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The problem with receiving interpreting via mobile apps

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: June 4, 2018

We are all getting used to doing everything online. As a father of three (with one on the way), it is hard to explain just how important online shopping, online flight check-in and online travel booking have become. Yet, for all the leaps we have seen in technology, there are some things that should really stay offline.

Take high-level meetings. For all the deserved concern about the environmental costs of transport, it is still pretty normal to see a businessman from New Zealand fly to mainland Europe to discuss a deal with a company whose representatives might come from different ends of the same country.

Despite Skype and Telegram and Whatsapp, the big, important meetings still take place in person. There’s just something about being in a room together that makes a difference. And there is something about the security of knowing that no-one outside that room can hear what is going on.

For important meetings, privacy and security are a huge concerns. That’s why interpreters sign Non-Disclosure Agreements. That’s why, as a consultant interpreter, I have a public key so I can receive encrypted files. That’s why, for the moment at least, I would recommend that clients keep with the tried-and-tested system of receiving simultaneous interpreting via an infrared (IR) setup and eschew receiving interpreting via mobile phone apps.

This recommendation holds even if every other part of the interpreting process is carried out following best practice.

It’s not that the technology isn’t impressive. It is still amazing that we can and do beam high-quality sound (like podcasts) across continents and can use Wi-Fi networks for sending interpreting and receiving output. But, for meetings where security is a concern, you just can’t beat the advantages of the traditional IR setup. How so?

Unlike Wi-Fi, the traditional setup requires proprietary equipment. It sounds old-school but if the only way to hear the interpreting is with a headset that you get from the sound guy, only people who talk to the sound guy can get a headset. That instantly makes things more secure and, as anyone who has used traditional interpreting equipment will tell you, the signal simply does not leave the room. If you go out of the line of sight of the transmitter, you lose signal. What sounds like a restriction ensures that your meeting is secure.

Since the headsets are dedicated to a single use, they tend to do well at keeping their charge all day. Compare that to any mobile phone, which your delegates will use to listen to the interpreting, check their email, update Facebook and so on, and the difference is clear. For mobile apps to be feasible, the event will need LOTS of mobile phone charging points. Very modern but pretty pricey.

Having delegates receive interpreting through an app also means that you lose control of the security of the feed. Not only is it hard work for the tech to receive, encrypt, broadcast, decrypt and play the signal in real-time (so it is tempting to skip the encryption and decryption parts) but you can’t guarantee what else might be on the mobiles used by your delegates. You simply can’t tell what security risks they are carrying.

The solution might be to  hand out dedicated mobile phones that you have configured. That comes with its own costs means that you will suddenly have lots of internet-enabled devices to maintain, update, fix, and teach delegates to use. That’s before you take account of delegates having special needs that they have setup their own devices to cope with.

As with remote interpreting, the problems with receiving interpreting using the internet are mostly not technical but psychological and behavioural. Even if the tech for receiving interpreting over app was 100% secure, there are too many other variables for it to be an ideal solution for any meeting where security is a concern, at least for the time being.

 

Why Event Managers Should Beware of Package Deals

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 10, 2017

Great event managers are always on the lookout for ways to simplify processes. They will learn scheduling and automation tools, return to the same suppliers, and integrate technology throughout the process. Yet sometimes, that instinct for simplification can lead to poor decision-making, that is especially the case where interpreting is concerned.

Let me explain how this can happen. For many conferences, especially where interpreting is needed into more than one language, there will be a need to book soundproof interpreting booths, headsets and various microphones, as well as the interpreters themselves. Some Audio Visual equipment (AV) suppliers, having noticed that their clients want to keep things simple, now offer to supply the interpreters for free, if the events agency give them the contract for AV equipment hire.

 

It sounds like a good deal. They get a nice contract and you can tick two items off your to-do list at once. So what’s the problem?

 

The big issue with package deals like this is that they put AV suppliers in a position where the biggest potential drain on profits is the service that represents the biggest risk and greatest potential benefit to you. Your delegates probably won’t notice much of a difference between a set-up based on XLR cables versus one using CAT-5s. They will notice the difference between professionally trained and prepared interpreters and people who just learned the language on holiday.

Since the AV providers already have the equipment, payment to interpreters will be the biggest risk to their profit margins. That, in turn, can lead to them trying to find ways to save money on the interpreting itself. This is the same interpreting your clients are relying on for the meeting to be a success.

 

All professional interpreters have a minimum fee and the AV suppliers who take the package deal approach may negotiate hard to reduce these minimum fees. If you hire interpreters directly or via a reputable agency, these agencies and consultants will know that the return on investment of great interpreting is always higher than its costs. These same interpreting specialists will also know who the great interpreters are and how much it will cost to get them on board.

 

So, while package deals are tempting, it always pays to ask yourself whether such deals sacrifice quality on the altar of speed. If you want the kind of interpreting that ensures your event has the right impact, it will always pay to go to a reputable agency or an experienced consultant.