Simultaneous Interpretation: Breaking Down the Language Barrier

The main reason for bringing people together is to share ideas. Presenters want to be able to deliver their message and know it is understood. Delegates want to hear about issues from novel and unique perspectives. Simultaneous interpretation technology allows participants from different cultures, languages and even dialects to communicate on a common platform.

Simultaneous interpretation is required to ensure that participants can communicate effectively.
The first question to answer is how many languages are needed to communicate? This is important from both technical and budgetary points of view. A bilingual meeting will require one set of interpreters and a dual channel system (one for each language). If only one language is required to be translated one-way (English to French) for the entire meeting, a single-channel system should be used.

Multi-language events require a set of interpreters for each language (or dialect) with multi-channel transmitters and receivers. Multi-language events also use more space as each language requires its own interpretation booth.

Interpreter selection is crucial. The interpreters need to be experienced in simultaneous interpretation as opposed to consecutive interpretation or written translation. The interpreters also need to understand the subject matter. It is very important to have a pre-production meeting with the interpretation provider prior to the event. This will help the interpreters familiarize themselves with industry specific terms and nuances, which will result in more effective communication.

The technical equipment required for simultaneous interpretation includes: an interpretation booth, console, transmitter and receiver system (headphones with selectable channels). Each language is transmitted on a dedicated channel.

The interpretation booth provides a sound-proof environment for the interpreters to work. These portable booths allow the interpreters to focus on the presentation and also remove the distraction of the interpreter’s voice from the delegates who are listening directly to the presenter. Most interpretation booths are two-person booths and are generally 8′ x 8′. They are set up at the side or back of the room and it is important that they maintain a clear sight line with the presenter.

An audio feed is taken from the P.A. mixer and input into the interpretation console. The console is located in the interpretation booth and delivers the voice of the presenter. This can become very complex in a multi-language session as the interpreter may not understand the originating language and they must rely on the translation of another interpreter.

The interpreter listens through headphones and speaks into a microphone directly in front of them. There are generally two interpreters in one booth as they will work for approximately 15 minutes at a time, switching back and forth as required.

The interpreted audio is then sent from the interpretation console to the transmission system. There are infrared (IR) and radio frequency (FM) transmission systems. IR wavelengths are longer than the visible light spectrum but shorter than radio waves. IR transmission is “line of sight” meaning that the signal can’t penetrate physical boundaries and be picked up by people outside of the meeting room. Infrared systems do not work under sunlight conditions (try and use your infrared TV remote outside under a sunny sky) and have a limited transmission range. Radio frequency systems are available for events that are working under sunny locations or have very large areas to cover. The audio signal is sent from the transmitter to the infrared radiators that are set up to provide the desired room coverage.

The wireless receivers consist of the receiver and the headset. The IR receivers must be in line of sight of the radiator to pick up the IR signal. This means that they can’t be under the table or inside a delegate’s suit jacket. A headset earphone is plugged into the receiver. A multi-channel receiver will enable the delegate to choose from several different channels each with a different language.

While this article has focused on simultaneous interpretation for meetings and events, the equipment can also be used for assistive listening applications, videoconferencing and webcasting. Portable systems are also available for applications such as manufacturing plant tours where normal conversations are not possible.

Chris Germain, Inland AV Edmonton General Manager addresses audiovisual considerations important to event planners. As a branch manager, Chris brings a unique perspective as he is involved in both permanent systems design and integration and AV rentals applications.

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