Planning for a Multilingual Event

By Carolyn Heinze, May 15, 2015

In today’s global village, it’s likely one of your events will involve attendees or presenters who don’t speak English. Here are some things to consider when planning a multilingual event and tips from Marcela Lopez, president of Spanish Solutions Language Services, on working with interpreters.

Consecutive vs. Simultaneous Approach

In a consecutive approach to interpretation, the presenter speaks for a bit and then pauses while the interpreter translates what he or she has just said. While this method may be suitable for smaller events, it can be time consuming and make a speech sound stilted. Simultaneous interpretation, as the name suggests, happens at the same time the presenter is speaking through the use of assistive listening technology.

Who Interprets

While their offerings vary, language services firms such as Global Language Solutions generally provide both interpretation and translation of written materials like event brochures, agendas, etc. Some will also arrange equipment rentals, and a few have their own inventory.

How It Works

Because simultaneous translation is a significant undertaking, there are generally two interpreters per language who work in shifts of 20 to 30 minutes (sometimes less, depending on the technicality of the presentations). A basic setup for simultaneous interpretation of one language involves the following:

> A fully enclosed, soundproof booth (or a tabletop booth for smaller events) that houses the interpreters

> An interpreter console, which is a base station outfitted with a gooseneck microphone that the interpreters speak into

> A headset for the interpreter so he or she can hear the presenter and receiver headsets for meeting participants

> Transmission equipment, which could be achieved via radio frequency, infrared signals
or, in some cases, wireless transmission. (Vendors manufacturing assistive listening systems for language interpretation include Listen Technologies, Media Vision, Sennheiser and Williams Sound.)

How Much It Costs

Interpreters cost about $1,000 per day, and interpretation for an event that lasts several days could range between $5,000 and $10,000.

How to Choose Interpreters 

When it comes to language interpretation, experience is everything, says Lopez, a Spanish-English language interpreter and translator, and president of Spanish Solutions Language Services based in Miami. (The firm also has interpretation in Arabic, Dutch, French, Japanese, Portuguese and Russian.) Lopez advises planners use interpreters who have been educated in a language school and ask how frequently they interpret for hire. “If they do two conferences a year, it’s not enough,” says Lopez. “Interpretation is like a muscle. It needs to be exercised regularly.” Look for an interpreter who works a minimum of one to two conferences per month.

How to Work Together
Make sure interpreters have a direct line of vision to the speaker. “Communication is not only words, it’s also body language,” says Lopez. “When you see someone speak, you can read their lips and anticipate [what they’re going to say], and your job becomes a lot easier.”

It’s also important to give the language services firm as much information about the event as possible ahead of time. “We need the agenda to see who the presenters will be so we can pronounce their names correctly,” Lopez says. Interpreters will also research the industry for which they’re interpreting, as well as the event presenters.

Lopez illustrates the importance of preparation with an event she interpreted for Liga Nacional de Futbol Profesional, a Spanish soccer league. “The league’s president was going to be there, and he was going to be talking about the digital environment,” she says. “We researched what he said in his last speeches, and the way he speaks; he speaks really fast. If you’re not prepared for that, you will most likely fail when you have to interpret at 100 miles an hour.”

Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer and editor.

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