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Glossary of Common Interpreting Terms

To help our clients make informed decisions, Translators USA has decided to compile a glossary of common interpreting terms (listed by alphabetical order):

Active language. It refers to the language which the interpreter understands and speaks perfectly. It is sometimes also referred to as A language.

Ad hoc interpreting. It describes interpreting by an untrained bilingual or multilingual individual, usually a family member, colleague or employee but it can also be a complete stranger who happens to be on the right place at the right time.


  • Asymmetric interpreting. Interpreting into fewer languages than being spoken at the event. It is appropriate only if the audience understands one or more of the languages into which interpretation is provided.
  • ASL interpreting. Abbreviation for the American Sign Language interpreting. In contrary to the common belief, sign language isn't universal like Braille.
  • ATA Certification. A certification program of the American Translators Association (ATA), the largest professional translators association in the United States.
  • Business interpreting. Typically provided by interpreters with specialized knowledge of the business/industry in question.  
  • Certified interpreter. A highly trained language specialist who holds a certification for their language pair from a professional association.
  • Chuchotage. A synonym for whisper interpreting.
  • Community interpreting. It specializes in interpreting in everyday situations; clients are often immigrants and non-English speaking citizens who need assistance in settings such as court, police station, school, hospital, etc.
  • Consecutive interpreting. A type of interpreting in which the language specialist waits for the speaker to complete their thought or a few sentences before rendering interpretation.
  • Conference interpreting. Interpreting service that specializes in conference settings. It can either be consecutive or simultaneous.
  • Floor language. Language that is interpreted from. Also known as source language.
  • Frequency modulation (FM) interpreting equipment. A system that transmits sound through FM radio waves.
  • Infrared (IR) interpreting equipment. A system that transmits sound through infrared waves.
  • Interpretation booth. A fully or semi-enclosed unit that is used in simultaneous interpreting. It is available in different sizes and designs, and can be fully or partially sound-proof.
  • Language pair. A combination of languages an interpreter provides translation from and into.
  • Legal interpreting. Interpreting in legal settings, for example court and depositions.
  • Passive language. Also known as B language, it is the language an interpreter understands perfectly but cannot interpret into.
  • Phone interpreting. Interpreting over the phone.
  • Relay interpreting. A type of interpreting which involves conversion of one language into another via intermediate interpretation.
  • Remote interpreting. Off-site interpreting, typically over the phone.
  • Signal-to-noise ratio. Ratio between the signal strength and the level of background noise.
  • Simultaneous interpreting. Real time interpreting.
  • Source language. Language from which an interpreter translates.
  • Target language. Language into which an interpreter translates.
  • Whisper interpreting. A type of simultaneous interpreting in which the translation is “whispered” to the client by the interpreter who is sitting or standing nearby.
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Thursday, 18 January 2018
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