Whispering in Your Ear is a Bad Idea!

“What do you need simultaneous interpretation equipment for?” clients ask. “Cannot you just whisper?”


“Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.” – William Shakespeare


Unlike Shakespeare’s Hamlet, interpreters give their voices to everyone who is willing to listen (and pay). There are, however, different types of interpretation.


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In simultaneous interpretation the interpreter is speaking at the same time with the speaker. In the overwhelming majority of cases simultaneous interpretation equipment is used. It can be:

  – a built in walk in booth like we see in the UN or a big conference center or

  – a portable/mobile walk in (“full”) booth or

portable equipment – a portable handheld transmitter and receivers for tours or when people have to move around.

These are the only three acceptable professional options for simultaneous interpretation equipment.

Sometimes clients ask, however, if the interpreter can simply whisper into the person’s ear and we always say: “No.”

You may see interpreters whispering into some President’s ear, so why not?

interpreter whisperingThis type of interpretation is called “chuchotage” (from “to whisper” in French” or “whispering interpretation without equipment.”

It is rightly considered the most difficult type of simultaneous interpretation for a number of reasons:

-your voice gets tired extremely quickly, whispering is very damaging to the vocal folds, you should never actually whisper, but speak in a very soft voice. Even that is very tiring;

-you distract other people who sit nearby;

-you have to remember about a lot of things you do not think about in regular simultaneous interpretation, for example, where to direct your breath flow;

-it may be hard to hear the speaker if the interpreter is far away, and there is no way to come closer because you have to be next to your client.

In these conditions – considering how difficult simultaneous interpretation is in the first place – interpreter brain gets tired and overloaded very quickly, much faster than in regular simul.

This mode of interpretation is something that interpreters have to know how to do in extreme circumstances, but it must never be done casually on a regular basis.

Ever portable equipment for simultaneous interpretation is a so much better option.

Clients have to understand that we are not trying to be difficult! We, interpreters, need to create the best possible working conditions for ourselves not because we are prima donnas, but because – if we have these conditions – we will produce the best quality interpretation.

Working comfortably is not the goal, the goal is to provide the highest level of quality for you as our client!