“Wait a minute,” I can hear you say. “I didn’t sign on to be an interpreter to work remotely – I want to go to conferences in exotic places! I want to see and work with my friends! I like people, and don’t want to work alone in my office!”
Remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) platforms have been around for a while – some started up as early as 2014, so they aren’t new. And they have been building up a following since then.
The novel factor is the recent choice: to either work remotely, or possibly not work as interpreters at all. So let’s see what we can do about it, and turn this situation into something that works for us too!
First of all, there is an enormous amount of information about RSI platforms, sound technology, appropriate headsets, and so on. A good starting point is the list of resources supplied by AIIC’s Taskforce on Distance Interpreting and Technical and Health Committee. This is a huge opportunity for you to educate yourself on what RSI is all about, and what it isn’t.
When I started educating myself, my negative opinion changed once I realized that I could simply treat RSI platforms as consoles. Of course, there is a lot more to them than that – in fact there is a whole ISO standard on them – but, for my purposes, they exist to deliver my interpreting to my customer. They all have a form of mic on/off switch; there are incoming and outgoing language channels; some allow relay, others don’t. Some aren’t even RSI platforms per se, but have some of the functionalities.
Moreover, by educating yourself, you can gain a better understanding of the features each platform has, and how they could meet your clients’ needs.
Understand what RSI platforms are good for, and what not
Do your clients hold multilingual events involving many languages and speakers? In such cases, some platforms would work better than others.
Do they hold webinars, with most of the information going in one direction, and only one speaker and some slides? Then another platform might be better.
Does your client need a quick two-language meeting, to check on their counterpart? Then yet another platform would be best.
Does your client need confidential meetings for legal purposes? You can explain end-to-end encryption, and why no cloud-based RSI platform is a good idea.
But always put the choice in your client’s hands. Firstly, this avoids legal issues for you if the platform doesn’t perform as expected. And secondly, you aren’t stopping them from having their meeting – you are giving them the information for them to make their own informed decision.
Know how to get what you need
Once you have educated yourself, you will discover which platforms will require work-arounds.
Many platforms allow you to listen to your partner and to the floor simultaneously – but that is only a part of what we need. I’d like to see that my colleague is relaxed or struggling, or if they need me to write down numbers for them.
If these functions are not integral to the platform you are on, what kind of parallel set up would you aim to use? Would you rather a video call on an app, a shared document, or a video meeting on a second device? Work that out with your partner ahead of time.
And remember that it is very rare that you could be the interpreter AND the moderator/tech/troubleshooter all in one. Make sure you can focus on the job at hand.
I am also convinced that our new environment has provided an excellent opportunity to make our clients more aware of us, rather than less.
As we have moved farther from the client – from consecutive to simultaneous, to booths at the back of the room with dark glass, to booths not in the room, to off-site remote – we have lost many opportunities to remind the client of our place in the value chain. We have fewer meals or coffee breaks during which we may ask questions and cement ourselves in their minds as being part of the process.
If we as a profession were to become involved in hosting and moderating interpreted meetings, we would have an unprecedented chance to remind clients of our presence. Moderators could introduce the fact that speakers are being interpreted, and that they must wear headsets, or not speak over each other. Dry runs and rehearsals will give us a say in how the meeting is run. And we will help shape the communication process.
RSI knowledge helps with hubs too
We have all jumped on the hub bandwagon, now that we realize that remote is here to stay. We can work off-site, away from the venue, but all together, and with technicians to boot!
Hub setups vary greatly – from using the usual consoles in our usual booths, to being given a laptop per interpreter.
If you think about it, current social distancing requirements mean that even in a hub you may each be in a separate booth, presenting some of the same difficulties as interpreting from home on an RSI platform.
The booths may not be next to each other. Some consoles and computers don’t have repeater speakers that can be set to a different channel than your incoming channel – which means you still need a second device to hear your partner and the floor at the same time. Or a way to write down numbers which doesn’t rely on a pad that’s visible between you.
And if your colleague is so focused on the speaker that they don’t look at the chat on the RSI platform or at you in the booth next door, you still need a way to signal the handover that will catch their attention the way touching their shoulder used to do…
But hubs do give us something valuable besides the presence of technicians to troubleshoot for us: while hubs may present some of the same difficulties as online platforms, you can at least have drinks with your colleagues afterwards!
Originally published in the webzine the International Association of Conference Interpreters (https://aiic.org/site/webzine/issue-76/boi).