Zoom Remote Simultaneous Interpreting Report

In the January/February issue, just before the pandemic, I wrote about whether remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) was the next best thing.1 While I’m pleased with the completely accidental timing of my article, I didn’t have a crystal ball back then and I certainly don’t have one now, but I think we can all agree that the future has arrived much sooner than we expected.

Almost overnight, RSI went from being something we were discussing as a profession but infrequently doing to something we do frequently. We had to struggle to adapt and learn. We still have a lot of work to do on all fronts (including fee schedules, working conditions, dealing with acoustic shock, and client education), but I would like to share some of my experiences doing RSI on the platform that my clients have chosen, for better or for worse: Zoom.

In the spring, all interpreting work disappeared for about a month or so as my clients, including federal courts, law firms, court reporting firms, and some interpreting agencies figured out ways to continue working remotely. Much interpreting work was soon moved online. (It’s a good thing we live in 2020 and not in 1980 or even 2000, when technology was not advanced enough to permit widespread remote work.)

My law firm clients, figuring their civil cases couldn’t be delayed indefinitely, took to Zoom relatively quickly. It was all consecutive, though. While I’ve done dozens of depositions, examinations under oath, and arbitrations in consecutive mode via Zoom, I wanted to be ready for simultaneous conference interpreting work via Zoom. I’ve used several other interpreting platforms that are designed around the needs of professional conference interpreters but have had a tough time convincing clients to use them, their main question to me being: “Why don’t we just use Zoom?”. My arguments in favor of these other platforms seem to fall on deaf ears, which is frustrating but also understandable from their point of view, as clients tend to want simple solutions that are affordable and can easily be used by non-linguists such as deponents with limited technical skills.

But what about conference interpreting? I figured it would be back at some point, perhaps in remote or hybrid form (such as hubs, which are now relatively widespread in Europe), and I wanted to be ready on all platforms. The in-person conference interpreting assignments I had booked for March were all canceled and no remote option was offered, but I figured it was only a matter of time. Since I had some experience using dedicated interpreting platforms but not Zoom, I set out to learn how to do it. This is where the amazing interpreting community came in.

My colleague Ernest Niño-Murcia, a federal court interpreter, and his teammates Tamber Hilton and Aimee Benavides, also federal court interpreters, had been posting2 extensively on their efforts to learn and do simultaneous interpreting via Zoom, and had shared successes and frustrations that I found incredibly helpful. (Ernest, Tamber, and Aimee have joined together to form T.E.A. Language Solutions, offering RSI training and technical support for interpreters and clients, which fills an important need.)

In the middle of this pandemic, one realizes that there’s a great community out there, trying to help each other adapt to our new, and oftentimes scary, interpreting world. Reading about it is one thing, but I needed to practice, and Ernest and Tamber graciously agreed to train me and one of my interpreting partners, Anabella Tidona in Los Angeles.

We spent several hours one evening practicing handovers between interpreters and shared the frustration of not being able to hear each other when you interpret. (We’ve solved this with a second device and a WhatsApp call that’s always active.) We ran through scenarios when the interpreter is the host, including how to assign ourselves and others as interpreters. Because the Zoom interface for participants is different than the one interpreters see during a session, we practiced using this interface. Gaining this perspective will allow us to more easily offer participants basic assistance when they can’t hear (e.g., “You’re on the wrong channel!”). I had never used Zoom simultaneous before and was incredibly grateful to Ernest, Tamber, and Aimee for sharing their expertise for free. They asked Anabella and me to pay it forward and train other colleagues, which we’re currently doing.

Relatively quickly after our training session, Anabella and I received our first request to interpret a meeting via Zoom using simultaneous, and the client was delighted that we knew the basics. Since then, we’ve interpreted for more than 20 meetings, conference calls, and webinars, and most of them have worked quite well using some necessary workarounds. (We’ve also submitted requests to Zoom to fix the known issues.) My latest gadget is a cell phone holder with a ring light so I don’t have to prop my phone up against a stack of books for the WhatsApp call. This holder was recommended to me by an interpreting partner, and purchased with a gift certificate from another colleague, Maria Baker, whom I helped solve a different interpreting challenge. It all came full circle! I’m grateful for the work, the friends, and colleagues and can see some silver linings.

Notes

  1. Jenner, Judy, “Is Remote Simultaneous Interpreting The Next Big Thing?” The ATA Chronicle (January/February 2020), 36, http://bit.ly/Jenner-remote.
  2. “Zoom Simul: Learning to Embrace Imperfection,” Translation Times, http://bit.ly/Zoom-simul.

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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