Being concise in sim is a good thing. But how?

I’m sure you’ve been told at some point in your career as an interpreter (or when you were a student) that you should be more concise.

Working into English, being more concise than the original is often desirable because wordy, flowery, or convoluted structures sound very strange when converted into English more or less verbatim. For example, abstract French or verbose Italian both sound very unnatural if you don’t rework the original and turn it into something more English-sounding.

So being concise can be helpful for your audience and relay takers: it sounds more natural in English, it helps prevent linguistic interference, and it’s cognitively easier to cope with. Instead of masses of words that your listeners have to retain in their working memory, they are spoon fed something shorter, clearer, and more structured, which relieves the load on their cognitive processes.

Not only is a concise version easier for the audience and relay takers, it can help the interpreter do a better job.

Why? Because if you’re uttering fewer words, you have more time to listen, and therefore more time to analyse the message. In turn, this gives you more opportunity to take decisions about what and how to edit the material. Better analysis = more faithful rendition of the message, as well as a clearer output.

Another advantage of freeing up some of your processing capacity by speaking less is that you have a little more time to reformulate, so your output (linguistically) may benefit.

A final advantage is that if you’re more concise, you’re less likely to be sitting right on your speaker’s shoulder, following very closely – in décalage* terms – because you’re trying to say everything. You’re likely to find that your décalage varies a bit more if you’re deliberately being concise, giving you more breathing space in places, and helping to avoid the kamikaze technique of interpreting, where your EVS* is so short that you hit a brick wall if you misunderstand something in the original or encounter an unknown word (i.e. you may be left with no other option than to leave a sentence unfinished, which is less than ideal!).

I’ve already said a lot about being concise, but what does it mean? Is it simply a matter of using fewer words?

The Oxford Language Dictionary defines concise thusly:

“giving a lot of information clearly and in a few words; brief but comprehensive”

This is interesting because it suggests that a) being concise isn’t just about editing out information (i.e. dropping it), but about conveying the same the information using fewer words, and b) clarity and concision go hand in hand (more on that in a separate blog post, perhaps).

Too many words

Remember this scene from the film Amadeus? Mozart wrote too many notes (according to the Emperor); sometimes interpreters are tempted to use too many words in simultaneous.

How can you prune the dead wood?

Well, there are some fairly uncontroversial approaches to reducing your word count [please bear in mind that this is written from the perspective of a conference interpreter, not a court interpreter, for example]:

  • leave out hesitations (‘um’, ‘er’)
  • eliminate fillers (e.g. if the speaker says ‘you know’, ‘I mean’, ‘basically’, etc.)
  • cut out repetition or redundancy
  • choose your words wisely; for instance, avoid unnecessarily long versions of words (like utilise instead of use, or transportation instead of transport)
  • avoid redundant pairs (a terrible tragedy)
  • use the active voice where possible
  • don’t ‘hedge’ if the speaker isn’t doing so (e.g. with phrases like ‘it seems that’, ‘if you like’, ‘it may be the case that’. This is something that interpreters often do when they are afraid to commit, especially if the speaker has said something that sounds controversial or implausible. If you make your output more concise, you’ll have more time to listen and analyse – and be clearer about the speaker’s message! 🙂

One caveat: it’s important to distinguish between source language features that are typical of a particular language (e.g. long-winded syntax in Italian), as opposed to features that are deliberate on the speaker’s part, because he or she is aiming for a particular effect. If the verbosity is a question of style or tone, you will have to decide whether it’s important to retain those features and potentially sacrifice some other information, or vice versa.

Now, you may think I’ve reached the end of this blog post. After all, I’ve gone over a list of ways to reduce your word count.

However, in my opinion, it’s not that simple.

If you have a few spare minutes, I invite you to listen to these two clips, in which I interpret a French speech about hydrogen from the SCIC Speech Repository in simultaneous. [Please note I did zero preparation for this, so I can’t claim to have been firing on all cylinders when it came to technical vocabulary.]

If you have French in your combination, please have a go at interpreting the first 2 or 3 minutes yourself, before listening to my version.

Can you hear the difference between these two versions? Does one of them sound clearer and more concise to you? Does one of them sound more rushed, and less natural in English?

In one of these clips, I tried to stick as closely to the speaker as possible, and to say everything, more or less in the same way that she had.

The other version is closer to my natural style. I devoted more effort to analysis and editing.

