Mastering the Art: Key Skills for Successful Simultaneous Interpreters

Business is done on a global scale now with the internet giving access to wider audiences and markets. To remove language barriers, translation, and interpreting services are used.

The most commonly spoken languages are English, Mandarin, and Hindi. But, there are more than 7,100 spoken languages in the world. The EU has 24 official languages, and when the G7 summit occurs, numerous interpreters will be needed.

Apart from international leaders, businesses require interpreters from time to time. Mergers and acquisitions may require an interpreter to help with proceedings. Legal translation services may also be needed if the M&A involved 2 companies in different countries.

There are different types of interpreters, and one is simultaneous interpretation.

What are simultaneous interpreters?

Simultaneous interpreters are often used in events such as a conference. Though simultaneous interpreting for business meetings may be needed when international visitors are present. 

Simultaneous interpreters translate a source language to another in real-time.

For example, say a Spanish lecturer talks to an English-speaking audience. The simultaneous interpreter will reword the lecturer’s speech so it can be understood by the audience. This type of interpretation is known as simultaneous as it occurs at the same time as the speech is being given – or simultaneously.

What are the key skills required for simultaneous interpreting?

To successfully reformulate a speech into a language understood by an audience takes certain skills. The subject matter may be technical and require some in-depth knowledge. Fluency in both languages will be a must. And an ability to focus completely on the speech while also relaying it accurately in another language is critical.

Some skills that a simultaneous interpreter must have, include:

  • Language pairing
  • Focus and concentration
  • Cultural understanding
  • In-depth knowledge of the subject matter
  • Be able to think quickly and react
  • Flexibility and creativity
  • Active listening

Although not a skill as such, continual personal development is also necessary for simultaneous interpreters. Cultural norms change from time to time for instance.

Here are those skills in a little more detail.

Language pairing

Language immersion classes are a useful way for someone to take a deep dive into their chosen language. Practice is essential for interpreters. And the best interpreters will aim to be able to read, write, and speak the language they typically interpret.

Fluency in both languages

Simultaneous interpreters need complete fluency in both languages. This means having a grasp of cultural nuances as well as grammar and vocabulary.

Increasing vocabulary

As well as having a strong foundation in the source language and the native one, interpreters need a wide vocabulary. The subject matter may be a technical one where a wider vocabulary is needed.

Use of technology

Simultaneous interpreters can improve their language pairing skills through the use of technology. Some wonder whether AI will be the bridge between language barriers. For now, simultaneous interpreters may use vocabulary-building apps and online resources.

Focus and concentration

Simultaneous interpretation is not simple. It is a demanding task that requires focus over an extended length of time. Excellent short-term memory is a major bonus for any simultaneous interpreter. But, focus and concentration may be improved through other means.

Maintaining physical health

Exercise and a healthy diet will improve overall wellness. This leads to a clearer mind and more energy.

Concentration training

There are some resources and courses that could be taken to improve concentration levels.


One way to stay focused is to engage with the material being interpreted. It helps if the subject matter is interesting of course.

Cultural competence and understanding

Having some knowledge of cultural differences will better help understand the context of the words an interpreter is translating. Cultural differences in business and communication barriers can hinder deals. Having a grasp of different cultural beliefs will help transactions and meetings go smoothly.

Cultural exchange programs

An interpreter of any type may wish to attend cultural exchange programs. Here they can learn first-hand about cultural differences.

Stay up to date with cultural practices

Simultaneous interpreters need continuous development. What was once the norm in one culture may not be anymore. Practices change over time. And new words and slang enter the vocabulary. Interpreters should keep up to date with cultural differences.

Expertise and knowledge of the subject matter

Simultaneous interpreters may be required for business meetings, or they may be utilized for large summits. These interpreters may specialize in certain subject matters or they may cover many areas.

When the subject matter involves technical vocabulary, some knowledge of the subject matter is required.


An interpreter may be required to research the subject matter so they have an understanding of the wording they will reformulate. Without any understanding of the subject matter, the interpretation can lose meaning. 

Research may be carried out through online resources or written materials. Interpreters may choose to attend lectures even. Simultaneous interpreters may be involved in high-level meetings.

Quick thinking and reactivity

Simultaneous interpreters need quick thinking. They listen to a speaker and keep up with the flow of the speech. Then the interpreter must process and relay the message in the target language. This all needs to be done simultaneously.

When unfamiliar acronyms or words appear the interpreter must think and react quickly. If the speaker stumbles over their words, the interpreter must react and maintain accuracy.

Creativity and flexibility

Interpreters require a degree of creativity when technical jargon or unknown words are spoken. Cultural differences mean that gestures that impact context need to be relayed. This also requires some creative thinking.

Simultaneous interpreters need to be flexible and adapt to varying situations. Different speakers will talk at different speeds and with different dialects. Creativity and flexibility are necessary skills for an interpreter.

Active listening

In a social situation, active listening activates the reward system. It is an influential behavior and is said to arouse positive feelings. For an interpreter, active listening is vital if the message is to be translated correctly.

Remove distractions

Paying attention is crucial in simultaneous interpretation. Removing distractions will aid active listening.

Practice mindfulness

Being present at the moment is vital to active listening. Meditation and yoga may help simultaneous interpreters to remain focused.

Continuous personal development

While these are all skills a simultaneous interpreter needs, they must also practice and grow. Cultural differences change, and languages need to be practiced.

Simultaneous interpreters may seek feedback from their peers to help improve their skills. This may help set goals for improvement.

Self-study is important too. As you have read, interpreters may use written materials and lectures to understand more about other cultures. They may work on their vocabulary too. Workshops are useful for interpreters for learning new skills.


Simultaneous interpreters have a demanding role to play. Trying to relay a message from one language to another accurately, over an extended period is not a simple task. Staying completely focused is critical.

Simultaneous interpreters require several skills and some natural abilities too. An excellent short-term memory is ideal for these interpreters. Being creative, and quick thinking is a plus also.

Without interpreters, world summits would be unworkable, and international business meetings impossible to conduct.

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