5 Mistakes to Avoid When Retaining Conference Interpreting Solutions


Suppose for a moment that a two-day English-language medical conference on advancements in knee surgery will be held in Columbia, South Carolina in 2017.  Imagine that 200 medical doctors will attend.  However, 175 of them speak English and 25 speak French.  Additionally, on day two, a guest speaker from Madrid will present a two-hour session in Spanish.  How will the 25 doctors understand the English program?  How will any of them comprehend the guest speaker?


Have you ever hosted a multilingual event?  It’s expensive.  The above scenario represents a minimum investment of $12,000.00 for professional conference interpreting and equipment services. Time, money, and repeat business all have value.  When you cut corners in language services at your event to conserve money, your paltry savings is worthless if you lose clients.  Recently I chatted with Alfonso Villaseñor, a federally certified court interpreter and Department of State interpreter with over 22 years of conference interpreting practice under his belt.



I asked Alfonso if there are recurring issues common in all multilingual simultaneous interpreting assignments that hinder a successful production.  He defines three repeat problems: (1) ignorance and misunderstanding of the conference interpreters’ role; (2) shoddy equipment rental because of improper resource allocation, and (3) dreadful working conditions that impede flawless interpretation.


These three matters can likely sabotage a multilingual conference.  As to Problem 1, often the client relegates the interpreter’s information requests (program, slide presentation, audiotapes of speaker, etc., location of interpreting booths) to a menial subordinate who is not vested in the success of the operation.  The requisite hours of preparation on the part of the interpreters is included in the proposal for conference interpreting services.  Nevertheless, the interpreters may invest a complete day or two preparing for your seminar.  When game day arrives, they have their A game, their game face, and they will bring it.


Additionally, regarding Problem 2, ignoring standards by ASTM and ISO will disappoint your foreign-language attendees.  Substandard equipment will not carry the quality rendition of the interpreters to them, leaving the feeling of having wasted their precious time and funds.  Again, Problem 3 will alienate your foreign language delegates.  If there are extreme temperatures in the booth, this will cause rapid cognitive and physical fatigue, thereby weakening the interpretation.  Without a booth, all attendees will be bothered by both an unclear rendition through the receivers and a disruption to listeners who understand the speaker.


Since spoken interpreting is an unregulated practice, bottom feeding paraprofessionals swarm when requests for simultaneous interpreting are made.  Usually, they do not follow the code of ethics or are unaware that one exists.  Even some interpreters who have earned a national certification but lack experience in conference interpreting accept assignments.  These well-meaning individuals arrive and often realize they are unqualified to complete the assignment.  It has occurred that the so-called “conference” interpreter leaves the interpreting booth, never to return.  Unqualified interpreters do no justice to your speakers and attendees.


Alfonso not only practices as a conference interpreter, but also serves as the consultant (or lead) interpreter at seminars requiring language services.  Why should you (or your event planner) have a consultant interpreter for your meeting?  He relates that seasoned and experienced conference interpreters eliminate headaches for meeting planners and clients.  The interpreter coordinates the logistics of provision of services (interpreting teams, simultaneous equipment, audio/visual setup, translation, etc.) and the event format to avoid disruptions and strange occurrences.  Clients don’t realize that additional arrangements must be made if more than one language is used by delegates or stage speakers.  The fictional setting at the outset of this article demonstrates the need for additional arrangements.  It would also involve relay interpreting services.  Not consulting with a trained professional can lead your event to flop.


How do you guarantee the triumph of your multilingual event?

  1. Ponder the significance of your event (anything worth doing, is worth doing it right);
  2. Actively research competent professional conference interpreting services providers who can meet the language and equipment requirements of your event;
  3. Select a consultant interpreter as a strategic partner in your venture (not as a vendor);
  4. Respect Murphy’s Law and keep the A/V technician daily; and
  5. Remind your presenters to speak into the mic and to not tap it with their fingers.


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