Conference Interpreting and the art of simultaneous interpretation

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Flawless communication is essential for a successful event. Multilingual events are becoming more mainstream in today’s society and language barriers could easily interfere with your event’s success if you do not acquire professional and experienced interpreters.

Conference interpreters (often working in teams) flawlessly convert a speaker’s message from one language into another, in real-time, while still preserving the meaning, tone, and nuance of the speaker. This method used by conference interpreters is called simultaneous interpretation.


What is simultaneous interpretation?

Simultaneous interpreters translate orally in real-time, lagging only a few seconds behind the speaker. They usually interpret for an audience, and the simultaneous mode allows them to interpret without interrupting the natural flow of events. This type of interpretation is best for events with large audiences, including for conferences, meetings, product launches, promotional events, assemblies, shareholder meetings, presentations, etc. It allows the participants to speak and listen in their native language, enhancing their experience and understanding.


How does simultaneous interpretation work?

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Since there might be several interpreters interpreting into a variety of different languages at the same time, it is important for the audience members to set their receivers to the appropriate language channel. This allows the speakers of multiple languages to share the same experience regardless of language differences.


Why are, at minimum, 2 interpreters required per language?

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The interpreter must understand, process, and convey information from one language into another language in real-time, often on topics of highly technical nature.Interpreters will trade off every 20-30 minutes to ensure high accuracy of interpretation. During their break, they may drink water and eat to keep their energy up, as well as use restroom facilities. But mostly, during their “break,” interpreters will act as support to the active interpreter. They will take notes, look up terms in glossaries, locate reference material, write down numbers and names, and prepare/review to take over again.


Why is equipment necessary during simultaneous interpretation?

Simultaneous interpretation occurs in real-time, meaning that the interpreter’s lag time is only seconds behind the speaker; therefore, throughout the event, the speaker and the interpreter(s) speak at the same time. This would not be possible without equipment, as the speakers would constantly speak over one another. Professional equipment is especially important when having a variety of different languages among the audience.

Interpreting equipment allows multiple parties to speak at the same time without interrupting one another or the speaker. The interpreter hears the speaker through their headset and transmits the interpretation to the headsets of those in the audience who wish to listen in another language. When scheduling simultaneous interpreters, make sure to inquire from your attendees how many people will require the service, in which languages, and at which sessions they would be needed.


What equipment is needed?

The interpreters and audience members in need of the interpreters’ services will require headsets, transmitters, and receivers. These come in three basic types:

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    • Portable: Good for guided tours but have a limited range and are subject to interference from other devices as well as extraneous noise
    • FM: May not be secure and can experience some interference from other devices working on same or similar frequencies
    • Infrared: Direct, clear communication without sacrificing security in large venues

Depending on specific equipment, receivers can tune to between 2-32 channels. With each channel set to a different language, an attendee only needs to switch the dial to another channel to hear their preferred language. All interpretation into a specific language will be transmitted on that same channel, regardless of the original speaker’s language.

Additionally, interpreters require space to work in, also known as a booth (except when using portable equipment).


Types of interpreting booths

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  • Booth sits on top of a sturdy table.
  • The interpreter’s upper body and equipment are in the booth so it provides a degree of soundproofing (having the back face a wall will reduce sound interference). However, ensure that the audience members are placed at least 4 feet away to minimize any noise that may interfere with the interpreter’s job.
  • Better for smaller venues as they take up less space.
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  • Stand-alone structure with four walls, floor, ceiling and its own ventilation system. It is usually big enough to fit 2-3 interpreters comfortably.
  • The soundproofing is much better than a table-top booth and allows the interpreter to work unobstructed.
  • Better for larger venues due to enhanced soundproofing, but a larger amount of space for set-up is also needed.

It is highly recommended to have an audio technician on hand to set up, take down, and troubleshoot the highly complex and technical equipment. Make sure to allow time for equipment set-up and a sound check.

DO NOT expect an interpreter to have the technical knowledge to install the equipment as it is not their job to do so.

About us

LEGAL INTERPRETERS LLC is an interpreting agency founded by an actual interpreter with a broad and extensive interpreting experience. Agata Baczyk has been working as an independent interpreter for several years and decided to start her own interpreting agency in order to address the industry's need for professional and experienced interpreters. Most interpreting agencies are not able to screen or assess their interpreters effectively because they don't have the needed tools and knowledge of what that job entails. As a company led by a professional interpreter we are able to ensure that the linguists we contract with are knowledgeable and experienced.

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