Remote Simultaneous Interpretation Pros and Cons
By: Ivan Butin - Translink
25 June 2020
Several microphones, a booth with a console for the translators, a central block, and a transmission unit with transmitters and receivers for the participants. Those are the main elements of a traditional simultaneous interpretation system, which is set up in the venue where the event takes place.
At the moment all events involving a large number of people have been cancelled. But that doesn’t mean that all business has been put on hold as we wait for things to change. Many companies still need to carry on business as usual. And so translation agencies need to find a way to support events in the current situation.
And the most obvious solution is to switch to on-line forms of communication. For the last few weeks all aspects of business have been conducted over the Internet, including holding meetings and discussions with clients and presenting new products. And large-scale events held using simultaneous interpretation are no exception to this trend. Translation agencies are now making arrangements to allow simultaneous interpreters to work remotely.
In general terms, this does not present a great challenge from a technical point of view: it is necessary to set up two separate audio links, one from the speaker to the interpreter and another from the interpreter back to the listener. We have started using an increasingly popular system for organizing on-line conferences. Here is a summary of our experience.
The only equipment the user needs is a smartphone, tablet or computer. Modern technologies enable hundreds of users to be connected to an on-line event and be provided with simultaneous audio feeds in several different languages.
It poses absolutely no health risk. Participants use their own devices, and so there is no reason to disinfect the equipment.
It makes sense from a financial perspective. There is no need to hire any equipment, and, compared with the traditional alternatives, the use of cloud platforms allows savings of at least 50%. And there is no need to organize and pay for interpreters’ travel and accommodation.
It is high quality. The translation agency is responsible for providing experienced interpreters. As for the choice of platforms, it makes sense to seriously consider solutions that have been on the market for a long time and are used by a large number of clients. These solutions are more likely to have a properly developed and user friendly interface, and it is likely that any bugs will have been fixed. A slight lag in sound transmission (0.2- 0.5s) is inevitable when using any cloud solution, but in practice this has no effect on the provision of the translated content to the listener.
Next, I would like to take a look at the merits of using a remote simultaneous interpretation from several different perspectives.
The User's Perspective
Not all on-line systems include an auto-relay function. When dealing with a large number of languages this may result in an incoherent babble.
The sound quality is somewhat lower than when interpreting on-site. This is understandable: in order to minimize the burden on the network (whether wi-fi or mobile) and avoid the risk of interruptions to the connection, the sound channel is compressed by removing the high and low frequencies. This does not have a major impact on the clarity of the material, but the user should be aware that the sound quality will be similar to that of a mobile phone conversation.
As already mentioned, there are time lags, in the vast majority of cases between 0.2 and 0.5 seconds.
The approach to confidentiality is also significantly different from the traditional simultaneous interpretation. A person in possession of the session ID or QR code can connect and listen to the event from anywhere in the world. Of course, there are passwords, but these can be given to a third person just as easily as the session ID or QR code. It is also necessary to bear in mind that the providers of on-line simultaneous interpretation systems charge more as the number of participants in the event increases. For example, an event may be organized for 50 people, but if some of them come up with the idea of inviting colleagues, acquaintances or friends, then the total number of participants might reach 500.
Naturally, there are also clear advantages to this technology. For example, in many cases the interpreter can, if necessary, work over the phone. This is theoretically possible in many of the systems, although it does increase the risk of disruptions. For this reason the system providers require the interpreter to work using a cable internet connection.
The Linguist's Perspective
For some linguists, there is no real difference between working from home and on site in terms of convenient communication with the agency’s management bodies. But in this case there may also be some hidden problems. In a stressful situation it is likely that the translator will tap the wrong button without noticing that the action he is trying to perform is not actually carried out by the system. Naturally, this problem can be dealt with in a few seconds, but situations like this can sometimes have a serious negative impact on the quality of service offered by the translation agency. Physical management bodies are clearly more reliable in practice.
In addition, when working from home it is essential to use a noise reduction system. Nobody wants to hear the sound of a kettle whistling in the kitchen or a child crying in the next room.
The interpreters can also see each other, and the web broadcast site. In terms of interaction between the performers and their involvement in the interpretation process, remote simultaneous interpretation systems are as close as possible to traditional on-site systems.
The Listener's Perspective
Services offered to clients are originally designed to be as intuitive as possible. But sometimes the client needs to take some additional steps - while in the case of a traditional simultaneous interpretation system the listeners just need to be provided with a headset, in order to access the audio feed from a remote system they first need to download an app onto their mobile phone. Some listeners may also experience difficulties in connecting using the QR code (one of the options used by certain systems).
Simultaneous interpretation over the internet is not just on the horizon, it is an established technology being used now, which has changed the conditions under which we operate as service providers. Nevertheless all the available systems are guaranteed to perform well as long as the following conditions are met:
- The event has a large audience
- It involves a limited number of language pairs
- Confidentiality is not the overriding priority
- The risk of short interruptions to the network connection is minimal, or such interruptions do not pose a major problem.
As well as being an essential tool for work during a pandemic, remote simultaneous interpretation systems are also an option in projects where the translation budget is too low to permit the use of a traditional on-site system.
It is also important to remember the main advantage of such solutions - namely the ability to save money on moving equipment, as well as on interpreters’ transport and accommodation. If it does become necessary to travel to a distant location, the money saved may sometimes be enough to cover all the remaining costs.