Interpretation is oral translation, but the term interpretation is rather used. There are various modes of interpretation: simultaneous, consecutive, liaison.

Simultaneous interpretation:

Simultaneous interpreters interpret at the same time as the speaker speaks. This often happens at conferences, where interpreters sit in soundproofed booths and delegates listen to the translation on headphones, without having to interrupt the speaker. The interpreter listens to the speaker, remembers what is said, and speaks the translation into the microphone … and at the same time listens to the next thing the speaker is saying.

For conferences, at least two interpreters are required per language combination. The interpreters relieve each other every half an hour to ensure consistent concentration and quality throughout the day. On some occasions, where only one or two delegates require interpretation, the interpreter may sit close to the delegates and speak the interpretation softly in their presence or in their ears. This is referred to as whispered interpretation. Sometimes whispered interpretation can be performed with the aid of special equipment that allows the interpreter to whisper into a microphone for delegates wearing headphones. Whispered interpretation should not be used for large conferences as it can cause a disruption in small meetings, with delegates often disturbed by the interpreter.

Simultaneous interpretation for the deaf:

Interpretation for the deaf, using a signed language like SA Sign Language, is also a type of simultaneous interpretation. SATI is working very closely with DeafSA in helping members to get accredited in SASL (South African Sign Language). There is currently a strong movement who is lobbying to make SASL the 12th official language in South Africa.

For further information contact the SATI Office: or DeafSA:

Consecutive interpretation:  

Consecutive interpreters wait for a speaker to stop speaking before they give the interpretation, and the speaker waits until the interpreter is finished before continuing. This type of interpretation is more suited to boardroom situations or small meetings, but it is time-consuming and slows down the proceedings. It is also more stressful for the interpreter, as they have to cope with secondary noise and other distractions. For this reason consecutive interpretation can also not be performed by one person for more than 30 to 40 minutes.

There are two types of consecutive interpretation:

  • Long consecutive interpretation is the more formal or ‘proper’ type of consecutive interpretation. It includes formal lectures and prepared speeches that may be half an hour or longer, e.g. at the UN. Important skills for long consecutive interpretation are note-taking and analysing skills.
  • Short consecutive interpretation involves a few sentences at a time. The situation is often less formal and does not generally involve prepared speeches. Interviews and community interpretation are types of short consecutive interpretation. Court interpreters also use consecutive interpretation. A quick mind and the ability to comprehend quickly are important skills for this type of work.

Liaison interpretation:  

A special type of consecutive interpretation is liaison interpretation (also called community interpretation or dialogue interpretation). Here the interpreter facilitates a conversation between two people, e.g. a doctor and patient or a tourist and government official. Liaison interpretation uses less formal speech and shorter sentences than in a formal conference setting. This is a fast-growing field in South Africa.

Prospects for interpreters:  

There is a growing demand for interpreters in Southern Africa. Interpreters in African languages are required for courts, parliament, provincial legislatures and metropolitan councils. Freelance interpreters are often used for ad hoc assignments such as meetings, international conferences and accompanying foreign business people and tourists.

An increasing number of international conferences are taking place in South Africa, offering opportunities for freelance interpreters in languages such as English, Afrikaans, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese. Political organisations such as the United Nations and the European Union are the main employers of interpreters worldwide.

Becoming an interpreter:  

Key characteristics of interpreters:

  • A very high degree of linguistic proficiency.
  • A broad general knowledge, including knowledge about current affairs and a variety of technical subjects.
  • Insight into the cultural and political background of the speaker and the audience.
  • A quick mind, analytical skills and a good short-term memory.
  • The ability to stay calm under stressful conditions.
  • Note-taking skills (especially for consecutive interpretation).
  • Knowledge of the subject matter and the particular industry.


Aspirant interpreters should consider studying a bachelor’s degree with languages as major subjects. Some South African universities offer postgraduate qualifications in general and legal interpretation. The Department of Justice provides training for its own court interpreters.


↓PDF file – Training in the language professions in South Africa

Experienced simultaneous interpreters can also apply for SATI accreditation. Please visit our Accreditation page for more information.


↓Word file – Application for the SATI accreditation test/examination

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