Remote Interpreting In The Time Of Coronavirus
The coronavirus outbreak presents an unprecedented challenge for all professions around the planet. It is no wonder, then, that conference interpreters everywhere have felt the impact of the Covid-19 crisis. As virtually all meetings requiring physical presence have become impossible – and unsafe – to hold, remote conferencing technology has come to the fore, attempting to provide a solution – especially for the most urgent of meetings. If in the span of only a few decades, new technologies have accelerated the pace of technical and societal change, Covid-19 has proven an added catalyst, forcing us through the threshold of an unexpected future. Language Services Providers (LSPs) have the added responsibility of providing both interpreters and clients with practical and immediate guidance on how to grapple with new experiences in interpreting in these challenging times. For example, to spread the message of keeping people safe and healthy, government services have already adapted to new ways of using interpreters, especially in the case of sign language.
Distance, or remote, interpreting is done where interpreters are not physically present at the site that requires interpretation. Several modalities exist, such as over the phone, via a live audio/video feed, usually in a mode called Remote Simultaneous Interpretation (RSI).
For the interpreter, this can mean working from a “hub”, i.e. an interpretation center using existing infrastructure; here, interpreters work at the center’s premises, watching and listening in on a meeting while simultaneously broadcasting the interpretation. Interpreters can also work from home using remote platforms – such as Zoom – to participate in virtual meetings; platforms like Zoom may even have specific interpretation-oriented capabilities to facilitate this component. While the first solution is most likely to provide the best quality, the second option offers a much lower health risk during the pandemic.
Working from home and on virtual meeting platforms can also present other challenges, such as a high dependence on the quality of more internet connections, individuals’ audio equipment, the vulnerability of data on personal equipment, difficulty in switching interpretation over to the next member of the team, etc. Specifically for the latter scenario, certain specialized RSI platforms have been created, and your language service provider should be able to provide you with information on the various options currently available.
Suggestions and recommendations on Distance/Remote Simultaneous Interpretation (RSI)
For more information on how to meet all your teleconference needs when hosting delegations of foreign clients and partners in conference halls and executive briefing centers is no longer possible, contact your language services provider, who will certainly share the following tips to ensure the success of your event:
Consider shorter meetings. RSI adds to the interpreters’ cognitive load as they experience a more complex process of quality control in situations of multiple user interfaces (UIs). Keep in mind that interpreter fatigue is exacerbated by the technological complexity this type of scenario implies.
More than ever, have presenters keep a clear, soft pace when speaking. It is helpful to have a moderated meeting, as some types of meetings are not necessarily suitable for RSI.
Preparation is key. In order to get the most from your interpreters, do not hesitate to share your material (presentations, speeches, glossaries, style guides, etc.) with them: as for any assignment, you can rest assured that professional conference interpreters will abide by their code of ethics and preserve the confidentiality of all your materials.
Be aware of your event and participants’ sound, video, and internet connection quality. Technological issues are likely to occur, and sound and video quality will be even more crucial than at a regular, live meeting. Remember that at virtual meetings, just like at physical conferences, if interpreters cannot hear the presenter properly, they cannot do their work.
Both the interpreters and the presenters should be aware of their room’s acoustics and use a separate wired microphone or a headset with an integrated microphone rather than their computer’s onboard mic. Whenever possible, avoid phone lines (which do not offer optimal voice quality) or wireless connections (including home Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices); a wired internet connection using an Ethernet cable is usually best.
Presenters are advised to keep their video camera/feed on. Interpreters use visual cues as well as sound to provide a more accurate interpretation. At physical conferences, interpreters should always have a direct line of sight to the speaker. Should lack of bandwidth prevent the use of video during a virtual meeting, interpreters may find it very difficult, if not impossible, to interpret the speaker without body language and non-verbal cues.
Should interpreter hubs be used, these will be equipped with soundproof booths to which the interpreters are accustomed, as well as with a more adequate, dedicated audio setup along with monitors showing the speaker.
Make sure you are prepared and well-equipped. Just like with a physical meeting, it’s important to expect something to go wrong; ensuring that all possible preventive measures have been taken can help to avoid negative outcomes. Special arrangements need to be made to troubleshoot in case of technical glitches that may arise during the event. In the case of going with at-home interpretation, we highly recommend that you plan to have a rehearsal or conduct a test before the day of the event, with both the interpreters and the presenters.
Contractual considerations and liability:
Trust the experts. As usual, it is recommended to use highly qualified interpreters and a professional language services provider. When possible, collocated interpreters (interpreters working from the same location) will find it easier to work together and help each other when working in the same simultaneous interpretation booth vs. when interpreting from home. Your Project Manager will play a key role in the success of your project and will be able to set up all parameters for seamless interpretation during your event.
Recording. If you require recording or commercial live streaming of the interpretation, don’t forget to discuss this with your Language Service Provider (LSP), since unauthorized recording or broadcasting may constitute copyright infringement.
Disclaimers. RSI contracts will usually include a disclaimer releasing the interpreters from liability for interruption of service, partial or complete loss of audio, visual input, or data, or unauthorized access, etc.
Hygiene and cleaning procedures:
Remote interpreting is an efficient way to abide by social distancing measures while allowing your meeting’s message to be conveyed. However, the coronavirus can remain viable for several hours on different materials and types of equipment. Whatever the event format, either supported by the conventional fixed set-up or mobile sets, some hygienic care is expected by both interpreters and participants. The American Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the use at least 70% isopropyl or ethanol alcohol solution; direct use of this over surfaces is effective, for instance, with gauze or a cotton pad soaked in the solution, and applied directly to external surfaces, earpieces, receptors, and anything commonly manipulated or in close proximity to mouths, noses, eyes, and ears.
Needless to say, the world we knew at the beginning of 2020 has been forever changed by the current coronavirus crisis. At Chang-Castillo and Associates, LLC (CCA), we understand the tremendous challenges – and opportunities – that remote simultaneous interpretation offers. Contact us for more information on why we are considered the platinum standard of the translation and interpretation industry, including RSI for teleconferences and webinars.