• Lara Fasoli

VIRTUAL EVENTS AND INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCES: WHY TWO (OR THREE) INTERPRETERS ARE BETTER THAN ONE

If you’ve followed this blog for the last few months, you’ll know that interpreting is still a very niche and poorly understood profession. The highly technical service it offers and the confidentiality it guarantees make it so interpreters don’t usually feature on the front pages of newspapers on a weekly basis – and when they actually do, it’s for all the wrong reasons.


It’s only unfortunately normal, then, that clients who approach interpreters for the first time can harbour a few misconceptions about the profession – being bilingual automatically makes you an interpreter, it’s an easily done job as you can turn up to the event and translate if you know the two languages, interpreting it’s an accessory service and it can be booked last if there is any budget surplus.

One of the more common misconceptions to be added to this list is that one interpreter is enough to cover a whole event. Although this can be true in certain scenarios (doctor’s appointments, short courts hearings, legal appointments and similar), more often than not clients will need to book two interpreters per each language needed. This of course has a considerable impact on the final price of the service, but there are many good reasons why trying to cut corners and hiring just one interpreter can lead to disaster.


It’s fair for clients to query why they need to hire an interpreting team instead of just one interpreter, so let’s have a look at some reasons why it is absolutely vital more in details:


Cognitive load: interpretation leads to mental saturation in a short time-span


Cognitive load is the fancy research term that refers to the mental strain that the interpreting task poses on the mind: remember, when they work simultaneously, interpreters are embarking on an endless cycle of listening to the original, understanding its meaning and message, converting it into the target language and speaking to convey their translation. The speaker, however, never stops until they reach the end of their speech, so the interpreter is constantly talking in language B whilst listening to language A. If that weren’t as difficult as it could get, interpreters are also checking glossaries, reference documentation, PPT slides and communicating with their partner who’s supporting them taking down numbers, dates and useful words to anticipate their colleagues’ needs and ease the cognitive load.


Remote interpreting scenarios have brought on a whole new host of tasks that need to be performed whilst interpreting, such as juggling two different devices, timing and executing change overs (as it can’t be done with visual cues as it happens in the booth, where you’d normally signal to your partner you’d like to change over and hand them the microphone once you’ve finished the sentence) and operate a virtual console via your PC.



A cycle flow representing the simultaneous and overlapping stages of simultaneous interpreting: listening, understanding, translating, speaking, monitoring.
Simultaneous interpreting loop: in any given moment, the interpreter juggles at least five different cognitive tasks in two different languages.


As you can imagine, this can only be done with the lowest degree of approximation for so long before fatigue and cognitive overload start having a deteriorating impact on the interpreter’s rendition.


Research has shown that interpreting quality (i.e. number of accurate and complete pieces of information translated and language suitability in terms of grammar, register and tone) can only be maintained for some 30 minutes before it deteriorates. The viable time interval in remote interpreting for virtual events is even shorter – this is due to the lower audio quality and the sub par conditions interpreters have to work in (no soundproof booths, environmental noise, internet connection).


This is the primary reasons why interpreter must work in pairs: it is simply vital to ensure a quality service. Even when working consecutively (i.e. taking notes whilst the speaker speaks and relaying the message when they stop after 3-5 minutes), an interpreter needs scheduled breaks to rest and recharge their brain to avoid cognitive overload – it takes an incredible amount of mental stamina to sustain a full day of consecutive interpretation. I’m not going to lie – I did it once, and I paid the price for it as soon as I came back home with the most severe migraine I’ve ever experienced.


International institutions such as the United Nations and the European Union are often regarded as the gold standard when it comes to interpreting working conditions and practices, and for a good reason. Multilingualism is one of the fundamental underlying tenets of the European Union, and since its inception the EU has worked closely with interpreters and their professional associations. If you spy just above MPEs, you’ll see rows upon rows of interpreting booths overlooking the plenary room – if you really squint, you might even spot not two but three interpreters per booth. Interpreting quality is so pivotal for the EU that in some occasions it contracts three interpreters so they can alternate with longer breaks and be well rested and raring to go once it’s their turn.


If you want to ensure a quality interpreting service throughout the event and get the best out of your Italian interpreters, booking an expert interpreting service with FSL Language Solutions offered by at least two interpreters who have worked together before is your best (dare I say only) choice.


