Simultaneous + Consecutive Interpreting in One Meeting, No Booth, No Problem

October 6, 2022

Events are returning onsite in 2022, right after Singapore announced its border open to the world. Rumor has it that all the hotels have been booked in Sep already back in August, and it looks pretty true.

Over demand for interpreters by onsite events simply cannot be met by the under supply, but fortunately the pandemic has completely digitized the interpreting profession and most clients have permanently changed their behavior after online meetings for 3 years.

The immense trust on digital delivery of interpretation by clients built up to be a norm, and anyone would understand and accept the use of online meetings as an element to their event. That lays a good foundation to the experience I had in the most recent APPEC 2022.

At the beginning, I was secured to provide onstage consecutive interpretation for a panel of speakers. Tough I suspect not every panelist needs interpretation, it is difficult to verify it at an early stage. As an experienced (who had been setup with bad sound for too many times) interpreter, I immediately made a request to the client for an IEM (in-ear monitor), which is mostly used by professional news broadcaster or singers on stage. It’s a common request that no AV team will say no to. At least I know I can have clear sound into my ears on stage.

IEM on Stage

For those who doesn’t know the importance of an IEM on stage, the loudspeakers would usually be located in front of the stage, facing the audience, so the sound waves are smashing the face of audience but those on the stage would have a difficult time hearing each other. Tip: always request for an IEM before any on stage interpretation job.

On the day itself, my session was the first in the morning, right after the opening remarks. So I arrived early, an hour before the session because that was the chance to talk to speakers and make some last minute preparation. After a quick briefing with client and getting the IEM ready with my own earpiece, I found myself a comfortable position behind the podium mic, a bit shy from the spotlight of the panel seats.

Shortly afterwards, the chair of the meeting and the first couple of panel speakers arrived. After some chit-chatting, I realised that they all can speak good English and require no help in understanding it.

So the question now is whether the only panelist I would need to interpret for (from Mandarin into English) understand English (of what the moderator and other panelists are saying).

This is a critical factor, because my job would be easier if he does. But if he doesn’t, that would in the traditional sense (before covid-19) mean, that I would have to sit behind him, most likely crouching my back, whispering.

That was exactly the scenario I have run through in my mind hundreds of times during the design of a virtual booth, to simplify for better ease and convenience..

Tour Guide System

Traditionally, I would have to bring a tour guide transmitter and receiver to make my job easier, but that is not a widely applicable solution because 1) it is bulky and heavy to carry around, 2) most interpreters do not possess tour guide systems(or panaguide) at all, 3) the sound quality of tour guide systems is usually subpar and becomes a distraction to the speaker, 4) it would not make the panelist look good with a receiver and headset hanging on him.  

Long story short, after he arrived, which was 20 mins before the show, and a quick verification, it turned out that he indeed needed interpretation. That would effectively and typically be an SI + CI scenario, perhaps a most complicated one in terms of setup for any interpreter, and very demanding in delivering a good job.

My Solution

I made a quick and bold decision to propose using the virtual booth solution if he had an earpiece with him. And he did have his Bluetooth earpiece with him (which becomes a norm for everyone after Covid due to the constant video conference need on the move). That’s terrific news, and he immediately accepted my proposal as it is no sweat for him to listen to interpretation (just by scanning a QR code) on his phone, and he can chill onstage while looking good (check out the photo here).

(panel discussion)
(listening to simultaneous interpretation through his earpiece)

I also found myself a comfortable seat in the front row, out of spotlight, with a lapel mic, and run the virtual booth right from my laptop (every interpreter always brings a computer no matter what job it is, even before the pandemic) and a quick sound test for the panelist.

(interpreting simultaneously)

All these were completed 5 mins before the conference started, and gave sufficient time for the panelist to join the group for small talk, and for myself to get ready confidently.

Subsequently, I interpreted simultaneously into his ear while other panelists were talking, and when it was his turn to speak, I switched to consecutive seamlessly. Of course if the session was too long, I wouldn’t be able to do it alone (as simultaneous interpreting requires two interpreters in the case of a longer period).

60 minutes later, I had a happy client, a grateful panelist and a room of audience who had no idea that the panelist needs interpretation to understand what others are talking about. All parties were happy including me, because I experienced less pressure by removing myself out of the spotlight, sitting straight in the front row with a good view of all panelists and good eye contact instead of crouching my back sitting behind him delivering a less than ideal experience.

New Age, New Possibilities

All stakeholders were happy, and this is impossible to achieve before Covid. So the pandemic did show us the immense flexibilities empowered by the right tools in hand. I am happy to see my vision realised in practice and it is fully and easily duplicable by interpreters, wherever they are.

At last, I have to thank the AV team which has accommodated me on multiple requests of IEM, lapel mic and power extension for my laptop. Thanks to the organiser who is very open and accepted my proposal immediately, and the panelist for the trust in me trying out this new solution on him. All in all, a more affordable, easier to carry (practically no weight) and anytime anywhere solution than tour guide system.

Get in touch with me if you are a colleague who are interested in duplicating such an experience, or if you are a client looking for such a technical solution for your event or interpreters.

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If you want me to provide you Interpretation/Translation service in English to Chinese (Mandarin) and vice versa, or a quotation for conference interpreting services of any languages, simply contact me by phone or email.

Dr. Bernard Song