Livre de langue

How to overcome language barriers at global events

When you’re hosting a global event, you will likely encounter the issue of translation/interpretation at some point, as all your potential attendees might not be fluent in one common language.

But what is the difference between translation and interpretation?

According to Kent State University, “interpreting and translation involve different skill sets. Interpreters mediate languages orally, while translators work with written material. When it comes to language skills, translators need to have solid reading comprehension, transfer, and target language production skills. Interpreters need to optimize their working memory in rendering content much more quickly and with no extensive access to external resources for support.”

As you can see, you can use both during your event, as they will serve different purposes: interpretation for your live conference sessions and translation for all your written materials.

For the purpose of this article, we will focus on the interpretation side and explain why it’s crucial to consider adding interpretation to your next international event and what your options are for a seamless experience for your attendees.

Why you should consider interpretation for your next conference

When catering to international audiences, you want your event to be accessible to the greatest number of attendees, and language barriers can represent a significant impediment in the pursuit of this goal.

Of course, you could just cater to people who speak one dominant language, such as English. Still, you will probably lose a treasure trove of attendees not fluent enough in that language to feel confident they can benefit the most from your event.

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Photo by Joshua Woroniecki on Pixabay

By adding language interpretation to your event, your international audience will feel included and, therefore, more likely to be engaged (which is the ultimate goal for most event organizers). Don’t forget your participants are already spending time and money to attend your event; it’s only normal for them to know they will get the most out of it.

And there are solutions, both human and machine, to help you with this interpretation issue and host the best global event.

Solutions for interpretation

Human interpreters

Human interpretation can be conducted in two ways: consecutive or simultaneous.

With consecutive interpretation, the interpreter relays the information the speaker delivered several minutes after the speaker has presented. Safety announcements during air flights are one of the best examples of consecutive interpretation.

This works mostly when you translate into only one other language, and the main drawback is that it substantially lengthens the presentation’s duration.

On the other hand, with simultaneous interpretation, the speaker doesn’t have to stop his presentation, as the interpreters will interpret in real time to attendees wearing earpieces. This configuration allows you to have as many interpreters as you have languages represented among your attendees.

This requires more skill on the interpreters’ side than consecutive interpretation as they concurrently receive information, process its meaning, translate it, and then relay it to attendees.

Simultaneous interpretation also requires costly additional audiovisual equipment, such as earpieces for attendees, microphones, headsets, and a separate booth for your interpreters.

This is, therefore, a fairly expensive solution that is not always feasible for many event planners who have seen their budgets severely restricted in the past few years.

That’s when some tech solutions might come in handy.

Tech solutions

There are a few tech solutions for interpretation. Some rely on human interpreters, while others rely on artificial intelligence techniques like speech recognition and machine translation.

As seen above, renting expensive equipment, such as specialized headsets, or paying for out-of-town interpreters to attend your event, can make a big dent in your budget. However, some apps can help you use interpreters from anywhere in the world without them having to be physically present at your event’s venue.

With these apps, attendees can tune into the interpreter’s audio stream through their phones and personal headphones, and interpreters can connect to the event remotely.

On the other hand, you can now find artificial intelligence-powered devices (such as intelligent virtual assistants, Google Pixel Buds, etc.) to help with real-time interpretation without the need for a human interpreter.

For example, with Google earbuds, the transcribe mode lets you hear spoken language translated right in your ear, accompanied by a transcript on your phone (you do need an Android phone).

It’s important to note that there are still a lot of issues with simultaneous interpretation when done by a machine. The future for machine interpretation seems to lie in neural machine translation, where the computer uses new methods to translate whole sentences rather than word-by-word, which is more effective. But this technology is still far from being widespread or accessible to every event planner.

In conclusion

As we’ve seen, the best solution by far to simultaneous interpretation needs seems to be a team of human interpreters. But having one interpreter per language on-site during your event can prove very costly.

Technology can help provide the same services remotely, lowering the price tag for that service.

The future might also lie in AI techniques like speech recognition and machine translation, but these tools are not quite yet ready to go mainstream.

Nevertheless, when you’re hosting an international event, interpretation should be part of your planning, or you risk losing the interest of numerous potential attendees.