Master the Fine Art of Multilingual Video Calls

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, team meetings in the office and client visits have been replaced by a long series of video meetings. Over half of all workers in Germany, for example, now rely on online meetings to get their work done with no social distancing hoops to jump through.

But there is a downside. How sweaty do your palms get when a call is coming up - especially in another language - and you ask yourself: Will I be able to understand the person on the screen? The tried-and-tested Microsoft Teams tool has long featured captioning in real time, but only in English. And some platforms just show the language that is being spoken rather than translating it. This is changing slowly but surely.

Come summer, Microsoft Teams will be offering six additional languages including German. Google Meet also features a real-time voice to text option. In addition to English, it produces subtitles in French, German, Portuguese and Spanish.

Skype Translator can translate speech into 11 languages. The translation quality, however, is still pretty rough. Machine translation is simply no match for a human interpreter. Nuance, irony and voice modulations that subtly convey an opinion are lost with a translation tool.

Zoom takes a different tack, giving users who want to tie interpreters into their meetings a special option that allows them to access their own audio channel. The participants select the channel for the language of their choice - either the translation on its own or accompanied by the original language on a quieter track.

So what are the key points to remember to help everyone in your international video meetings get the most out of them? At ACT Translations, we've had quite a bit of experience with video meetings.

Here are some of our top tips.

1. Find the Right Translation Option for Your Needs.

While the myriad options for video conferencing can be super practical, each user needs to be aware of their limits. Translation fails or near misses can always happen, and they may impact business meeting negatively. Video conference solutions can't read between the lines or understand plays on words, to name just a couple of potential pitfalls. Plus, when the meeting is being recorded, the captions are not recorded along with it. So you need to establish your priorities for each call and decide whether a tool can fulfill them.

2. Plan, Plan, Plan.

You wouldn't ask anyone to attend an in-person meeting without an agenda, would you? Video calls are no different. Set out a clear plan of what you're going to discuss. If other members of your team will be attending, they need time to get ready, too. Using an interpreter? Brief them on the topics in advance and send them any background information you have so they can prepare.

3. Always Be Punctual.

Don't just dial into your virtual meeting on schedule; if it's the first meeting with this particular group, allow time for you and the other attendees to introduce yourselves and explain your roles. Keep this phase brief so you can move on to the matters at hand as quickly as possible.

4. Make Sure You Can Use the Technology.

Your first virtual conferences can be challenging. So the better prepared you are, the more confident you'll be. Choose a quiet, pleasant room with good lighting so you can be seen clearly. And test the technology beforehand to be sure everything's working as it should.

5. Send a Signal When You Want to Speak.

You have something valuable to say in a meeting, but somehow you always seem to interrupt other speakers without meaning to. Know the feeling? Video calls tend to lag, and even if it's only for milliseconds, attendees end up talking over each other. That's not just awkward; it can seem rude. To prevent this, raise your hand, send a status emoji or write something in the chat function to signal that you want to talk. That gives the meeting more structure and improves everyone's ability to participate in the discussion. When interpreters are on the call, these signals help them to keep up with the speakers.

6. Use Professional Interpreters.

If you decide to use the services of one or more interpreters during your meeting, they'll join in virtually rather than in person. ACT Translations can book a professional interpreter for you who is experienced in your industry and brief them on the participants and agenda.

7. Mute Yourself Whenever You Are Not Speaking.

The coffee machine's gurgle, the printer's hum, the cat's meow - your microphone picks up all the noises around you, even when they're in another room. So any time you are not actively speaking, mute yourself.