When I arrived on the shores of Sydney in 1997, Down Under had a whole swag of surprises and cultural curiosities for me. One of the things I learned quickly was the BYO formula. Bring your wine to the restaurant, bring your chair to a neighbour’s garden party… I was fascinated how simple everything was. So when I was asked to bring a plate, I brought just that: an empty plate. Ehem… and that wasn’t even my worst blunder in this country…
But back to BYO: Today there are BYO phone plans and BYO cups for coffee shops and BYOD is the increasing trend towards employee-owned devices within a business, so we shouldn’t be surprised that BYO has even found its way into the world of conference interpreting.
After the G20 and ahead of the Commonwealth Games, simultaneous conference interpreting is in strong demand here at 2M and we are constantly monitoring technology discoveries to ensure we are up to date with next-gen interpreting and translation developments. For all of us, technology is driving the ways we communicate and conduct business, no matter what industry you are in. The key to success is to stay one step ahead of the game.
This means we all have to be open and boldly pilot new applications. As Charles Darwin famously said: ”It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
So what’s new out there in the interpreting world? Here’s a brief overview:
What equipment is currently used for conference interpreting?
In my previous blog and this video I explained already how simultaneous (UN style) interpreting works, who are the key players and what Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn have to do with it.
When it comes to equipment, gold standard for conventional simultaneous interpreting is the use of soundproof booths, interpreter consoles and wireless receivers using digital infrared technology, as this is secure, interference-free and ensures superior sound quality. In cases where budget might be an issue e.g. for large numbers of delegates, radio frequency receivers could be considered. Consoles now have a series of new features including ergonomics and the ability to connect external video display screens to the interpretation system, and interpreters can select the visual content that is most useful to them.
What is BYOD?
BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) kicked off in earnest approximately 5 years ago. Whilst smartphones are the most common example, employees also take their own tablets, laptops and USB drives into the workplace.
BYOD is part of the larger trend of IT consumerisation, in which consumer software and hardware are being brought into the enterprise. Benefits include reduced costs and higher employee satisfaction, but security concerns and compliance issues are among the downsides.
BYOD in conference interpreting
Now conference delegates can use their own smartphones to connect to the simultaneous interpreting system through an app. Their phone becomes the receiver, and the app streams audio via WiFi straight out of the interpreters’ booths.
Event organisers see clear advantages as there is no need to rent receivers and headphones anymore, nor distribute them, collect them or replace lost or stolen ones. The more costly infrared digital infrastructure is not needed, and overall costs are thus reduced. Another upside are streaming services to the Net. These allow for people to view/listen to an almost live webcast of an event and the interpretation (5-10 second delay only), or to a recording later.
What are the challenges?
The audio quality is not as good as with digital infrared and will suffer if the WiFi connection becomes slow. If you use it in 3G or 4G mode on your phone, you will chew through your data allowance very quickly, as we are talking about streaming audio, and it will be unacceptable for overseas delegates due to roaming fees.
At a conference, the WiFi infrastructure is already under pressure with all the devices that want to connect i.e. there are potential latency issues. An alternative is to build a separate WiFi system to only support the interpretation. This requires a specific build of access points. In addition, if you wish to provide the audience with access to the Internet (Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter etc.) then a gateway needs to be provided, which means significant additional data charges for the event organiser.
Security concerns are another issue for meetings of a sensitive nature or where privacy is required. Recording, transmission and disclosure might not be allowed. On the delegates’ side, some might not be allowed to download an app or use an untrusted connection on their work phones. And phones can run out of battery. Depending on the meeting, not every delegate might have a smartphone or some might have forgotten their device. Furthermore, delegates are entitled to multilingual communication when paying registration fees and it is the organiser who is responsible for it.
What is Video Remote Interpretation?
Remote Interpreting includes all forms of interpreting where the interpreters are not physically in the same place as the delegates.
With the Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) method, interpreters are working through a videoconferencing solution. In Australia, this is often used for short interpreting assignments in hospitals, Courts, or businesses in regional Australia where no accredited interpreters are based. VRI equipment suppliers make it easy as you can merely download the software to your computer and access it on your phone. The efficiencies in travel costs, time and logistics are significant. Disadvantages are possible audio and video feed disruption, delay and other quality issues. Another problem is that interpreters cannot always view body language and visual cues, so VRI is not suitable for events of high interactivity. An onsite technician is recommended but often not provided, leaving interpreters with the added stress of having to take care of technology instead of concentrating on interpreting.
What is Booth Borrowing?
Here, the interpreters and their booths are not located in the same room where the meeting or conference is taking place. This common scenario enables facility managers to overcome physical space limitations, handle last minute venue changes more easily and is mostly used when the meeting room does not have enough space for all interpreters. Video transmission provides the interpreters with visuals of the speakers.
Virtual Multilingual Meetings
Here, everyone is offsite and connects to the web conferencing service. Participants can choose their language, and dedicated video remote interpreting software provides more security and a smoother process than a generic video calling app like Skype for example.
Remote interpreting is here to stay and the future will improve these solutions and the quality. High profile meetings still rely today on robust technology and onsite interpreting.
Also known as automated interpreting, Machine Interpreting combines machine translation (MT) and voice recognition software. Automated telephone interpreting that allows users to turn spoken words into a foreign language already exists. But for interpreting to be simultaneous, the technology would need to be able to predict and interpret sentences before they finish, a task challenging in languages which place the verb at the end of the sentence (e.g. German). Furthermore, voice recognition is unforgiving with heavy accents, regional dialects, background noises and any slight mispronunciation. Machines still lack human judgment and cultural awareness, so this solution will still take a long time before it becomes viable.
Horses for courses I say. There are instances where it is appropriate to employ new technology, and others where it is clearly not suitable yet. But we need to continue to test and pilot and, most importantly, listen to our stakeholders and respond accordingly. This will ensure our survival.