Testing… testing... 1, 2, 3...   

A Canadian assessment of remote simultaneous interpretation platforms 

by Dijana Lazar (Acting Senior Interpreter, Translation Bureau, Public Services and Procurement Canada) and Gillian Misener (Senior Interpreter, Translation Bureau, Public Services and Procurement Canada, and AIIC Canada member)  

Adapting to new demands

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, working conditions for conference interpreters everywhere changed radically. At the Translation Bureau (TB) – the Canadian Government’s institution within the Public Services and Procurement Canada portfolio that governs interpreting and translation services – all our in-person assignments morphed into remote assignments overnight. Our clients, needing to comply with lockdown restrictions and public health measures, sought alternative solutions for their meetings, and interpreters had to adapt rapidly. Many of our clients have turned to web conferencing platforms (like Zoom, MS Teams, Skype or Webex) for their virtual meetings. Most TB interpreters also continued to work in booths with hard consoles in co-located settings – the interpreters on site in hubs and empty committee rooms, with the meeting participants located remotely. For the vast majority of assignments, each interpreting team member has their own individual booth.

Developing a better understanding

The Translation Bureau realised we needed a better understanding of the world of remote simultaneous interpretation (RSI) platforms – increasingly in demand – and so decided to set up a pilot project to test a selection. Fifteen staff interpreters were approached to test four of the most prevalent RSI platforms.

Since TB interpreters do not normally work from home, the first order of business was to provide them with proper IT and AV equipment. Once the interpreters’ virtual booths were all set up and ready to go, we scheduled tests with the platform providers.

The tests were designed mainly to assess the platforms on the basis of the interpreters’ experience. At the time of writing we have been able to test and assess two of the four selected platforms.

Platform one: hard to hand over

The first of these, the interpreters found, had a hand-over feature that is not as intuitive as they would have liked. The interpreters were not always able to hand over the mic successfully to their virtual boothmate, reporting that more practice was required to get a better feel for the feature. The interpreters praised the chat function but said it increased their mental load while interpreting. While the quality of the sound and video fluctuated during the demo, it was generally considered good. The interface was deemed interpreter-friendly, and the tech support was quite efficient. Relay worked quite well for some interpreters, but others had problems due to the way the channels were programmed. 

Platform two: let me listen in!

The hand-over feature of the second platform was easier to use and allowed the interpreters to successfully pass the mic to their virtual boothmate, but the interface was found to be “busy” and distracting. One crucial feature was missing: the ability to listen to one’s virtual boothmate while they interpret. However, the RSI provider has informed us that this feature has been added and deployed since our tests. 

The chat function was found to be useful, but several interpreters reported that the chat box was too big. The quality of the audio and video signal received a high score, as did the synchronization. 

Keep on practising

In all, the tests showed that both platforms have some challenges but are generally interpreter-friendly, as long as interpreters have enough time to practise using them. We need to encourage interpreters to make the most of any opportunities to practice and receive training. We must also make sure that technical setups for RSI meet the appropriate standards, and that adequate measures are taken to mitigate the risk of acoustic shocks and other catastrophic technical failures.

The pilot project is continuing apace so that the TB can familiarize itself with how RSI platforms work. As a global leader in the provision of interpretation services, the TB – like AIIC through its Technical & Health Committee and its Taskforce on Distancing Interpreting – has a duty to remain abreast of technological developments as they relate to conference interpreting.

Articles published in Communicate! reflect the views of the author(s) and should not be taken to represent the official position of AIIC.


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Photo:Jules Marvin Eguilos / Unsplash