10 June 2021

Online conference interpreting: preparation

Categoria: Case study

Online conference interpreting is a highly complex task that requires extensive preparation – something that many of those who benefit from this service are unaware of.

As such, we’ve decided to take you behind the scenes of an online conference interpreting assignment, also known as Remote Simultaneous Interpreting (RSI).

The case study we’re going to be looking at is “Agriculture and sustainability: the role of Benefit Corporations in Italy and BIC companies in Latin America”, an international event organised by Assobenefit and Slowfood.

Below is our interpreters’ account of the assignment.

The interpreters: who they are and what they had to do

The authors of this article are Francesca Calabrò and Ilenia Montana, both professional conference interpreters and translators (both have degrees in Conference Interpreting from the Civica Scuola Interpreti e Traduttori Altiero Spinelli in Milan).

Brief profile

Francesca is a member of the Italian translators and interpreters organizations AITI and ANITI. She is a translator working from English and Spanish, a conference interpreter for the Spanish/English<>Italian combination and a Spanish-Italian linguistic mediation teacher.

Ilenia is also a member of the AITI (Italian Association of Interpreters and Translators) and is also a member of the equivalent Spanish association, ASETRAD. She is a conference interpreter working in the English<>Italian, Italian<>Spanish and English<>Spanish combinations. As a translator, she works from English and Spanish into Italian.

The assignment in brief

Francesca and Ilenia were contacted by Way2Global on 10 March 2021 and asked to provide simultaneous interpreting between Spanish and Italian for an international online conference scheduled for 16 April between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., on Zoom. The working title of the conference was “BIC companies in the food and agriculture sector. Opportunities and prospects for Latin American countries: a virtual round-table discussion in collaboration with Slowfood-Terramadre”.

What are we going to be discussing in this article?

Are two interpreters really necessary for events lasting “just” two hours? And is it necessary to provide the interpreters with the event poster, bios of the speakers and any other resources more than a month in advance?

In this article, we’ll see why the answer to both of these questions is a resounding yes. We’ll focus on three key aspects: the preparation required before an event in terms of terminology, simultaneous interpreting practice, and the intricacies of working as part of a “virtual interpreting booth” on Zoom, which prevents interpreters from working together as they usually would.

Event preparation

Interpreters must prepare meticulously ahead of each assignment.

The fee for a simultaneous interpreting service doesn’t just reflect the number of hours a particular conference or event lasts. Instead, the fee covers all of the prep time during which the interpreter (or interpreters, for assignments lasting more than one hour) engage in research, practise and do everything possible to simulate the actual scenario they are going to find on the day of the event. It enables them to prepare to convey the message in the target language as well as possible.

The first step was to focus on the bread and butter of event preparation: terminology. In the simplest terms, this is about creating and memorising glossaries. The more extensive the glossary, the more chance you have of being able to instantly access the relevant term in Spanish or Italian for any concept addressed, no matter how rare or niche it is.

In addition to studying the terminology, we also focused on interpreting practice. This involves using old speeches to practise interpreting for the speakers, with the aim of getting used to their accents (Argentine, Colombian, Peruvian etc.), their speaking style and the types of concepts they tend to focus on.

As this was a remote simultaneous interpreting assignment on Zoom, we had to come up with a system that enabled us to collaborate in real time, given that Zoom doesn’t have any function enabling interpreters to interact with each other.

Let’s take a look at each of these areas in more detail.

Working together to prepare a glossary

Preparing for a simultaneous interpreting assignment requires a lot of time and dedication. Once all the bureaucratic and administrative issues have been dealt with, it’s time to get down to business. In this specific case, we spent around 30 hours researching, practising and preparing the glossary. Let’s go through the process in order.

There were to be eight speakers at the event, speaking in Italian and Spanish – which is why these were our two working languages. Though the main theme of the conference was Benefit Corporations, as the name suggests, in reality all of the speakers were from completely different sectors and backgrounds. This meant we had to research each speaker’s bio carefully before familiarising ourselves with their specialist sectors.

