Ashridge House in Hertfordshire

Bigger isn’t always better – 5 good reasons to use portable devices in off-conference settings

Although it is true that no two events are the same, multi-lingual conferences tend to follow the same pattern: interpreters work from a booth while the main event involving speakers and participants takes place in the floor.  Usually, multi-lingual conferences are quite a large and complex setup that require a team of sound and video technicians as well as professional interpreters and, even, a project manager to oversee and organise it all.

However, it is not always necessary to go overboard and there are times when less is actually more. When the event in question is a small meeting (or a visit to a factory or an inspection) or a series of small meetings in different locations or not using a portable set of transmitter and receivers can work wonders and help to keep things (and most importantly schedules) running smoothly.

Traditionally used by tour guides, these little and convenient devices are very useful in off-conference settings and commonly used in diplomatic and corporate settings. In addition to being light and easy to carry and use.

Here are five good reasons to ask your interpreter to use them:

  1. They require minimum set up, except for distributing the receivers before the meeting/event begins and collecting them at the end.
  2. They provide greater privacy to both participants and interpreters, as there is no need to whisper into anybody’s ear and invade anybody’s personal space. Plus, there is no cause for concern about any strange and unwanted body odour – or for that matter, bad breath.
  3. They allow a greater number of participants (usually up to 30 or 40) to benefit from hearing the interpretation, as opposed the customary two or three that could hear it if the interpreter were whispering the translation to their ears.
  4. They reduce the need to use consecutive interpreting and, instead, allow the interpreter to translate simultaneously what is being said, which is great time-wise too, as there is no need to take turns and repeat what has been said in another language and, therefore, double the duration of the event.
  5. They foster dialogue and exchange of ideas, since all participants in a meeting can hear the translation (provided they have a receiver) and leave interpreters to switch languages depending on who is talking. These little devices help the interpreters to keep communication flowing seamlessly among all parties, regardless of the languages they speak.

As if these five benefits were not enough, using portable devices can also help to reduce costs, as there is no need to set up a proper booth in each room where the meeting or meetings will take place.

How do you know if a portable set is the right choice?

Easy: ask your interpreter.

The more you tell your interpreter about the characteristics of the event and your goals and expectations, the better they will be able to assist you. Professional interpreters are more than mere linguists. We provide a comprehensive service and part of it is to advise clients on the best option to suit their needs.

In a nutshell, ask and you shall receive. Talk to your interpreter and let them help you with the logistics of your event, too.

“Know your client’s aims.” Paul Arden

Useful Resources

Tour guide system for interpreters

The portable set I used last week at the Institute of Civil Engineers in London


Photo taken by me at Ashridge House, a 700-year old castle once given as a gift by Henry VIII to princess Elizabeth to study and where I interpret for an international education group.

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