Remote working or working remotely is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to traditional nine to five jobs. It is not surprising that this phenomenon is also becoming slowly entrenched in the conference interpreting sector. So what added value can remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) offer? Celebrated by some and maligned by others, why does it have the potential to change the face of conference interpreting as we know it?
How RSI works
As during a conventional conference, presenters speak in front of their audience. The delegates can select their preferred language by switching to the appropriate channel on a device and follow the proceedings by listening to live interpretation through their headphones. But since simultaneous interpretation is provided remotely, the audio and video are streamed to the locations where the interpreters are based. The interpreters can hear and (in the ideal scenario) see the speaker and deliver their simultaneous interpretation as usual.
How RSI stands out
There are currently several providers of RSI platforms and what they bring to the market is sophisticated cloud-based technology recreating the traditional conference interpreting setting remotely. The consoles used for RSI are very intuitive and resemble the physical consoles found in the traditional sound-proof booths. Consequently, the set-up is very similar to a scenario where the simultaneous interpreters are present on site. The organisers save money and the interpreters don’t need to travel, so surely this is a win-win situation?
The pros and cons of RSI
- A cost-effective solution. The organisers save on travel and accommodation costs for interpreters. No equipment hire is necessary.
- Geography is not a barrier. The delegates and simultaneous interpreters are connected to each other via the cloud.
- Less logistical headaches. Multiple breakout rooms and language combinations are possible. No need to worry about squeezing in several soundproof booths into a tiny space. The service can be offered anytime and anywhere for small and large meetings alike.
- The remote aspect. This can be an advantage and disadvantage at the same time. Since the interpreters are not physically present at the event, they are easily forgotten and quality can suffer, e.g. when no microphones are being used on the floor or no immediate feedback is possible.
- Technical glitches. Technology is never perfect and on occasions, the sound quality can suffer. Most remote interpreters work from their home offices, rather than from a hub, and although technical support is available remotely, there is no technical support present on site.
- The loneliness factor. International travel may be exhausting and hard on the body but working alone in the confines of one’s home can also be tough on mental health. There are no face-to-face interactions with delegates or colleagues.
Technological advances like artificial intelligence, machine learning or remote simultaneous interpreting are here to stay, and it’s better to adapt early rather than being overtaken by change. Remote simultaneous interpreting offers many benefits and challenges, but best outcomes and solutions usually stem from mutually-beneficial collaborations between different stakeholders. It is easy to get carried away by what technology can offer, but long-term success comes from listening to the experts in the field: professional language services organisations or the conference interpreters themselves.