You may of course disagree with my opinion, but for me, the more concise version sounds calmer, more in control, and clearer.

I typed out a transcript of these two versions, and discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that the ‘short’ version was only 62 words shorter than the ‘long’ version, which didn’t seem like a lot over a period of 2 1/2 minutes.

Perception is important

I’m going to use this example to argue that being concise isn’t just a matter of using fewer words.

It’s also a matter of the ‘digestibility’ of your output for the audience and relay takers, i.e. it’s about their perception of whether you are being concise. 😉

Here are some of the tricks I used in the audio clip to sound more concise:

  • Use ‘salami technique’, also known as ‘chunking’, to chop the source material into shorter pieces.
  • If the target language allows, use SVO word order (subject-verb-object).
  • Start the sentence with the subject, rather than with long adverbial phrases, so the audience immediately knows what you’re talking about.
  • Keep the subject close to the verb, thus avoiding conjugation errors, and reducing the load on everyone’s working memory (this includes yours!).
  • Make sure the links between ideas are clear, using logical connectors such as and, but, so, if.
  • Use active voice where possible.
  • Use intonation as a fantastic shortcut. Intonation is great for conveying meaning. For example, you can use your voice to show whether something is an important point, a digression, a question, a humorous interjection, etc. (show rather than telling!).

A similar caveat to the one I made earlier: if the speaker is using long and complicated sentences, passive voice, etc., you need to give some thought to why they are doing this. Is it just their normal way of speaking? Or are they doing this to try to sound intelligent or knowledgeable, or to sound more scientific and therefore more credible? Remember that as an interpreter, part of your job is to have the same effect on the audience as the speaker was aiming for. If the speaker is using long-winded platitudes for a reason, you’ll need to decide whether to do the same, or whether you can achieve the same effect in the target language while still remaining concise.


Being concise isn’t always desirable, I suppose. Alongside some of the reasons I’ve mentioned above (style, tone, the effect the speaker is aiming for), there’s also the fact that your target language may be one that values flowery and lengthy sentences as a sign of intelligence and erudition.

In English, though, I would argue that being concise and using salami technique won’t, as some interpreters fear, make them sound childish. The trick is to use simple syntax, but appropriate vocabulary – which may mean sophisticated, high register, or technical vocabulary.

I hope to have persuaded you in this blog post that being concise isn’t as simple as using fewer words.

Instead, it’s a lot to do with making shorter chunks, joining them up with clear links, inserting pauses in the right place, and shaping the chunks with intonation so the meaning is clear.

*décalage = Ear/Voice Span = the time lag between the original speaker’s words and the interpreters’ rendition.


For anyone who’s interested, here are the transcripts of my two attempts at the hydrogen speech.

Version 1 (366 words):

Ladies and Gentlemen, now that the end of the pandemic is almost here, we can go back to taking an interest in those subjects that were fascinating for us before the beginning of the pandemic, namely climate change and the environment, and that was the challenge that we needed to take up before the beginning of this crisis, and it is therefore essential that we return to taking an interest in this subject. There is some good news connected to our interest in the environment, and I know we’re all keen on hearing good news. For 2020, the share of renewables in energy production in Europe has now exceeded fossil fuels, and that is the case for the second year running, because it was already that way in 2019. Now solar power is cheaper than anywhere else in the world, and its production has increased by 20 % in Europe. And finally, the price of carbon has increased exponentially.  So much for the good news, but I know that you’re not naïve, and I know that you are aware that we are a long way from having achieved any significant change or reached our environmental objectives. Today, I’m going to talk about an element which is a sign of hope for some, an element that will allow us to reach our objectives, and that is hydrogen. Now before going into any more interesting details, let me just recap on a bit of chemistry. Hydrogen is a basic chemical element, H, which is present in the universe and on Earth. On Earth, it is present principally in the form of water. Hydrogen is associated to the molecule O, oxygen, and together they form H2O, water. In order to produce hydrogen, you need to break the bond between hydrogen and oxygen. In order to do that, we use a process called electrolysis, where we use an electrical current in order to break the bond between the two molecules and obtain hydrogen. Now, you might ask me why we would want to produce hydrogen, and the answer is because it has a number of applications. Hydrogen can be used as a fuel, it can also be stored and transported.

