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The Birth of Simultaneous Interpretation

January 12, 2016

Historians basically agree that the first use of simultaneous interpretation equipment (for an important multilingual event) was the Nuremberg Trials in 1945. The series of international military tribunals were held in Germany by allied forces following World War II to prosecute key members of the Third Reich who participated in the Holocaust. To properly address the complex political and military war crimes, interpretation and translation departments had to be established that employed the four (4) official languages: English, German, French, and Russian.

Judicial leaders had a growing concern that consecutive interpretation could slow down the proceedings significantly. Therefore, the introduction of an entirely new technique (simultaneous interpretation) that was unique to the Nuremberg tribunals as well as the history of the interpretation profession. Applying the new technique required the interpreters to listen to a speaker in a floor language and orally translate that speech into another language in real time through headsets and microphones. The interpreters were split into four groups with three interpreters simultaneously converting the other three languages into their mother tongue. 

Since simultaneous interpretation techniques were extremely new, the interpreters of the Nuremberg Trials had to train themselves. Many could not handle the pressure or the psychological strain and had to be replaced. Some returned to the tribunal's document translation department, but many left. Despite the extensive periods of trial and error, the event revolutionized the way multilingual issues would be addressed in political conferences and military tribunals from that point forward.

Without the invention of simultaneous interpretation, the Nuremberg tribunals would not have been possible. Following the trials, many of the new-breed of interpreters were recruited into positions at the newly formed United Nations. Others simply returned to their ordinary lives, pursued other careers, or began to work as freelance simultaneous interpreters at multilingual events. ProLingo can help your business be prepared for global growth and expansion. Contact us today at 800-287-9755.

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