Glossary of Terms Language Interpreting

A,B & C Languages

An interpreter's A language is defined as the mother tongue or equivalent. The interpreter can always go into the A language. The B language is one that the interpreter has a complete mastery of and interprets from and sometimes into. The C language is a passive language only. The interpreter can work from it but not into it.


The International Association of Conference Interpreters, based in Geneva, Switzerland. One of the premiere professional associations for simultaneous interpreters with a strong world-wide membership. Members are held to specific ethical and professional standards. Visit the AIIC website.


Assistive Listening System, generally referring to systems designed for the hearing impaired. Required by law at most venues and event.

Conference Microphones

Special microphones designed for discussions which can be activated by the delegates as well as the technician. Some have on/off buttons with lights and can be controlled by the chairman. Some are semi-voice activated and controlled with special mixers or microphone control consoles. These microphones are often referred to as 'Push to Talk' (PTT) or 'Push On-Off'. Conventional microphones can normally only be activated by the technician which can be very cumbersome and difficult for the interpreters in a discussion setting.

Control Console

This unit is manned by a technician and controls all the interpreter stations in a room, including the incoming feed level to the interpreters and the outgoing level to the transmitter and delegates. The technician can monitor any of the interpreters through this unit.

Floor Languages

The language or languages spoken on the "floor" - by the speakers, discussion participants or delegates asking questions.

Interpretation, types of

Consecutive Interpretation:
Also known as "consec." The interpreter takes notes and interprets what the speaker has said into another language. If the speech or presentation is longer than a few minutes, a single thought, or a paragraph, the speaker must pause periodically for the interpreter before continuing. This type of interpretation is very precise and is viewed as somewhat formal. It is commonly used for formal meetings between two heads of state. It is more time consuming than simultaneous and should be limited to two languages.

Remote Simultaneous Interpretation:
The same as standard simultaneous interpretation (see definition below) except that the interpreters' booths are located in a remote location rather than in the back of the room. This remote site can be backstage, in a nearby or adjacent room, or in an external venue which may be in another city, state or country. Remote sites are linked via video and audio using a variety of technologies such as satellite, teleconferencing, or digital spread spectrum. Remote interpretation from external sites requires specialized technology. Learn more about remote interpretation here. VRI is Video Remote Interpretation and generally refers to on-demand consecutive remote interpretation with video.

Simultaneous Interpretation:
Simultaneous Interpretation is a process which allows people to communicate directly across language and cultural boundaries using specialized technology and professional interpreters who are trained to listen to one language while speaking simultaneously in another. The interpreters sit in small sound isolation booths in the back of the conference room and listen to the conference proceedings on headsets while simultaneously interpreting into a microphone. The interpretation is broadcast via a wireless system to the delegates who listen on small receivers with earphones. The receivers are multi-channel so the delegates can select the channel that corresponds to the language they wish to hear.

Whisper Interpretation (without equipment):
This is a variation of normal simultaneous interpretation. The interpreter sits next to or behind up to 3 listeners and whispers the interpretation without the use of any equipment. Because this style of interpretation is extremely demanding for both the interpreter and the listener, it is normally performed only when other styles of interpretation cannot be used and it must be done for only very brief periods of time.

Whisper Interpretation (with portable equipment):
This is a variation to the above -- the interpreter wears a portable transmitter with a microphone, listening to the conference proceedings with the naked ear. The interpreter whispers into the microphone while the delegates listen on small wireless receivers from anywhere within range of the transmitter (normally up to 200 feet). This type of interpretation is ideal for community service groups (PTA meetings, for example), tour groups & site visits, and short meetings where maximum flexibility is required. Click here for more information about Portable Equipment.

Interpreter Station

The piece of equipment inside the sound booth that the interpreters use to control their listening volume, select their outgoing language and choose their listening language. The interpreters' microphones connect to the station. Most stations handle relay switching and may have additional features.

Interpreter Teams

Simultaneous interpreters work in teams of two or three for each language. The process of listening to one language while speaking another requires extreme concentration and skill and is only possible for brief periods of time (15 to 30 minutes). Teams of 2 or 3 are therefore used in order to provide continuous interpretation. Highly technical meetings and/or meetings in which RELAY is required may necessitate additional team members. Interpreters generally never work alone unless the meeting is 40 minutes in length or less.

Portable Equipment

Portable transmitters and receivers for use at short meetings, community service events, tours and site-visits, where walking around is required. Click here for more information about rental and purchase.


(Also referred to simply as "headsets") The delegate's wireless listening unit. Most are multi-channel and allow the delegate to select from the available languages by turning a channel selector knob. The delegates control their own volume and on/off.


If an interpreter does not know the language being spoken on the floor, he/she must listen to a known language from one of the other language booths. This is achieved by selecting the listen-to language of choice. This process, known as relay, enables the interpreter to interpret into his assigned target language. Because of increased time delays, reliance on relay should be reduced by selecting interpreter teams with the optimum language combinations and skills.

Sound Isolation Booths

The interpreters must be isolated so they do not disturb the other interpreters or the audience. Therefore they sit inside special sound-proof isolation booths - one for each language team.


The American Association of Language Specialists, based in Washington, D.C. Members include translation and interpretation professionals who are held to a high standard of performance determined by the association. Click here to go to the TAALS website.

Target Languages

The language or languages which the interpreter goes into.

Transmission System

The interpretation is normally transmitted to listeners via a wireless transmission system. There are a variety of technologies available with Infra-red (IR) the most commonly used.


Controls the outgoing interpretation to the listeners in the audience via infra-red or radio frequency technology. Available as a portable unit for "whisper interpretation" or as a fixed unit for most conferences and events.