Consecutive, Simultaneous and Sight Interpreting in Court: When and Why

Certified and professional court interpreters utilize three different modes of interpretation under different circumstances. This article will discuss the different modes and explain why they are needed and when they are used.

Consecutive Interpreting:  Consecutive interpreting allows the speaker (the source) to complete while the interpreter is attentively listening.  Once the interpreter has captured and understood the source message, the interpreter translates it, accounts for the grammar and syntax of the foreign language, and generates a rendition into the target (the listener’s) language.


  1. Consecutive interpreting is typically the most accurate; it allows the interpreter to hear and understand the complete message and affords the interpreter the opportunity to provide the best rendition.
  2. Everything in court is recorded for the record. The interpretation into English becomes part of the official record.

When: When a limited English proficient (LEP) witness takes the stand, the interpretation is rendered consecutively for accuracy and recording purposes as stated above.

Simultaneous Interpreting: Simultaneous interpreting (also known as conference interpreting when it is the only mode utilized)  is typically used with equipment, namely a transmitter and receivers. The interpreter efficiently renders information in real time into the target language while the source message is being spoken. This is a difficult skill to master because it requires the interpreter to listen intently to the source message, process the information, and render it into the target language while continuing to listen to the speaker.


  1. Because it is performed in real time, hearings and trials smoothly proceed while the LEP individuals still receive the information they need.
  2. Simultaneous is not part of the record; it is strictly for the benefit of the persons lacking English proficiency.

When: Anytime the matter proceeds in English, the LEP parties will actively participate by listening through the interpreter in real time without interrupting the proceedings. When an LEP person speaks or takes the stand, interpreting reverts to consecutive.


Sight Interpreting:  This rigorous mode is similar to simultaneous.  The interpreter will need to read the document in English (or another language).  Once the interpreter comprehends the document, the interpreter will orally translate the document into the listeners’ language as if it had been written in that language. Observing a person talented in this skill is truly a wonder.

Why and When:  When documents are presented as evidence that have not been translated, it becomes the responsibility of the court interpreters to transmit that written information orally into English. This practice is highly discouraged in court proceedings.

The fact that certified court interpreters have demonstrated the required skill, knowledge, and ability in order to provide not only consecutive interpreting but also simultaneous and sight translation, illustrates the importance of always opting first for certified interpreters.  In order to become certified, they must pass a minimum proficiency exam in all three modes of interpreting.

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