Version 2 (302 words):

Ladies and Gentlemen, the end of the pandemic is in sight, soo we can go back to those topics that gripped us before coronavirus: climate change and the environment. Those were the real challenges that we were facing before the crisis, and it’s crucial that we return to taking an interest in these subjects. There is some good news when it comes to the environment, and I know that at the moment we’re all keen to hear good news. In 2020, the share of renewable energies in electricity production in Europe was greater than the share of fossil fuels, for the second year running. Solar power is cheaper in Europe than anywhere else in the world, and its production increased by 20% in Europe. And the price of carbon has increased exponentially. That’s the good news. But you’re not naïve, and I’m sure you’re very aware that we are a long way from reaching our environmental goals and making  any significant changes. Today, I’m talking about an element which could help us to reach these objectives. It could be very promising. And that is hydrogen. Before I go into details, let me recap some chemistry. Hydrogen is a basic chemical element, represented by the letter H. It’s present in the universe and on Earth. On Earth, it generally takes the form of water. It is associated with the molecule O, oxygen, and that makes water, H2O. In order to produce hydrogen, you have to break the chemical bond between the two molecules. You do that through electrolysis, which is where you use an electrical current to separarate the two molecules, and obtain hydrogen. Now you might say: why produce hydrogen? Because it has a number of applications. You can use hydrogen as a fuel. You can store it, you can transport it.

Should women be paid for doing housework?

This is an 8 minute speech based on an article I read on this morning.

If you’d like to read the source text, it’s here.

The speech is long for a consecutive, but not particularly complicated. It only contains one figure.

There are several ways you could use it to help with your English retour:

  1. Take notes from part or all of the speech. Then reformulate the speech in English.
  2. Do the speech in simultaneous (EN>EN). Decide in advance what you’re going to work on:
  • ‘chunking’ (salami technique): break the sentences up into shorter pieces.
  • editing/being concise: leave out redundances, try to summarise long-winded ideas.
  • reformulation: look for alternative phrasing and synonyms.

Remember to record yourself, then go back and listen to your performance. Are there infelicities in the use of English? What could you have said instead?


Interested in more material like this to help you boost your retour? Why not join my monthly membership site, Rock your Retour, with tailor-made written materials and weekly live group classes (online)?

Interpreting Coach logo with strapline

Sophie Llewellyn Smith, writing as The Interpreting Coach, is a coach, interpreter trainer, conference interpreter, designer of online teaching materials, and creator of Speechpool. Follow the blog to pick up tips on how to improve your interpreting skills.

If you’re interested in personal coaching, why not book a free discovery call?

A single device option for teaching simultaneous online

If you’re a fellow interpreter trainer and you’ve dipped your toes into the online training waters, it probably won’t have taken you long to realise that teaching consecutive is relatively straightforward, but simultaneous is less so.

I’ve tried Skype calls, and I have extensive experience with Zoom. I’ve also been fiddling with the Zoom interpretation feature and testing a variety of other apps. Today I’m going to tell you about Watch2Gether.

I haven’t hit upon a definite solution that works in every situation yet. Most solutions are mash-ups or workarounds, and they often involve multiple devices.

The holy grail for me is a solution that would allow me to do the following:

  • Listen to the input and output simultaneously, i.e. the speaker or video and the interpreter.
  • Adjust the volume of each track independently, so I can have a louder or softer interpreter.
  • Make sure that the interpreter(s) and I both have good quality sound.
  • Ensure that the interpreter and I are listening to the same bit of the speech at the same time.
  • If I’m working with a group, make sure that everyone can hear the same speech at the same time (i.e. that people logging in from different locations don’t have different lag times).

All of these may sound like  sine qua nons, but alas, they’re not. And if I can’t do all these things, I can’t properly assess the content or the interpreter’s technique (especially when it comes to décalage).

If you’ve tried teaching simultaneous on a platform like Zoom, for instance, you’ll have encountered various irritations, such as students in breakout rooms not being able to hear a video played in the main room, varying lag times for students in different places, not having a way to adjust the speaker’s volume and interpreter’s volume independently, etc. etc.

I can’t solve all these problems for you in a single blog post, so today I’ll focus on one way to run a simultaneous interpreting class, primarily using video material (but a live speaker would work too).

