Is Remote Simultaneous Interpreting the Next Big Thing?

Just like many interpreters and translators, I’ve been thinking about the future quite a bit. Not just about the future of our profession, but the future of work in general and about where we, as practicing linguists, can find our long-term place in a world already dominated by artificial intelligence and amidst the threat (and perhaps opportunity) of machine translation. An area I find particularly interesting is remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI). It’s an area I believe offers great opportunities for interpreters in the years to come, and we will have to work out exactly how it will, well, work. Allow me to elaborate.

As a seasoned court and conference interpreter, I travel a lot, and while some of it is enjoyable, some of it can be a drag, keeps me away from home, and is bad for the environment, as I usually have no alternative to air travel. Oftentimes, I find myself wondering if it’s necessary to fly 1,000 miles round-trip for an hour-long court hearing. Could this be done remotely? What about conferences?

The answer is, yes, it can be done, and the technology is certainly available and quite robust. What remains to be seen is whether or not RSI will be widely adopted. I’ve tested many platforms and find several of them to be excellent, with Voiceboxer, based in Denmark, being my current favorite. This Scandinavian company has designed a platform that’s elegant, simple to use, works beautifully, and offers great customer service. As RSI is gaining more traction, major interpreting industry players such as the International Association of Conference Interpreters have published their position papers on remote interpreting, and I’ve enjoyed reading about the direction of this new technology and what still remains to be done. Here are some of my thoughts:

Some Interpreters Won’t Like RSI: While change is good, it can also be hard, and in my experience RSI is more challenging than in-person interpreting because you have the added layer and potential challenge of technology. (I’ve had a lot of things go wrong, but have also had many very smooth RSI days.) Ideally, RSI would be provided in a real interpreting hub, in an actual interpreting booth, with your interpreting partner by your side and onsite tech support (the event audio and video would come to you remotely). However, the vast majority of assignments I’ve done have been from my home office (there’s controversy about whether this should be done at all) with my booth partner in a different city or country. Some of the best interpreters I’ve approached about teaming up with me to do RSI have politely declined, and I don’t blame them. Some just don’t want the uncertainty of not having tech support by their side, don’t want to learn how to use RSI platforms, or are simply uncomfortable with new technologies, all of which are legitimate reasons. However, as RSI gains in popularity, this would mean that they would be excluding themselves from a relatively significant part of the interpreting market. I see e-sports (yes, video games) as particularly well suited for RSI.

Working Conditions Are Key: Just because your work is done remotely doesn’t mean our working conditions should suffer. These conditions should stay the same, or perhaps we should even take the opportunity to improve them. For instance, we still need to insist on minimum fees, even if the event is short, as we bill for our time, which should be compensated the same whether we provide the service remotely or in person. We also need to push to guarantee availability of tech personnel to troubleshoot, ensure we get the breaks and audio quality we need to not damage our hearing (“just turn it up louder” is not a viable solution), and need to discuss who is responsible in case of technical issues, among many other topics. There is much left to be figured out, and now is the time to demand what we need. I recently turned down an assignment because the client only wanted to pay for an hour when that one hour was blocking the entire morning slot. You need time to test and be ready at least 30 minutes ahead of time, just like you would in a traditional conference interpreting setting. I insisted on the minimum fee of three hours and didn’t get the assignment, but hope I did some client education along the way. Another time I had a client insist we use Skype to interpret a major e-sports event. I informed them that we would need a proper RSI platform to make it happen in a professional manner, and that we wouldn’t rely on technology that’s barely stable enough to talk to my parents on the weekend. They didn’t see the need for it, so we didn’t work together, but maybe they will come around. I’m happy to keep on pushing for good working conditions and hope colleagues will join me.

Technology Matters: There are some fantastic platforms, and I expect some consolidation in terms of how many RSI platform providers there will be in the next few years. I think it’s important that interpreters and technology providers have a nuanced conversation about what we each need to be successful. We need each other to make RSI work, and it’s a growing field that can benefit us all. It’s key not to be afraid of technology or reject it altogether, but providing some constructive criticism and feedback to RSI platform developers is also a good thing.

What’s your experience with RSI been like? I would love to hear your thoughts.


Judy Jenner is a Spanish and German business and legal translator and a federally and state-certified (California, Nevada) Spanish court interpreter. She has an MBA in marketing and runs her boutique translation and interpreting business, Twin Translations, with her twin sister Dagmar. She was born in Austria and grew up in Mexico City. A former in-house translation department manager, she is a past president of the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association. She writes the blog Translation Times and is a frequent conference speaker. She is the co-author of The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation. Contact: judy.jenner@twintranslations.com.

This column is not intended to constitute legal, financial, or other business advice. Each individual or company should make its own independent business decisions and consult its own legal, financial, or other advisors as appropriate. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of ATA or its Board of Directors. Ideas and questions should be directed to judy.jenner@entrepreneuriallinguist.com.

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