2M Update – Simultaneous interpreting and your next conference or meeting

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Walking back to our 2M Europe Office in Paris located in the Latin Quarter 5th district, I passed the Place d’Italie and found myself surrounded by illuminated Brisbane billboards boasting our River City Brisbane ahead of the G20 summit 2014. With Angela Merkel, Barak Obama and other Heads of State heading to the Queensland capital next year, Australia’s River City is sure to be an exciting place to be.

This got me thinking – because there is a growing number of international conferences and congresses planned for Australia, the need for conference interpreters is also increasing. Even though Nicole Kidman along with Sean Penn in the movie “The Interpreter” did raise awareness for conference interpreters among the public, it is still a role that can sometimes be misunderstood. I have therefore prepared the following information to give some key points on how simultaneous interpreting works, when to use it and what its benefits are.

How does interpreting actually work?

In simultaneous interpreting, the oral speech is rendered into one or several other languages while the speaker continues to speak. It can be done in a soundproof booth where the interpreter listens to a speaker through earphones and simultaneously transmits the message in another language through a microphone to listeners in the room.

Another option is whisper interpreting (also called chuchotage), where the interpreters sit next to one or two listeners and speak into their ears in a stage whisper. This can also be done through a so-called whisper system; the interpreter then speaks into a microphone next to them or at the back of the room, and the delegates listen through headphones. This is particularly suitable for board or other smaller meetings or where there are only a few foreign delegates.

In consecutive interpreting, the interpreters take notes during the speech and then reformulate the information into another language. There are also other forms of conference interpretation such as liaison interpreting or bilateral interpreting, where short segments of speech are repeated in the consecutive or whispering mode.

How many interpreters?

As you can imagine, simultaneous interpreting requires utmost concentration. International organisations such as the European Union regularly use three interpreters to work into one language. In meetings of more than seven hours with six or more working languages, the number increases to four interpreters per language. The interpreters usually take turns every 20 minutes depending on subject and speaker quality.

As a rule of thumb, a single simultaneous interpreter can work reliably for a maximum of 40 minutes. Beyond that, at least two interpreters will be necessary. At a normal full-day conference with continuous interpreting between two languages, interpreters work in teams of two or three. This is due to health and safety and satisfies the guidelines of the International Association of Conference Interpreters, AIIC. It is important that your conference interpretation team is focused and reliable on every word so that your participants understand each other completely.

What equipment is required?

Simultaneous interpreters work in soundproof booths, which can be a fixed part of the building or hired and installed for the event. The soundproof booths should be set up in the conference room where the presentation is being held, so that the interpreters can grasp and communicate the whole situation, including visual presentations. An interpreting booth for two interpreters and the engineer’s mixing desk take up about 3.50 x 2.00 meters (or yards) of space. The interpreters listen to the speaker through earphones and the audience in the conference room has earphones to listen to the speech in their chosen language.

Portable equipment is also used for guided tours or whisper interpreting. It travels in a small case and consists of a portable microphone, receivers for the participants and a charging station. The interpreters listen and speak in the room, which can be perceived as disruptive. They might not always be able to hear well enough while they are speaking. This system is only recommended for a small number of delegates and is not suitable for presentations in conference rooms. Interpreters and equipment can be booked in a package or separately.

How can I tell whether an interpreter is a professional?

The old saying goes that the best instrument is useless if played by a bad musician. With interpreters, the skill and ability can range significantly. It is also important to note that the title “interpreter” is not legally defined in Australia, and anyone may call himself or herself an interpreter. To ensure that you have a professional you can look for a formal qualification such as a university degree in conference interpreting, NAATI accreditation as conference interpreter or perhaps more importantly, professional experience and membership with the International Association of Conference Interpreters, AIIC (after the French name). The requirements for membership include several years of high-level experience and a peer review by active members. The Association is officially recognised by major international organisations, such as the European Union or the United Nations, so you can rely on the integrity and qualification of these interpreters.

With all of this in mind, you can pick the interpretation level that is right for your needs. For example, if you need information interpreted for your ears only, then a less experienced practitioner could be used. However, if the success of a meeting or conference depends upon clear and precise communication, then you should opt for a professional solution and provide the necessary budget wholeheartedly.

How much do I pay and for what?

Conference interpreters will charge daily fees. This is because once an appointment has been confirmed, the interpreters will often have to turn down subsequent offers for the same day or indeed several days. Additional charges will be incurred for travelling time (usually 2/3 of their daily rate), per diem (travel allowance), airfares and overnight expenses, as the required language resources and quality is not always available locally.

How to prepare your interpreter

Depending on the material, technical subject and terminology, the preparation time may take longer than the actual conference itself. Therefore, a good interpreter will want to have material and resources provided well in advance to prepare for the conference and as a result perform even better on the day.

We are looking forward to seeing more international conferences in Australia in the near future and showing the world our extensive capabilities in hosting world-class events.

A special welcome message to international G20 delegates – Brisbane will make sure your message comes across!


2M Conference Interpreter in booth

Written by Tea C. Dietterich, Director of 2M Language Services.

Find out more about conference interpreting services.

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