You will need to access a website called Watch2Gether at


You may have encountered Watch2Gether as a way to have a movie party with friends during lockdown, sipping cocktails and commenting on the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

And yes, it’s definitely a way to Netflix (without the chilling). But it can also be subverted as a non-Zoom, non-Skype, single-device way of running an interpreting class.

SPOILER ALERT: it has a major disadvantage relating to the source material you can use. I’ll tell you about that in a moment.

Here’s how it works.

Go to the Watch2Gether website. You don’t need to create an account, and it’s free. Here’s what you will see:

Some points to note.

The room created is private by default and is deleted after 24 hours.

At the bottom left (circled in red), you can see my avatar. I haven’t uploaded a photo, but you can see a gold crown, showing I’m the room host. The username is generated randomly, but you can click and change it to something more suitable (you’ll see I’ve renamed myself Sophie Ll S here):

If you create an account (still free), your avatar will retain your username and you can keep your room permanently (meaning that you can save playlists of videos, for example, i.e. you could prepare suitable teaching material and place it in a playlist, in readiness for a class – or several, since you can have several playlists).

You can invite as many people as you like to join the room, using the ‘invite friends’ button (in yellow, top right of the screen). If you click on it, it generates a link that can be copied and sent to your students by any means you like (email, text, WhatsApp, etc.).

Here’s the link generated by the ‘invite friends’ button

When others join the room, their avatars will also be visible along the bottom of the screen. They can also change their assigned usernames.

Choosing source material (video)

Watch2Gether supports a number of sources of video material, including Youtube and Vimeo, as you can see in the image below.

apps supported by Watch2Gether

You can simply enter keywords in the search box to look for suitable videos. Here I’ve searched for ‘Trump coronavirus’ in the Youtube videos:

Results of a Youtube search with keywords ‘Trump coronavirus’

Or if you already know the url of a suitable video, you can just enter it into the search box.

You can also queue up a series of videos by putting them in a playlist, thus allowing you to prepare a whole class’s worth of material. In the screenshot below, you’ll see I’ve made a playlist with three clips about energy. You could create multiple playlists to prepare several classes in advance.

playlist with 3 speeches about energy

Watching the video 

At this point, all you have to do is press play, and everyone in the room will watch the same video at the same time. Watch2Gether synchronises the playback function. No need to play the video in two or more places (on the trainer’s device and on the student’s device) while trying to synchronise by counting ‘1, 2, 3’.


By default, everyone in the room can press pause at any time, or select another video!

However, the host (i.e. the trainer, who’s created the room), can disable various functions to avoid chaos in the virtual classroom, by using the Settings (top right).

Have a look at the screenshot below, which shows you what the host can do by using the ‘Enable Moderation’ function.

enabling moderation: host-only commands
  • Members only: the room host has to approve people who want to join the room.
  • Player: Only the room host can select videos and control the playback of a video (play, pause, seek…)
  • Playlist: Only the room host can change playlists.
  • Colours: Only the room host can change the appearance of a room (colours and background image).


If you want to be able to see your students, ask them to switch on their camera. Definitely ask them to turn on their microphone, using the settings on their avatar button at the bottom of the screen.

On the following screenshot, you’ll see that I have clicked on the video icon, making it turn green, so that my camera is switched on. I’ve circled this in red so you can find it.

I’ve also clicked on my avatar (bottom left) to show you that I can place myself in the middle of the screen, so I’m more visible to my students.

Obviously if I were playing a video for interpreting practice, I wouldn’t put myself in the middle of the screen! To start, I would click play to start the video, and adjust the volume of a) the video (using my computer audio settings), and b) each individual interpreter, using the little microphone icon on their avatars.

If you are finding the avatars a bit small, you can enlarge them, which gives you more control over the volume setting. Here’s a shot of the bigger avatar; you can turn it into a thumbnail and move it around the screen:

Now, to listen to interpretation: let’s say I have 5 students in the class. I would turn 4 of them down to zero volume (mute), and turn up the fifth’s volume.

I’m now watching the video, hearing the video’s audio track, and listening to an interpreter at a volume of my choice. If I want to swap to another interpreter halfway through the speech, I simply turn down the volume of Interpreter 1 (to zero), and turn up Interpreter 2.

All the participants are able to do the same.

This feature also makes it possible to have a live speaker instead of a video as source material: simply have two participants’ volumes turned up (to a level of your choice).

One more useful feature: there is a built-in chat box (bottom right, see screenshot for the speech bubble icon circled in red), so you can type in vocab, links, etc.

