June 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio June 1999 Current Issue
June 1999 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics


Eliminating Language Barriers

How to ensure seamless translation for a diverse audience

When international delegates do not speak an event's native language, making sure they catch every word can be a tall order. The first step for planners arranging to have a meeting translated is to appoint one person to coordinate the interpreters, engineers and facility staff before, during and after the meeting. But that is only the beginning.

In advance, provide interpreters with background material in each language to be translated. This information will give the interpreters a good command of the meeting's subject matter and goals as well as knowledge about the host organization. It also will help them understand the speakers. Interpreter packages should include:

  • A comprehensive agenda, detailing the presentation schedule and clearly noting all breaks
  • Transcripts or outlines of all presentations (if available); if a speaker will be working from notes, the (legible) notes must be provided in advance
  • Glossaries of terminology in each language
  • Registration materials, brochures and all other documentation sent to registrants
  • All materials given to participants on site
  • Transcripts of audiovisual presentations
  • Technical and promotional materials regarding products and services to be discussed
  • Minutes from previous meetings on the same subject
  • Curricula vitae for key speakers Plan an advance briefing with the interpreters on the day of the meeting to answer any questions they might have. If possible, the speakers and engineers should be at this meeting, too.
    Use interpretation equipment soundproof booths, microphones, transmitters, receivers that meets the specifications of the International Standardization Organization, a worldwide federation that sets technical standards. This ensures interpreters have adequate space, lighting and ventilation and are not crammed into an area that compromises their sight lines and concentration. Other tips:

  • Control discussions by using a chairperson to recognize speakers. Only one voice can be interpreted at a time, and the translator must know whose voice to pay attention to next.
  • Be sure to use a technician-controlled delegate-microphone system for interactive discussions. With common systems, the total output is reduced as mikes are added. A delegate-microphone system circumvents that problem and gives clear sound for as many mikes as are needed. Having a technician control the system, determining which mikes are on and off, ensures only one voice will be heard at a time, and the interpreter's job will be much easier.
  • Position interpreters so they have an unobstructed view of the speakers, screens and any displayed reference materials.
  • Schedule coffee and meal breaks for the interpreters. Translation requires tremendous concentration and can be exhausting. Breaks allow the interpreters to maintain a high degree of accuracy.
    Two basic types of interpretation can be arranged for a meeting, and there are advantages to both.

    With simultaneous service, the speaker's voice is translated at the same time he or she is speaking. This requires special equipment and engineers for installation (if the facility is not wired) and monitoring. Delegates listen in via multichannel wireless receivers while teams of interpreters work in soundproof booths. This service is commonly used for large meetings and multilingual events.

    Two advantages of simultaneous interpretation are that the translation is delivered without interruption, retaining the effectiveness and flow of the speaker's presentation; and time is used efficiently the translation requires no additional time and, as a result, does not stretch the meeting's schedule.

    When a speech is consecutively interpreted, the speaker pauses every two or three sentences to allow the interpreter to put the speaker's remarks into one other language. The interpreter becomes a more integral member of the meeting because he is always in close proximity to the attendees, often positioned near the dais or onstage.

    Consecutive interpretation is cost-effective because fewer interpreters are needed, and it requires no equipment or technical personnel. It also allows participants to absorb ideas and listen to the proceedings in both languages. This method is very effective in sensitive business negotiations; the pauses between languages allow participants to reflect on what is being said.

    This material was provided by Washington, D.C.-based Berlitz Interpretation Services (

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