Interview with our CEO

Online interpreting has revolutionised the simultaneous translation sector. The language and event industry in Belgium wanted to learn more. They speak with our CEO about Zoom, online interpreting and webinars in several languages.

Online interpretation: an appealing and fast adaptation of the interpreter’s role

It is well-known that the event market has been hard hit by the health crisis over the last year. Many sectors closely linked to the organisation of events have had to re-invent themselves to continue to exist, and language interpretation is a fine example. Indeed, presence-based work almost disappeared for a few months as major international meetings took place online, far from the usual hemicycles, press rooms, summit meetings and interpreters’ booths. This last group of professionals had no choice but to adapt to the new tools, whose use has increased enormously -and even become the norm- during this unprecedented crisis.

We spoke to Joachim Colaris, a lecturer in the Translation and Interpretation Department at the University of Liège and a partner and conference interpreter in Colingua Translation. He explains how online (aka remote simultaneous) interpretation has become an excellent tool for institutions, particularly the European ones, but also for several professional, sports and private events. He gives us his take on the future of this formula…

How has the health crisis impacted on the professions of translation and interpretation?

Joachim Colaris: “We have two activities: written translation (in sectors such as tourism, exhibitions and sport) and interpretation (“simultaneous translation”). Simultaneous interpretation represents 75% of our turnover, and at the beginning of the pandemic we lost 95% of our income. While translation started to pick up again after 3 months, this was not the case of interpretation because it is an activity closely linked to the event market. So, we have turned towards online interpretation platforms. Some clients want us to organise interpretation for their crisis meetings, extraordinary general assemblies, etc… in videoconference mode.”

How is this done? Through two systems: Zoom and Interactio.

Joachim Colaris: “While the first platform is well-known to the general public, the second is not at all. Interactio is a tailored videoconferencing platform for interpretation that allows us to organise videoconferences in more than 10 languages. We chose this option because it the securest one on the market for us. Indeed, it is also used by European institutions, so has been tested extensively. Our clients who operate in ‘sensitive’ fields, e.g. banks, prefer this kind of secure option, although it can also be used on its own or on the back of other videoconferencing platforms. Our clients can use their usual videoconferencing platform (WebEx or Microsoft Teams, for example), which we link up to Interactio to offer several channels depending on the number of languages needed”.

Another solution: Zoom, which the Maison des Langues has chosen for its own event: the closing ceremony of the Interreg EMR project www.EUR.Friends on May 31st 2021. Zoom is user-friendly, according to Joachim Colaris, who explains how it can be used..

Joachim Colaris: “We either work with the client’s Zoom account or our own. It is important to note that not all subscription options in this platform have the “language interpretation” facility, so it is important to carry out some technical tests beforehand if the client wishes to use its own account. It is not, of course, a case of “automatic translation”; our interpreters simply interpret what they see and hear on the screen. Zoom’s menu is very intuitive: when the ‘interpretation’ function is available a new icon (in the form of a globe) appears on the user menu. Zoom is the only standard videoconferencing platform to allow interpretation. Teams, WebEx, etc. do not offer this function, so they need to be linked to a tool such as Interactio (which involves an extra cost). This is why the use of Zoom for interpreting in events has proved such a success”.

It is a very practical solution that has enjoyed great success in the last few months. So, what’s the future?

Joachim Colaris: “I think that the event market will pick up again after the summer, although not at the same pace as before the pandemic. In fact, the events in which we participate as interpreters and technical service providers (booths, soundproofing, signal capture…) generally require 3 months’ preparation (hotel / flight reservations, etc.). Online events are here to stay because they offer a number of advantages: less pollution and considerable savings on travel / accommodation / catering / hiring of venues, etc. They also give you more flexibility in terms of timetables and can be organised at short notice. Quite a few of our clients, such as NGOs or European projects, will continue in remote mode. Indeed, they can now meet online more frequently, as it is much less expensive than organising an in-person meeting. An example is the case of an NGO based in Liège which brings the partners in its projects together online to advance in their work and share their experiences. Efficiency, flexibility, lower costs… essential factors for a sector that is always working on fund-raising”.

Could hybrid formulae, i.e. combining in-person and remote meetings, become the norm?

Joachim Colaris: “For example, let’s take the case of speakers from South America who would not come to Europe just for a one-day conference or meeting. Event organisers need to adapt and learn how to manage streaming alongside a presence-based event. In the case of hybrid events, there will be a variety of roles, as we are already seeing: interpreters on site at a conference, others working from home, and others in a specialised studio (hub)… These studios house interpretation booths, and also rooms with green backdrops to create virtual sets. This is a growing trend among clients who wish to organise events of a certain level”.

Obviously, all these changes and new developments mean new responsibilities for interpreters, who see their profession evolving rapidly.

Joachim Colaris: “Previously, interpreters did not have to worry about ‘material’ considerations. They arrived at their booth and received technical support from the event organiser. With remote simultaneous interpretation (RSI – also referred to as online interpretation), most interpreters (with the exception of those who work in large institutions) now work from home. As with other teleworking professions, this means considerable time savings (e.g. no travelling time), but it does mean new responsibilities: interpreters need to invest in good equipment (e.g. headsets, a good internet connection…). For example, I work with at least two computers and three screens”.

In conclusion, remote interpretation offers several advantages…

Joachim Colaris: “To summarise, I would say that our clients can now organise meetings online on a low budget, in several languages and without the constraints of a top-heavy infrastructure. In-person events will continue to exist, of course, but they could be more spaced out and hybrid in nature, and online work meetings can be organised more frequently because they can be done more flexibly and cost less, for example”.

Would you like to see what one of these events looks like? Watch the closing ceremony of the EUR.Friends project here.

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