Among the topics we had to cover were Benefit Corporations in Italy and Latin America, the difference between B Corps and Benefit Corporations, the difference between an “Empresa B” and a “sociedad BIC”, sustainability, climate change, agricultural development in Latin America and the Caribbean, sustainable fishing in Colombia, biodynamic coffee, the food and agricultural sector, cosmeceuticals, medical devices and food supplements.

This list could go on and on, but to give you an idea, our final glossary ran for a total of 40 pages.

How did we produce it?

As we searched for information on the various speakers and the companies or national/international organisations they represented, we came across various subject matters that we decided were highly likely to come up in the event itself.

As we set about researching these fields, we noted down key vocabulary and searched for the most appropriate translation – a process we repeated for both languages. We also used videos we found on the websites of the eight speakers to add more terms to the glossary, which we later memorised, as well as using these videos for interpreting practice.

Simultaneous interpreting practice using videos of the speakers

So what does interpreting practice really mean?

The brain is like a muscle, and it must be trained. Simultaneous interpreting requires such a high degree of effort and concentration that interpreters need to alternate every 20 to 30 minutes.

Interpreters have to master the art of doing various things at the same time: listening to the speaker, translating into another language, listening to their own output and continuing to listen to what the speaker is saying, so that they can translate continuously – and simultaneously.

As such, we completed joint simultaneous interpreting practice sessions lasting around two hours per day (the duration of the event).

There was no better resource to use for this training than videos of the speakers themselves. This exercise allows us to get used to the accent, speed and cadence of each individual speaker, as well as giving us the chance to familiarise ourselves with the person we would be interpreting for.

How to approach remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) as part of a pair

We might have been boothmates, but we don’t live in the same city – and anyway, there was a pandemic going on! Given that this was an online assignment (RSI), all of our preparation and collaboration was 100% virtual. Needless to say, it’s impossible (or nearly impossible) to prepare well for this kind of assignment if you’re not working with a colleague who is a good team player and with whom you have a strong working relationship.

On a practical level, we created a folder on Google Drive that enabled us to work with and modify shared documents such as the glossary, or any other useful resources, in real time.

The assignment itself was done using Zoom, as per the client’s instructions. During the conference, we alternated by interpreting for one speaker each (although this did change due to some unforeseen circumstances). While one of us interpreted, the other turned her microphone off – but not just on Zoom. Throughout the entire event, we were also connected on a second device via a Skype video call. The aim of this was to recreate the environment of an in-person interpreting booth, where colleagues can tell if their boothmate wants to switch or needs help by just looking at them.

During the event, the inactive interpreter also noted down any tricky figures or keywords on a piece of paper to help their colleague. Amazing, right? But how did we manage that when we weren’t in the same room? Once more, we used a shared document on Google Drive, which enabled us to read what the other one was typing in real time.

One benefit of working remotely is that we’ve been able to participate in events taking place on the other side of the planet (Argentina, for example), without having to set foot on a plane. But from a practical standpoint, it’s a very complex process for the humble interpreter. We usually don’t have the support of a technician to turn to if there are problems, which can cause stress and sap your energy – on top of regular Zoom fatigue! As if our job weren’t already demanding enough!

Way2Global interpreters at your service

Despite the challenges involved in online interpreting, Francesca and Ilenia succeeded in delivering a top-quality service that drew positive feedback from many of the event participants, not least of which AssoBenefit Director Professor Raul Caruso.

On top of written translations, Way2Global’s comprehensive service also includes sourcing the best interpreters for each event, based on their fields of specialisation and language combination.

Our translation agency provides simultaneous interpreting services in all languages, for events and initiatives in any sector.

Furthermore, all our clients can rely on the support of a dedicated project manager both before and during their event. The project manager will advise them on the most appropriate type of service, oversee all logistical matters and select the most suitable interpreters based on the language combination and subject matter at hand.

Need an interpreter for an online or in-person event? Get in touch!


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