The downside

OK, where’s the downside?

So far, it’s all good. You can play videos, have a live speaker, listen to your students in turn without having to enter and exit breakout rooms, adjust the volume (it’s not as flexible as true twin track, but it gives a lot more flexibility than the Zoom interpreting feature, where the original sound is around 20% and the interpreting at 80% volume, but you can’t control it at all), use the chat box, prepare material in advance…

Where’s the catch?

I’m sorry to say, the catch is in the limitations on source material. After all, the platform was designed for watching TV and films with your mates, not for interpreting practice. 

My first thought was that some of my usual sources of practice material, namely the SCIC Repository and Speechpool, would be ruled out. Anything protected behind a login (e.g. Speechpool material) is a problem, and the europa website which hosts the SCIC Repository is (obviously) not one of the apps supported by Watch2Gether.

However, hold tight because I’ve got the solution!


At the moment, Speechpool videos are hosted on Youtube, which allows you to get round the Speechpool login issue. Here’s how you can watch them on Watch2Gether. The method is a little roundabout, but effective.

Login to Speechpool. Find the speech you want. 

In the bottom right hand corner of the video window, you’ll see the Youtube symbol. Click on it to view the speech in Youtube.

Copy the url from the address bar and paste it into the search box in Watch2Gether.


SCIC Speech Repository material

This is a different story. It requires more effort to set up than the Speechpool workaround, but it’s doable.

Go to the SCIC speech repository. Choose the video you’re interested in. Here’s an example:

Copy the url and paste it into the search box in Watch2Gether.

Because the europa website isn’t one of the apps supported by Watch2Gether, you (and everyone else in the room) will need to instal a browser extension on Firefox or Chrome to be able to watch this video.

Each user must now click on Open. The video will then open in a separate window, W2gSync will detect that video and makes sure that playback is in-sync with every user in the room.

So far, so good. When I tested this with a colleague, I was able to control the Play, Pause and Seek functions, playback was synchronised, and there was no time lag.

One disadvantage: because you’re now working in a new window (clicking on the Play/Pause controls in the WAtch2Gether window will not synchronise playback), it’s trickier to see the chat box.

There is a way around this, using the ‘Link’ feature in the Watch2Gether window, but I found it didn’t work, probably because of the way the europa website is designed (the ‘Link’ feature won’t work with Flash, for example).


OK, I’ve given you a lot of explanations and screenshots, which make the whole thing sound complicated, but it’s really not.

The massive plus, from my point of view, is that I can switch my online coaching and group calls to Watch2Gether and do things I can’t do on Zoom: synchronise playback, hear both audio feeds and adjust the speech and interpretation volumes separately, allow several interpreters to work from the same speech at the same time.

Best of all, I can do it all on one device, without messing about with a tablet or mobile, two sets of headphones, a mixer, or anything else.

PROS of Watch2Gether

  • Free
  • Relatively simple to use
  • Suitable for 1-1 sessions or groups
  • Only one device needed
  • Unlimited number of participants
  • Easy replay/pause of video, allowing you to check sections of the speech
  • Volume of speech and interpreter can be adjusted separately
  • Built-in chat function
  • Host can disable certain functions to stay in control

CONS of Watch2Gether

  • Limited options for source material (Youtube, Vimeo), but there are workarounds
  • There is no recording feature, so you can’t record students’ performances from within the app (unlike Zoom, for example). You could get around this by using screen recording software.
  • There is no screen sharing facility or whiteboard.
  • No breakout rooms; but as described above, you don’t need them.
  • No more than 10 video cameras can be on at any time, so you can’t see everybody’s face in a large group
  • Ads – they’re annoying, but we’re all used to tuning them out. You can get rid of them by signing up to PLus, but this doesn’t offer any real benefit in terms of features

Let me know what you think!

Interpreting Coach logo

Sophie Llewellyn Smith, writing as The Interpreting Coach, is a coach, interpreter trainer, conference interpreter, designer of online teaching materials, and creator of Speechpool. Follow the blog to pick up tips on how to improve your interpreting skills, sign up to my flagship membership site for English retourists, Rock your Retour, and check out the website for digital material to complement your face-to-face learning and empower you to take control of your learning. If you’re interested in personal coaching, feel free to book a free discovery call (although my availability is very limited at the moment).


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