Gile’s Effort Models for interpreting

Are you acquainted with Daniel Gile’s Effort Models for interpreting? What do they mean in theory and imply in the daily practice? Keep reading if you’d like to find out.

The Effort Models

Daniel Gile proposed his Effort Models to help interpreters understand the “difficulties [of interpreting] and select appropriate strategies and tactics” (Gile, 1992: 191). The underlying basic ideas are mainly two:

  1. interpretation requires some sort of mental ‘energy’ that is only available in limited supply”;
  2. interpretation “takes up almost all of this mental energy, and sometimes requires more than is available, at which times performance deteriorates” (Gile, 1995: 161).

The key concepts of the Effort Models are the Processing Capacity and “the fact that some mental operations in interpreting require” a significant amount of it (Gile, 1992: 191). Since each interpreting phase implies an effort, the interpreter should therefore be able to find a balance among them in terms of energy.

 According to Gile, the efforts an interpreter faces are mainly four:

1. Listening and Analysis Effort: concerning all “comprehension-oriented operations, from the analysis of the sound waves carrying the source-language speech which reach the interpreter’s ears through the identification of words to the final decisions about the ‘meaning’ of the utterance” (Gile, 1995: 162). These efforts are related to understanding: the mere hearing of the sounds of words is useless if the interpreter’s brain does not convert them into a meaningful message;

2. Memory Effort: seen “more as a storage mechanism where information is temporarily kept before further processing takes place” (Liu, 2008: 173);

3. Production Effort: in consecutive interpreting, this is further divided in two production phases, the first being the moment in which the interpreter listen to the SL speech and takes notes and the second being the TL speech delivery (Gile, 1995: 165).

4. Coordination Effort: compared to “the air-traffic controller for the interpreting that takes place, allowing the interpreter to manage her focus of attention between the listening and analysis task and the ongoing self-monitoring that occurs during performance” (Leeson, 2005: 57). Once interpreters achieve this coordination point, they are able to perform the interpreting job in the most optimal conditions, since their skills are balanced with the task in question. This is why the Coordination Effort plays such a fundamental role: the “art of smooth interpretation is based on the art of smooth coordination. Even if sometimes these Efforts overlap, coordination actually finds the balance between all the factors.” (Kriston, 2012: 81)

Consequently, an interpretation (I) can be summarised with the following equation:

(1)      I = L + M + P + C

where L stands for the listening and analysis effort, M for memory, P for production and C for coordination.

The total requirements (TR) for the interpretation will be the following:

(2)      TR = LR + MR + PR + CR

As a result, in order for the interpreter to carry out the interpretation smoothly, the following conditions need to be satisfied:

(3)       TA > TR

 where TA is the total available capacity.


(4)      TA > LR + MR + PR + CR

where the R stands for requirements.

Should conditions (2) and (3) not be fulfilled, the interpreter would experience mental saturation with an obvious negative effect on the interpreting performance. Here is exactly where the Coordination Effort comes into play, managing the interpreter’s resources and allowing him/her to “survive”, like Monacelli suggests in her book Self-preservation in Simultaneous Interpreting (2009).

What do they mean in practice?

For those of you who don’t like equations that much, let’s simplify the concept. Interpreters have a certain amount of energy and during an assignment we need to find a balance between 4 fundamental ingredients: 1) listening and analysis, 2) memory, 3) production and 4) coordination. Thanks to such a balance, the interpreter is then able to avoid mental saturation and a consequent negative performance.

Let’s imagine two practical cases to see the usefulness of the Effort Models.


Let’s say I am interpreting at a conference about emotional intelligence, a topic I’ve been working on several times. I personally know the speaker, I’ve already worked with him and read many of his books. He’s an English native speaker, who is aware of the difficulties interpreting entails and thus speaks at a reasonable pace preventing me from having a heart attack.

If we go back to Gile, this situation implies that listening, analysis and memory won’t require an excessive amount of energy for me: I’m familiar with the topic and its terminology, I am used to the speaker’s accent and way of speaking and if it’s a consecutive I will also have my notes as a memory aid. Consequently, since I haven’t used too much energy, I can concentrate more on my output (Gile’s production).


This is a purely hypothetical case: I am interpreting a meeting between two engineers in a factory about the different machines used for a specialised process. Even though I carefully prepared for the assignment, I am not an engineer, so the topic is more challenging for me than the previous one. The speaker who does most of the talking is Chinese and has a very strong accent when speaking English. We’re walking around the factory, where it is pretty noisy, and I can barely take any notes or use any terminological aid.

In Gile’s terms, the listening effort will be indeed very challenging. I will need to concentrate a lot because of the noise and try to decode what the Chinese is saying. Since it’s a very technical speech and I cannot take notes, the analysis and memory will also require lots of energy. This means I have less energy available for production than in the previous case. If I concentrate on my output as much as before, after some time I would probably experience mental saturation. Somehow I should be aware of the efforts I am facing for each activity and should try to coordinate my energy as efficiently as possible.

Daniel Gile’s opinions are also very relevant in the retour debate, i.e. whether or not an interpreter should interpret into a language other than his/her mother tongue. You can read more in a previous post, Language combination and the retour debate in interpreting.

As always, any comment is more than welcome!

Have a nice day everyone!

Alessandra 🙂


  • GILE, D. “Basic Theoretical Components in Interpreter and Translator Training.” DOLLERUP, C. and LODDEGAARD, A. (eds). Teaching Translation and Interpreting: Training, Talent and Experience. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1992. 
  • GILE, D. Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator Training. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1995.
  • KRISTON, A. (2012). “The Importance of Memory Training in Interpretation.” PCTS Proceedings (Professional Communication & Translation Studies); 5 (1), p. 79-86.
  • LEESON, L. “Making the effort in simultaneous interpreting: Some considerations for signed language interpreters.” JANZEN, T. (ed). Topics in Signed Language Interpreting: Theory and Practice. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2005. p. 51-68.
  • LIU, M. “How do experts interpret? Implications from research in Interpreting Studies and cognitive science.” HANSEN, G., CHESTERMAN, A., and GERZYMISCH-ARBOGAST, H. (eds). Efforts and Models in Interpreting and Translation Research: A Tribute to Daniel Gile. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2008.
  • MONACELLI, C. Self-Preservation in Simultaneous Interpreting: Surviving the role. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2009.

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