to talk about this during my conversation with Steve on Tuesday I might make a video about this.

Best wishes,