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conference translation

What Is Conference Translation?

Conference translation, as many people know it, is not like other acts of translation. It isn’t even strictly translation – it’s interpretation. In this blog post, we’re going to break down what conference translation means, and explain the difference between translation and interpretation, a distinction that means a lot in the industry.

The art of conference translation and the role of interpreters in the world of events

A common misconception in the world of language services is to refer to everything as translation. This can create some issues when it comes to understanding peoples’ roles and capabilities, especially when both translators and interpreters may be required for an event for different reasons.

Understanding the difference between translators and interpreters

The main distinction between translators and interpreters is in how they deal with language. Translators work with the written word, ultimately producing a text in the required language. An interpreter deals with communications that usually happen live, in-person. Aside from treating languages in different ways, each profession requires different types of training and equipment, and operate under different time scales.

Why can’t we use the term conference translators?

The main issue is the confusion of roles. While a translator may work with a conference, typically it would be in the translation of documents and signage into other languages depending on the expected audience. 

The interpreter is the person who ensures that, while someone is on-stage speaking, the audience can understand what’s being said.

The common ground between both professions is that while the requirement may be for a text to be translated or a conversation interpreted from one language to another, it is rarely a direct word-for-word translation. The idea is to convey the meaning and tone of the original piece in a similar way as the intended audience would understand it.

What happens at a conference?

Every event that requires a conference translator follows the same flow of information between people.

  • The on-stage speaker gives a speech or presentation in their own language. This is known as the source language.
  • Two interpreters work in a booth at the same time, taking turns.
  • The interpreter listens to the speaker and communicates the meaning of the words in the required language. This is known as the target language.
  • Throughout the conference, the audience wears headsets. These headsets allow audience members to listen to the speech in their own language, as a result of the conference translator’s actions – the interpreters in the booth.

In the case of interactivity and engagement at an event, interpreters may operate outside the booth, and a free-roaming microphone may be passed around the room to allow questions from the audience.

How does conference translation work

Thanks to technological advancements, conference equipment can include FM radios or infrared communications, depending on the environmental restrictions of the venue. The interpreters, wearing headsets of their own, are unlikely to operate the equipment that enables the audience to switch between languages. For that, a technician operates at the control unit.

The control unit is the central hub of communication between the interpreter’s microphones and the audience’s headsets. Different channels are monitored through the control unit, allowing audiences speaking multiple languages to easily locate their preference.

Why do we need conference translators for interpretation?

When it comes to interpretation, there are two options: technological assistance, through headsets and microphones, and individual interpreters for each person who doesn’t speak the same language as the speaker on stage. As you can imagine, the latter can create many issues for event organizers, including:

  • Restrictions on the number of attendees actively seeking involvement in the conference, as opposed to working as an aide
  • Additional noise while the speaker is presenting
  • Distractions to the other audience members

Additionally, by using professional interpreters – of which there will be two for every language required for the conference – the audience is guaranteed to hear everything correctly; personal interpreters are more likely to miss something or misinterpret something because simultaneous interpretation is not typically their job.

As well as that, because there are two interpreters, allowing them to take a break, conference translation typically experiences a delay of fewer than 10 seconds.

How can we help?

Languages are our business, and making conferences work is important to us. That’s why we’ve written about the different types of equipment used at conferences, and the role of a simultaneous conference interpreter. The more information you have available to you, the easier it is for us to assist in your conference translation needs. Get in touch for a quote to make your conference more inclusive to the audience you serve best.


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