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Conference interpreting - types and terminology

Interpretation and translation

Interpretation is often confused with translation. The difference is that interpreters work with the spoken word whilst translators deal with written texts.

Types of interpreting

Conference interpreters work in various modes, all used by Commission interpreters:

Interpreting after the speaker has finished, usually with the help of notes.

Interpreting while the person is speaking, using particular equipment (eg. booths, earphones, microphone).

Whispered or Chuchotage
The interpreter is seated or standing with the participants and interprets simultaneously directly into their ear.


  • active language: the language into which the interpreter interprets
  • passive language: the language from which the interpreter interprets 
  • reduced regime: when interpretation is provided but from less than the full number of official languages
  • symmetric regime: means delegates can speak and listen to interpretation from the same languages
  • asymmetric regime: participants may speak in a number of languages but interpretation is provided only into a limited number of those languages
  • Sign language: Sign language interpreters work between a spoken and a signed language or between two sign languages.
  • retour: Working from your mother tongue into a second active language.
  • cheval: An interpreter working in two booths in the same meeting.
  • relay: Sometimes referred to as “indirect interpreting”. The interpreters work from a language they do not have in their combination through a bridging language.
    Example: interpreting from Finnish into Slovak via a first interpretation into French