Life – and technology – happens


2020 meant society had to rely on technology more so than at any other point in history since the internet came around 30 odd years ago. This has exposed the merits and limitations of the technology we employ to connect with each other when meeting in person isn’t feasible – and let’s be honest, there are a lot of limitations. Frozen screens, crackling or no audio, pixelated video, dead batteries, sudden power outages: you name it. Interpreters, for as much they upgrade their infrastructure, have access to the same technology everyone else has and, sometimes, it just won’t work – meaning they can’t connect to the event despite being ready at their desk.


One example of such technical failure happened during a virtual meeting FSL Language Solution was supervising as main interpreting provider: all eight interpreters were connected 20 minutes ahead and added to the Zoom meeting, but for some reason, one couldn’t simply be assigned to the interface and access their interpreting console. It took 30 long minutes of troubleshooting for them to be finally let in by the software and join the meeting – what would have happened hadn’t two interpreters been booked for this short 1-hour virtual event on Zoom? All the listeners of that language would have been excluded from the meeting because of a software glitch.


This happened in pre-Covid times as well: traffic accidents, strikes, extreme weather conditions and force majeure events always happened – not only to delegates and speakers, but to interpreters too.


Having two interpreters booked instead of one is a fail-safe for your event to start on time and go smoothly until all interpreters can join the booth or a substitute can be called in case of emergency.


Having at least two professional interpreters per language is therefore not only guarantee of a high-quality interpreting service throughout the virtual or live event but it gives you the peace of mind the service can go ahead at the scheduled time no matter what.


Interpreting is a team effort


Here’s another misconception about interpreters (and linguists) in general: they are not walking dictionaries.


Yes, they are language professionals with a high or near-native proficiency of at least a second language on top of their mother tongue, but they (unfortunately!) don’t come with the Oxford dictionary embedded in their brain cells.


As we have seen in detail in a previous post, preparation is part and parcel of any interpreting assignment: no preparation equals a substandard if not outright poor job. This is where the teamwork starts: interpreters split the research load to cover more ground and then they share the resources they have found or created for the job; these can be ad-hoc bilingual glossaries, reference documentation, useful websites for background knowledge and even videos of the speakers at previous events.


Once they step into the booth, interpreters double down on the team effort. Although it is true some colleagues prefer to ‘get in the zone’ and have no distraction interfere with their effort, booth etiquette requires the ‘inactive’ interpreter to be at hand and assist the colleague who is juggling the listening/thinking/translating/speaking loop we were talking about before.


This assistance can take many forms, for example noting down names, dates and numbers (these are especially tricky!), but also providing vocabulary suggestions when their partner becomes stuck on a specific term or turn of phrase, or they simply didn’t hear the original well (it happens!).


As the booth has to be absolutely quiet to guarantee a pleasant listening experience for the users (no frantic rustling papers, no hushed voices in the background), interpreters have learnt to communicate non-verbally or in writing: the low-tech solution is to use a notepad in the middle of the booth table where both can see what’s being jotted down, but laptops and tablets are used more and more frequently and offer a more high-tech approach to this.


This teamwork is also why I previously hinted that hiring a team of interpreters who have previously worked together and know each other well is a winning move: they’ll know each other strengths and weaknesses, they’ll know how the other works and they will be able to assist them better whilst interpreting.


This is also why in remote contexts, unless the interpreters are working from a hub, interpreting is made more difficult by the physical absence of a partner – it’s an important safety net for interpreters and clients alike as it ensures the service will run smoothly. Afterall, two minds are better than one!



Infographic with three reasons why interpreters must work in pairs: cognitive load, teamwork, fail-safe.
Three main reasons why interpreters must work in pairs to ensure a quality service

The bottom line is, therefore, very clear: in the majority of settings where interpreting is required, the service has to be provided by at least two professional interpreters who have worked together in the past.


Are you organising an international conference, a live event or a virtual meeting and you need to book live translators, aka interpreters, but you have questions?


Get in touch now to book a tailored free consultation session and receive a personalised quote to get the best Italian interpreters in London and around the UK for Zoom meetings, online webinars and international conferences.


10 views0 comments