Digitalisation in simultaneous interpreting – how can your event benefit?

Author: Julia M. Böhm - Graduate interpreter, conference interpreter VKD-BDÜ, aiic

Live streaming increases an event's reach, simultaneous interpretation multiplies it

Today, events are frequently broadcast on the internet via live streams to extend their audience. Now imagine what happens if you stream your event in any number of languages, simply by transmitting your interpreters' voices. You will be able to reach huge audiences around the world-your reach would grow exponentially. To overcome time differences, you can record the event and the soundtrack of the interpretation, and offer the recordings for download in multiple languages. But, beware: when making webcasts or recordings of an event available to such a wide audience, choose your interpreters with meticulous care. Your team needs to consist of highly qualified and well-prepared professionals-because, in a digitalised world, the news of communication glitches will spread at least as swiftly and widely as you intend to spread your event, and that would do great harm to your image.

Julia Böhm beim Dolmetschen
Julia Böhm

Interpreter hubs at hybrid events

Interpreter hubs are one way of providing "remote" or "distance" interpreting. This type of service has been used, for example, for large sports events such as the Soccer World Cup for pre- and post-match press conferences. With a hub, conference interpreters for the different languages are no longer required to be physically present at the different venues, which would involve either a great deal of travel or hiring large numbers of conference interpreters, as they can never be in several places at the same time. Instead, they work based in temporary media centres equipped with state-of-the-art broadcasting equipment (for technical details, see ISO 20108. Sounds and images from the press conference are transmitted to the media centre in high quality, and the interpretation is broadcast live or recorded. The vision for the future is using conference interpreter hubs as a practical solution for (large) hybrid events with distributed sessions or workshops, where it is sometimes difficult to predict where a demand for interpretation will arise. Of course, interpretation into multiple languages can also be provided for completely virtual events - ideally, from the studio where the virtual event is produced.

The future: human interpretation at your fingertips

We have been given the ambitious promise that, someday, computers will take the place of human interpreters at events. Maybe that day will come, but certainly not in the foreseeable future. Numerous internet reviews of the technology have come to the conclusions that the real-time translation feature of Google's Pixel Buds was an outright disappointment. Other projects involving long years of serious research in the field of natural language translation by computers, such as the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology's Lecture Translator (see video), have not been able to deliver. At least not at a level that would be suitable for events. These systems require many hours of training and adaptation to individual speakers. And even then they can hardly deal with the irregularities of naturally spoken language, such as accents or incomplete sentences, never mind the other human aspects of communication such as metaphors and jokes, the connotations and emotions conveyed by advertising and PR speak, or the non-verbal components such as intonation or body language. Artificial Intelligence and the ever-increasing processing power of modern computers may enable translating the linguistic contents of communication in the near future, but the output will remain sterile (see blogpost by A. Rütten). Any technology that impairs the quality of communication is bound to disappoint its users - and who would want disappointed users at their event? (Too much "high-tech" and too little "high-touch" - see Matthias Schultze)

Dr. Anja Rütten in Dolmetscherkabine mit VR-Brille
Dr. Anja Rütten

Remote or distance interpreting is anticipated to have a much stronger impact in the field of live and virtual events. As soon as reliable broadband connections with sufficient bandwidth and equipment that fulfils the sound quality requirements of the ISO standards is available, it will allow participants at an event to listen to a live interpretation by a human interpreter via, for instance, an app on a smart device. However, as interpreters need to grasp all the spoken and unspoken aspects of communication in a specific situation to do a better job than a computer, they need to be in very close touch with the actual situation. This is why, in a future scenario, remote interpreters might wear VR headsets. These provide a total view of the actual communication situation, allowing the interpreter to be virtually present at the live event and exposing him or her to the actual situation in almost the same way as the delegates, enabling the interpreter to deliver a high-quality translation of the message for foreign-language participants. (pilot test interpreting with VR headset).