by Elizabeth Colón
This is especially true in the world of conferences and meeting planning. The main purpose of meetings and conferences is communication. Whether that is communication about a topic, a company, or for networking purposes, being able to convey and understand the key messages is of utmost importance. Additionally, multilingual meetings provide the opportunity to build rapport, promote two-way conversation, and gain valuable feedback from an audience. As a planner, your role should be to facilitate multilingual features in the planning stages. Here are a few aspects you should know about.
If managed correctly, multilingual conferences and meetings hold the promise of great opportunities. However, without effective interpreting for clear communication, your message could be diluted or irreparably harmed. The first step when planning for multilingual audiences: understanding your options.
There are several styles or types of interpreting that are utilized in the meeting scenario. Depending on the meeting audience, size, language needs, and budget, planners will typically need to choose from two different interpreting solutions:
• Consecutive Interpreting. Often used for Q&A, or two-way communication, the key characteristic of consecutive interpreting is that the interpreter is up front, with the speaker and visible to the audience. The interpreter takes turns with the speaker, therefore reducing the amount of time the speaker has to deliver content. Consecutive interpreting can be used in a lecture-style setting as well, but only if your clients can afford to lengthen the presentation time or if portable equipment is unavailable.
• Simultaneous Interpreting. Simultaneous interpreters are skilled in speaking and listening at the same time, and deliver the translated speech a few seconds behind the original speaker. There are a range of options when it comes to simultaneous interpreting, based on size of meeting and budget. For small meetings or lectures where participants don’t pay a fee, it can be more affordable to use whisper interpreting. This can also be used when there are only a few speakers of different languages. Whisper interpreting (portable simultaneous interpreting) can have many uses including, for business meetings, use in tours of facilities, etc.
For large meetings or conferences, a simultaneous interpreter typically sits in a booth, listening through headphones to the incoming message in the source language and communicating it over a microphone to whoever is listening in the target language (also called “active” language). Typically, simultaneous interpreting uses technology such as cameras and specialized listening devices, an important factor to keep in mind when budgeting for this type of service for clients.
For meeting planners, the decision can come down to the style of communication needed for the event. Here is an easy factor to determine whether to choose consecutive vs. simultaneous interpreting: if time is of the essence, simultaneous interpreting may be a better option. Since simultaneous interpreting does not require presenters to pause for interpretation, it allows for more time to be allotted to presentations and speeches.
What to Look For
Once a decision has been made about which style of interpreting is needed for your client's event, the next step is to seek out a qualified interpreting partner. Knowing what to look for and the right questions to ask will be an important ingredient in the ultimate success of your client's meeting. Here are some qualifications you should look for in an interpreter partner:
• Have extensive experience with interpretation and a documented history in professional interpreting situations.
• Preferably have in-depth knowledge of the subject area - in particular, with technology or medical settings, there is specialized language that needs to be conveyed clearly.
• Integrate cultural preferences into choices of words and phrases.
If the vendor you select is a professional interpreting agency, typically you will be put in contact with the audiovisual service providers you’ll need. However, if not, make sure to contract a reliable company with solid experience in simultaneous interpretation, which is much more demanding in terms of sound quality and fine-tuning than your everyday supplier of audiovisual support.
Integrating Successful Interpreting
Professional interpreters are completely transparent and, from the audience perspective, their delivery should sound as though the speakers were making the presentation in the language of the listeners. Many speakers have never worked with a professional interpreter before, so it is important as the planner to impress upon your client the nuances to convey. You might even send out an email to your speakers ahead of time to provide them with interpreting tips, so they’re comfortable on the day of the event. Here are a few other onsite tips:
• If choosing consecutive interpreting, pad the schedule. An essential factor to keep in mind is that extra time will be needed. When scheduling sessions, breaks, and transitions, planners should remember to allow for this extra time so the event runs smoothly. In many cases, interpreting can double the meeting’s length. Additionally, speakers should be reminded of the need for pauses to allow for interpreting, so no important information is lost. By including appropriate time for consecutive interpreting, the meeting can proceed smoothly without scheduling pressure.
• Make space for your interpreters. When planning your client’s event, it’s essential to make space for your interpreters along with the speakers and audience. Positioning of interpreters is a key consideration.
• If only one or two people in the meeting will require interpreting, it may be best to simply position an interpreter behind these individuals for what’s known as whisper-concurrent interpreting. This is best done with portable simultaneous interpreting equipment, where those requiring interpreting have a receptor with headsets, and the interpreter whispers the interpreting into a portable mic. In this case, the interpreter cannot give as much of the emotion/expression of the source message, given the constraints, but it is a viable option when the number of individuals receiving the interpretation does not justify the investment in rental of an interpreting booth.
• Alternately, if a large portion of the audience requires interpreting and you choose consecutive interpreting, it may be preferable to position the interpreter at the front of the room, by the speaker, where he or she can clearly address the room as a whole.
• If you choose simultaneous interpreting, make sure there is enough room for the interpreting booth. The interpreters can be in a separate room, if they can see the speaker and projecting screen via video.
• Convey to your speakers the need to speak at a reasonable speed.
• Experienced interpreters can handle any type of content, but in the case of humor and jokes, it is advisable to stay away from puns or any humor in which the joke is based in two separate meanings of a same word. Conceptual jokes can be conveyed, as long as they are culturally sensitive.
• If the speaker is going to be reading, the interpreters should also have a copy of the material to be read, so that they, too, may read and provide an accurate onsite interpretation of the written material.
• Provide your interpreters with as much pre-event documentation as possible. At minimum, provide a detailed agenda. Also, any relevant documents being circulated during the conference should be made available to the interpreters.
• Allow time for rest. Simultaneous interpreters should not work alone for more than 90 minutes, at maximum. After 90 minutes, concentration, performance, accuracy, and overall quality of work decline drastically. Staffing with this in mind is crucial. Providing interpreting teams is best in all-day settings, which will allow for breaks.
• Provide lots of water. About 70% of body water is lost through breathing and talking. Interpreters talk throughout the conference and, therefore, need a permanent supply of drinking water.
Professional Interpreter Resources
Professional associations provide a good starting point for locating an experienced conference interpreter.
• International Association of Conference Interpreters: specializes in simultaneous and consecutive oral interpretation services. Members are located throughout the US in virtually all major American cities.
• American Translators Association: professional association of translators and interpreters, with a directory of language service companies to select from.
Elizabeth Colón founded Metaphrasis Language & Cultural Solutions, LLC in 2007. For the past 25 years, she has worked in the healthcare industry and immersed in community outreach programs. She has become an outspoken and highly successful proponent of equal access to quality services through the use of trained medical interpreters. Elizabeth is a member of the International Medical Interpreters Association, board director for the Midwest Association of Translators and Interpreters, and currently serves as president of THE VOICE OF LOVE, a nonprofit interpreting program for survivors of domestic violence. For more information, visit www.metaphrasislcs.com.