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Lessons for Success in Remote Interpreting Learned During the Pandemic

By Giovanna Serrano
December 1, 2020

Lessons for Success in Remote Interpreting Learned During the Pandemic

Remote Simultaneous Interpreting (RSI) has become more important than ever over the last eight months. As the novel coronavirus outbreak continues to change the way we live our lives, this mode of providing language interpretation and translation around the world has served as a pipeline for event communication that would otherwise be on life support. But despite its challenges, this is a changing environment that remote interpreting professionals like Giovanna Serrano and Carlos Solís believe will inevitably help the language industry grow.

Shortly after launching uniVerse Language Solutions in 2005, Serrano and Solís eventually built one of the largest conference interpretation companies in the United States. Their portfolio of clients grew fast and impressively, covering more than 250 assignments per year, and their conference interpretation inventory grew to be one of the largest in the United States. During their 15 years as a leading language solutions provider, they’ve worked with Fortune 500 companies, government and nonprofit organizations, political and business personalities, along with faith-based and educational institutions. But their business would inevitably face a new frontier over the last several months that they say has made them even stronger.

Since the coronavirus began in March 2020, uniVerse Language Solutions has shifted its operations to focus almost exclusively on remote simultaneous interpretation for a wide range of clients. Below is a Q&A with the uniVerse Language Solutions founders discussing what they’ve learned during this pandemic and how they believe it can serve as an opportunity for the language industry to grow over the next several years.

What have you learned about the language industry overall since the coronavirus outbreak began?

uniVerse Language Solutions: Our industry has proven to be creative, resilient and flexible! Translation and interpreting professional organizations quickly became guides for interpreters, translators, closed- captioners, subtitlers, dubbers, narrators and voice-over professionals to help as many to make the switch to online. It has also been impressive to witness many young language professionals take the lead because of their ease with technology, and turnaround to help their less technologically apt colleagues make the transition to virtual. Also, some of the services are so new that we don’t have names for them yet.

What advice do you have for event planners, conference professionals and other industry colleagues as we move forward during these next few months?

uniVerse Language Solutions: Hire a language service company that offers more than just one solution. The platform developers had to invest a considerable amount of money to develop their tool, and they will try to sell it as often as possible. However, it might not be the best solution for your needs.

There are several options that work incredibly well, and some are very inexpensive. These include Zoom with its interpretation channels, two parallel meetings solution, and proprietary meeting platforms with audio channels developed specifically for your conference. Other features include closed-captioning or subtitling in foreign languages, narration in different languages of pre-recorded content, written translation, and so many other tools that can actually adapt better to the vision that you or your client have for the virtual conference.

Another piece of advice for meeting planners and clients is to hire a language service that offers technical support for interpreters. With very few exceptions, it is better to invest on a point of contact person to act as liaison between the interpretation team and the client, rather than try to have the interpreters and the clients resolve technical issues while the event is underway. Clients already have enough to worry about when organizing a virtual event. By hiring a technical support person for interpreters, the client can focus 100% on their meeting.

The final recommendation is practice, practice and practice! uniVerse has found that clients who schedule a technical rehearsal session ahead of the event’s conference dates, experience significantly less issues during their virtual events. The technical rehearsal sessions help to sort out important details ahead of time, such as the correct use of microphones and headphones and audio levels for presenters, how to handle Q&As in multiple languages, manning a multi-language chatbox, and closed captioning in English and other languages.

The overall recommendation is to partner with a language company that is also an expert in the use of technologies that support language services. A good language services partner will understand and offer a menu of options, and will not try to sell one platform to potential clients.

How do you think the language and event industries can grow through what we’ve learned during this experience?

  1. The pie just became huge; actually, it is now the whole world. Since the pandemic, we are bidding on events organized or held in Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia and Latin America. We used to be national with services across the USA and some international assignments. Now we are working with clients and providers in different parts of the world!
  2. Clients are now thinking of offering interpretation for so many more events, particularly short meetings. Technology has made meetings and webinars easier and more affordable, and language services has experienced rapid growth as a result of the increased demand.
  3. We should be thinking about new services and new solutions for clients. In our case, we have seen an increased use of narration and subtitling in English and other languages, as well as applications for AI language technologies, aside from the sharp rise in language interpretation services.

After shifting your business to digital, what keywords have you found people searching for when they need interpretation services?

This is a great question. Some needs are so new, that the names for the keywords are not fully defined. So, four different people could be searching for the same service using four different names: remote interpretation, virtual translation, cloud-based language interpreting or online webinar translation. Normally it is a combination of words from the two following groups:

  • Group 1: remote, virtual, online, video conference, computer, internet, web-based, distance, cloud-based, webinar, video-remote, webinar.
  • Group 2: translation, interpreting, interpretation, interpreting, simultaneous, conference, consecutive, languages.

In essence, they are looking for the same service, but there are still no definitive names for this new modality of interpretation.

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