Ibirapuera Auditorium_Sao Paulo

What is Conference Interpreting?

Conference Interpreting is real-time interpreting.

Conference interpreting is the oldest and most traditional type of modern interpreting dating back to the Nuremberg trials after WW2 when radio transmitters were first used to allow people to listen to the translation done by interpreters in real time.

As its name indicates, this type of interpreting is used in large multilingual conferences of any subject where what is said is translated into one or more languages for dozens or hundreds of people at the same time.

What do conference interpreters do?

Conference interpreters work in pairs from a soundproof booth equipped with headsets for them to listen to the speakers and microphones for them to speak to so that the conference participants can hear what the speaker is saying but in their language of choice and with their own set of earpieces.

The interpreting booths are usually located at the back of the conference room. If you turn around during a conference and watch the interpreters work, it may seem the interpreters are incredibly calm and easily repeating what is said. Well, there is actually a log going on behind-the-scenes: processing of information, decoding of tone and body language, contextual analysis, resourcing of general and specific knowledge, language transference, and more.

It takes competent, highly-trained interpreters to make it seem so effortlessly.

But how does it work?

Usually, there is also a team of sound engineers and technicians on-site making sure that everything runs smoothly. They work their magic, too.

As any form of interpreting, it takes a considerable amount of training and studying to learn to do it well. It requires such high levels of concentration that interpreters work in teams of two and take turns every 30 minutes or so. Unsurprisingly, having the right booth partner is key.

Interpreters usually prepare for a conference for days or weeks in advance, learning all there is to learn about the speakers and the topic at hand, and come to work packed with glossaries, laptops, post-it notes, and a lot of water. Therefore, coordination with the event organisers is key so that interpreters work with the latest version of the programme and have access to the speakers’ presentations and reference materials in advance.

As always, successful interpreting in large conference is the result of good team work.

Some examples of situations in which a Conference Interpreter can help you:

  • Congresses and conferences
  • Board meetings
  • Committee meetings
  • Lectures & Masterclasses
  • Debates & Round tables
  • Press conferences

“The professional interpreter is required to carry more general knowledge into each job than architecs and engineers need in the daily exercise of their profession.” ~Harry Obst


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