Too much ink has already been used and too many keyboards have been broken to point out, or cry out, if you like, the differences between translation and interpreting… Basically, very plainly explained, it goes down to the fact that translators usually do their work in front of the computer having a source text, whereas interpreters work live, under the pressure of real-time performance, in meetings, conferences and usually public setups. The work of translators results in a target text, whereas the work of interpreters is a speech in the target language that mainly contributes to the success or failure of events.
This article, however, is not about explaining the differences between translation and conference interpreting. It is rather intended to raise awareness about several aspects which seem minor, but could make the difference between a great and an average event you organize, that involves working with interpreters. It is about making life easier both for the organizers and the target audience, and for the interpreters working in that particular event; because if your mindset is “happy interpreters, happy audience and therefore mind-blowing event”, then your chances of hosting a successful multilingual event will skyrocket.
What I am about to write should be no breaking news to you: the golden ingredient is effective communication. When you are chairing or participating in a multilingual meeting, it is useful to think about how your message gets across through interpretation. Interpreters are there to help the meeting proceed as if everyone was speaking the same language, they are not trying to annoy you by asking for as many details as possible before the meeting just to give your staff more work, they are not your enemies, but rather your multilingual voices literally whispering in the ears of the target audience.
Having said that, let us take a peek at a few tips and tricks from one of the European flagship authorities for conference interpreting, DG SCIC of the European Commission:
1. Planning the meeting. It is paramount to match the language request with the real needs of the meeting. Therefore, speakers should be told beforehand which languages they may speak and listen to. Maybe one of the most important things to do would be to encourage participants to speak freely, if possible in their mother tongue, and, when time is limited, to be brief rather than speak faster. If you were to brief your guest speakers, it would be a good idea to have this in mind: “One’s message may not come across fully when just reading out a text.” As part of the planning, it is also advisable to make sure that interpreters have all the necessary details to prepare properly (title of the meeting, name of speakers, participants, documents and support materials – videos, photos etc.). It is even greater if you manage to have a short briefing with the interpreters – in Brussels they seem to have a saying: A well-briefed interpreter is a more involved interpreter.
2. Chairing the meeting. When you open the proceedings, it would help to announce the working languages of the meeting. Also, maybe try to give some indication of your estimated timetable for the day. After each speaker, it would be best to pause briefly before giving the floor to the next delegate, as there may be a slight delay for some language versions (interpreters working with languages like German would relate to that). Furthermore, it would be great to ask delegates to switch off their mobile phones, to keep earphones away from microphones when they take the floor and to switch them off once they stop talking, in order to avoid interference with the sound system. You should always keep in mind that under no circumstances is a team of interpreters supposed to work for more than 10 hours a day.
3. Speaking at the meeting. It is no secret that most people take some time and practice before feeling no pressure when delivering a speech in front of an audience. More often than not, in the rush and with the idea to “get this over with as soon as possible” in mind, people tend not to pay attention to several minor matters that tremendously impact the work of interpreters: it is always better to speak naturally, at a reasonable pace, in your mother tongue (it means you no longer have to worry about phrasing your message in a foreign language – that is why trained, professional interpreters are there to the rescue); with no exceptions, speaking is far better than reading – it is a very good idea to make sure that the interpreters have the text beforehand if you read a speech, and no matter how basic this sounds, when given the floor, it is highly recommended to place your microphone directly in front of you and remove your earphone. Then, switch on the microphone and speak into it.
As stated before, these may seem common-sense aspects when organizing an event, but somehow reality seems to prove that the devil is always in the details … When asked what makes a good translator, Israeli author Etgar Keret answered that “Translators are like ninjas. If you notice them, they’re no good”. But what about the other ninjas, the ones you only hear in your headphones?! Can you picture yourself working on the same team with them and creating a memorable multilingual meeting?