So you have a conference coming up, and you know there will be some guests who don’t speak English. You tried enrolling in a crash course in Japanese, but somehow it was much harder than you realized. What will you attempt next?

Possibly the best plan should be to call a company that specializes in supplying simultaneous interpreters and equipment for simultaneous interpreting at conferences. Even though the term simultaneous translation is frequently used, as it happens, that is a misnomer. Translation means “written” form, whereas interpretation refers to the spoken word.

It’s important to be sure you request simultaneous interpretation, instead of consecutive interpretation. Simultaneous interpreting allows the business meeting to carry on at full speed. The audience members will each wear a small headphone or ear piece that allows them to hear the interpreter’s voice while the meeting is going on. Consecutive interpretation, on the other hand, slows the meeting down to half speed, because the speaker must temporarily halt after each sentence in order for the interpreter to translate.

The interpreting company you connect with will ask you questions about your event:

— What are the languages?

— What’s the subject matter?

— What number of listeners will each language have?

— How many audience members will be in the room?

— Who will the audience be?

Let the potential interpreting service provider ask you the questions – it’s a good way to make sure that they know what they are doing. Many translation companies specialize in other areas of language work — find one that specializes in conference interpreting. Be as specific and thorough as you can in your answers.

Make sure this agency will be providing seasoned conference interpreters. There are lots of types of interpreting. Many interpreters who are excellent at, for example, court interpreting, are substandard conference interpreters.

The interpreters need to be informed about your subject matter. A medical interpreter can probably explain the insides of a person, but may just be clueless about the insides of a computer. Each subject area, especially a technical one, has its own inherent jargon that may be bewildering to interpreters unfamiliar with that unique arena.

Conference interpreters almost always work as a team of two people per language (or occasionally, three per language in high-stress settings). Don’t attempt to scrimp by hiring a single interpreter, it frequently backfires — an interpreter who’s willing to work solo at an all-day conference is probably not very experienced. Remember, your guests may have spent thousands of dollars to be at your event. You would like them to be able to understand and enjoy it, so next time they’ll come back with their friends.

It might be wise to receive estimates from several firms, but it’s not a good idea to make the decision strictly on price. Interpreters aren’t like boxes of cornflakes — each interpreter is different. Each interpreter carries a unique set of strengths and weaknesses.

Matching interpreters to clients is an art that takes years of practice. Choose a firm which you trust to make the best decision on your behalf.

Chris Redish has owned A Bridge Between Nations, an international conference interpreting company, for 15 years.

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