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Matter for Interpretation:

Make it a Multilingual Event! 

(Originally published July 2011)


With more than 90% of the world’s population and nearly 1 in 5 US residents speaking a language other than English at home, truly make it an event to remember by offering seamless interpretation of spoken information in the languages your attendees speak! Whether your event is large or small, effective language interpretation can make all the difference in significantly increasing levels of employee engagement, conducting much needed market research, selling your products or services, closing business deals, coordinating a successful visitor tour, or making your international conference a hit, just to name a few! So, how do you ensure that you get it right? Here is some information to help you with this process.


What mode of interpreting is most common at events? At most events, simultaneous interpreting, which is transmitted to listeners in real time while the original speech is still in progress, is typically used. This is particularly true in situations when the speaker is addressing a larger audience and when it is best to maintain the flow of speech and not interrupt to wait for the interpretation. Such instances would include: conferences, presentations or lectures, larger training sessions or employee meetings, and even in a focus group when it is important to maintain the flow and pace of the original conversations.


When is consecutive interpreting the better choice? Consecutive interpreting, in which the interpreter waits until a complete statement has been spoken and then interprets while the speaker pauses, is most often used when people are involved in a more direct dialogue or exchange. Common uses for consecutive interpreting include: smaller or one-on-one business, employee, or board meetings, in-the-round sessions, and Q&A periods when it is more natural to periodically pause for the interpretation.

What about escort or tour interpreting? As a supplement to a conference or business trip, and even as a separate event, interpreting services are often used for guided tours and visits, which could include one of a city’s main attractions or even of a company’s production plant. Another good use of this type of interpreting is for an interpreter to accompany a person or a small group while visiting booths and talking to people at a trade show. Consecutive interpreting is the most common mode used when interpreting for a delegation, tour or visit. In some cases though, like a guided tour when one person is making a longer presentation, simultaneous interpreting may then be more effective. 


What type of advance notice is needed when planning for interpretation?  Be sure to provide as much advance notice as possible to allow ample time to coordinate interpretation for the event, including booking the interpreters, arranging for travel when needed, etc. This is particularly true for larger simultaneous interpreting events, in which there needs to be ideally a month or more advance notice to schedule qualified interpreters, coordinate equipment needs, and plan other logistics for the event. In addition, if there are supplemental materials that also require written translation, it is key to provide sufficient time for translation.


What is needed to prepare interpreters and speakers for an event?  So that the interpreter can sufficiently prepare for the assignment, remember to provide any relevant event materials, such as copies of agendas, presentations or briefings as far in advance of the event as possible. In addition, allowing time for the speakers and interpreters to meet ahead of time can increase awareness by both parties on what is needed to ensure the best possible chances of success for the event interpretation. Also, see this previous Syntes eTip for more information on successfully working with interpreters.


How many interpreters are needed per language pair? For simultaneous interpreting, two interpreters typically work together with each interpreting in 30-minute segments. Research confirms this is the optimal approach because after about 30 minutes, the accuracy of the interpretation has been shown to dramatically decline due to the high levels of energy and concentration involved in interpreting at the same time that a person is speaking. Consecutive interpreting can usually be done with one interpreter because the interpreter has the opportunity to periodically pause while the speaker is talking, and these types of sessions are generally of shorter duration.


Would interpreting equipment and technical support be required? Equipment is most often utilized to facilitate simultaneous interpreting without interrupting speakers or listeners although whispering can be used in some isolated cases. The interpreter typically uses a portable or stationary transmitter with a microphone to interpreter while the listener has a receiver with a headset to hear what is being interpreted. In conference or larger event settings, the interpreters usually sit in a sound-proof booth equipped with a headset and microphone. A technician would also be needed for conferences and other larger events to set up, test, and trouble shoot the interpreting equipment.


What about logistical and space considerations? Such information as the room size, the venue layout, and the presentation schedule for larger events is essential to determine what resources and equipment will be optimal for your event. It is also important that interpreters can readily see the speakers and follow what is happening during the presentation without interfering with the integrity of the event. If it is not logistically workable for this to occur in the same room, then a video camera should be set up so the interpreters can see the speakers and what is happening at all times. Ideally, simultaneous interpreters also need Wi-Fi access so that they can do any necessary research as the event is occurring.


How should interpreting services be promoted and explained? Announcing that interpretation services are available before the event on a website or in promotional materials can increase attendance levels and ensure the highest possible return on your investment in interpreting services. It is also important to make announcements on the day of the event so attendees are reminded that interpreting services are available and how to use them.
Careful thought and planning can make all the difference in ensuring successful interpretation for your next event. So, be sure it is a hit and an event to remember by effectively facilitating spoken communication in the languages your attendees speak!

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