14 May 2020

The steep learning curve of another mode of interpretation

The steep learning curve of another mode of interpretation

As we described in the previous entry on the virtualization of events, the preventative and mandatory confinement enforced to contain the pandemic unleashed by COVID-19 has forced conference interpreters to rethink their working methods.

Some of us were already providing remote simultaneous or consecutive interpretation services, in line with AIIC Guidelines for Remote Interpretation (Version 1.0), AIIC Task Force Recommendations on Remote Interpretation and ISO/PAS 24019:2020 Simultaneous interpreting delivery platforms — Requirements and recommendations.

In terms of my experience, since the beginning of 2019, I have provided remote interpretation services from a controlled environment with the following characteristics:

  • Dedicated cable Internet connection. This is very important since the Wi-Fi connection is more unstable.
  • Private room with adequate soundproofing.
  • Interpretation interfaces according to ISO 20109:2016 Annex B.1.
  • Headphones connected by USB to the computer.
  • Three computers with a state-of-the-art processor and enough memory to run the relevant software application.
  • Data protection software installed on the computers.
  • Auxiliary wall-mounted display.
  • Power bank for possible power cuts.
  • Technical staff assistance on site.

Apart from the list above, the most important aspect to ensure the success of the assignment has been that the interpreters be located in the same room, regardless of the mode of interpretation (simultaneous or consecutive). In either case, the task was carried out in accordance with IRAM standard 13612 “Requirements and recommendations for the provision of language interpretation services” (2018)

The scenario described in the preceding paragraphs was not ideal since a booth and traditional consoles were preferable. However, if viewed with a benevolent eye, it was not far from the ideal scenario.

Interpreting in times of the lockdown

The enforcement of social distancing protocols and the impossibility of travelling have forced us to reconvert quickly. Consequently, the hub had to migrate to a home studio with all that implies.

Thinking of those interpreters who have to work in these circumstances, here are some recommendations I have applied in my case, both for remote interpretation and for online training of conference and court interpreters:

1. Space

It is essential to properly set up your workspace. For that reason, it is convenient to have a room in the house with the proper sound insulation, with the line and cell phone in silent mode and with adequate ventilation and lighting. There are some very useful tips which I learned the hard way. For example, to prevent the lighting from reflecting on your computer screen, it is better to face the window with natural light or place a lamp behind the computer. It is important to preserve your professional image by eliminating all the clutter behind your seat.

2. Connectivity

Good connectivity is of the essence, so it is advisable to have a dedicated Internet line with at least 100 MB (2 Mbps downstream, 1.5 Mbps upstream; optimal 5 Mbps downstream, 2.5 Mbps upstream). The ideal situation is to have two Internet services to avoid any contingency: a primary wired Internet connection (through a LAN/Ethernet cable to the router) and a secondary connection separate from the primary connection. This can be wired or wireless depending on your possibilities.

Although not always possible, it is important to limit the use of Internet connections while working. The simultaneous use by other family members may hinder or slow down our connection and, consequently, may be detrimental to our work.

3. Basic technological equipment

At a minimum, a desktop or laptop computer is required. Although not always possible, an additional desktop monitor is recommended. That is why many professionals use a desktop and notebook computer to supply this second monitor, in addition to using it as a 4G-connected auxiliary device.

To avoid sound problems, such as feedback, reverberation or any kind of distraction, it is recommended to use a USB headset with surrounding sound cancellation to ensure true isolation from the environment when working.

Ideally, you should work with a headset with a built-in microphone and manually mute the computer or camera microphone. Computer speakers or microphones should not be used because the sound quality is often poor and, in many cases, ambient noise is picked up, which can be counterproductive to our professional image.


We know that we are living in difficult times and that it is not always pleasant to adapt by using home resources to carry out a professional task that, in itself, entails great pressure. For this reason, I left the most important recommendation to the end: we must keep a positive attitude and think of this critical situation as a challenge, thus conveying the appropriate poise that characterizes the image of a true professional, one who takes on the job with the same responsibility as always, even if, for exceptional reasons, they carry it out in their own living rooms.

Useful links

AIIC Covid-19 Distance Interpreting Recommendations for Institutions and DI Hubs

AIIC best practices for interpreters during the Covid-19 crisis

Speakers, mind your microphone manners for client education

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