News | Simultaneous Interpretation, 75 Years Old Today

Joey Cochran|November 20, 2020
The Nuremburg Trials began on November 20, 1945 and so did Simultaneous Interpretation. Up to this point consecutive interpretation had been the conventional mode of interpretation. However, providing interpretation for the four European languages involved--German, French, English, and Russian--made it essential for another methodology of interpretation to take place in order for the Nuremburg trials to take place at a reasonable pace of time.

A PBS article describes precisely how simultaneous interpretation worked at the Nuremburg Trials: "Boston businessman Edward Filene had created a simultaneous interpretation system in which prepared speeches were translated prior to the event and read simultaneously in the various languages. Later, an American company, I.B.M. acquired the patent and modified the system. At Nuremberg a system of five channels of translation allowed for unscripted exchange at the trial. One channel sent out the exact words of the speaker; other channels transmitted immediate translations in English, Russian, French, and German. Participants listened on headphones and could choose from among the channels. Six microphones picked up the extemporaneous speech of the judges, witnesses and others from the speaker's podium and sent out simultaneous interpretations over the channels."

If you are interested in learning more about this history, two very interesting podcasts are available from BBC and the World:

1. BBC | In Other Words

2. The World | How the Nuremburg Trials Changed Interpretation Forever