The décalage is the time lag between what the speaker says and the interpreter's simultaneous rendition in the booth.
According to the Italian dictionary Garzanti, the décalage è a swerve or a failed correspondence between two or more elements. This word comes from French décaler, moving something forward or backword in space or also in time, like a timetable.
In conference interpreting, it has a further meaning: décalage is the time lag between what the speaker says and and the interpreter's simultaneous rendition in the booth. When talking about simultaneous interpreting, it is indeed true that the interpreter translates while the speaker talks, however it is impossible to start translating the exact moment the speech starts.
How does décalage work in simultaneous interpreting?
The interpreter uses this lag to listen for at least 1-2 seconds (usually 5 words) to the speech, process it and immediately translate it.
The more the syntax between the spoken language resembles that of the target language, the shorter the décalage is. For example, in the Spanish-Italian combination, the structure is quite similar and the interpreter can afford a short décalage.
For very different language combinations like Dutch-Italian, when the verb may come at the end of the sentence, the interpreter needs a few seconds more (up to 10-15 words) to allow the speaker to complete a speech unit.
How does the interpreter manage to remember everything?
In certain language combinations like English-Italian, it is not uncommon to find long lists of adjectives. In such situations, the interpreter's expertise is noted in the techniques he or she can implement. A solution? Turn adjectives into nouns so that the time lag does not become too long and they do not risk missing important chunks of speech. As in the example here below:
is much better than
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