Spanish to Colombian sign language interpreter signs at international conference in Cartagena, Colombia, while Santos speaks

Sign language interpretation 101

Interpretation Multilingual events

We know that booking sign language interpreters is new to many. Truth be told, there are a series of details to take into account to make sure that your event’s sign language interpretation goes off without a hitch. There’s nothing to be afraid of though! We’ve come with a handy list of practical tips to ensure that the interpreters can do their job correctly and that your deaf and hard of hearing audience members can fully participate  in your event.

We’ve come with a handy list of practical tips to ensure that the interpreters can do their job correctly and that your deaf and hard of hearing audience members can fully participate in your event.

Before the big day

  • Presentations. Quality, precise interpretation is the name of the game, so it’s essential that the interpreters have an opportunity to review any material to be used in the event prior to its start. Share your presentations, videos, papers, or any other useful prep material with the team so that your superstar interpreters can study up on vocab and technical terminology.
  • Location, location, location. Sign language interpreters need to be located in a suitable spot free of visual distractions (for example, make sure there are no windows behind them). This is because “signing involves not just broad arm and hand movements, but also many subtle clues and features, particularly involving fingers and lip and face movements and expressions, which must be clearly seen in order to understand the meaning” (National Disability Authority). Signers should be clearly visible to all deaf and hard of hearing participants without blocking the audience’s view of any presentations being projected.
  • Mic them up! Interpreters should be provided with a wireless handheld microphone so that they can verbally interpret any questions or comments made by deaf or hard of hearing participants. 
  • Front row all the way. Front row seats should be reserved for sign language interpreters to interpret into spoken language when needed. As interpreters work in shifts, it’s also essential that the standby interpreter be provided with a seat directly in front of the active interpreter to provide support to his/her colleagues needed and carry out  smooth handovers. Spots in the front row should also be reserved for hard of hearing or deaf participants so they have an unobstructed view of the interpreters.

Event day

  • Agenda changes. Let your event manager and interpreters know if there are any last minute changes to the agenda.
  • Other languages. If there will be presentations in multiple spoken languages at your event, make sure the signers are given interpretation receivers and headsets so that sign language interpretation is never interrupted, regardless of the language spoken on the floor.
  • Taking care of your interpreters. Make sure your interpreters are provided with water and are given time to rest, e.g. during the lunch break.
  • Debriefing. If your event goes for more than one day, we suggest holding a short debriefing session with the interpretation team at the end of each day in case any clarifications of terminology, etc. are needed.

With these tips in mind, support from your dedicated language strategy consultant, and our star sign language interpreters, you can be sure that everyone will be talking about your event for the right reasons once the show is over.

Fun fact

Did you know that facial expressions are part of the grammar of sign language? “Signers are animated not because they are bubbly and energetic, but because sign language uses face and body movements as tools” to communicate in a visual language (The Atlantic). Thus, thoughtful brow-raising, mouthing, eye and head movements, and body positioning can be expected of a good interpreter. Check out this interpreter in action, who went viral for just that. As one Twitter user put it: “Brexit captured in interpretive dance.”

Further information

Visit our FAQ to find out why you should include sign language interpretation in your event.

For further information on positioning of sign language interpreters, including cases where they will be streamed, read AIIC’s guidelines.

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Repost from Un camino, muchas historias, BritCham Colombia’s 40th anniversary commemorative book

While bilingualism and technology have narrowed the language divide, translators and interpreters play an essential role in facilitating communication between companies and entities interested in cooperating and seeking opportunities that benefit both countries.

We wanted to take advantage of this invitation from the British-Colombian Chamber of Commerce to share an anecdote that illustrates how interpreting has contributed to strengthening relations between Colombia and the United Kingdom.

It is an honour to have been chosen to interpret for Prime Minister Tony Blair, actress Tilda Swinton, and Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, as well as multiple British ministers and mayors of the City of London.

In 2013, during Charles, Prince of Wales’ and Camilla Parker’s visit to Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos, the First Lady–María Clemencia Rodríguez–and other illustrious delegates visited the HMS Argyll, a British Royal Navy frigate. The purpose of the visit was to strengthen relations between the two countries and showcase the vessel’s capabilities to combat drug trafficking and provide humanitarian support to areas affected by hurricanes.

During the visit, the strong winds and rain did not let up, forcing all the guests to take shelter under an awning. However, this did not prevent the evening’s objectives from being achieved. Our interpreter braved the bad weather and, along with the ship’s captain, went out on deck in the pouring rain (with generous support and umbrellas provided by the cadets), in order to interpret the dignitaries’ official words, as the occasion merited.

Over the years, we have worked closely with the British Embassy, BritCham, and the Prosperity Fund, providing interpretation for special guests and business representatives from both nations and facilitating communication in the areas of infrastructure, social equity, financing, sustainable agriculture, transportation, and post-conflict. It is an honour to have been chosen to interpret for Prime Minister Tony Blair, actress Tilda Swinton, and Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, as well as  multiple British ministers and mayors of the City of London (See other public figures who have trusted us to tell their story).

Words of gratitude from our clients fill our team of linguists and language project managers with motivation and purpose. One such example is the accolade expressed by Ambassador Colin Martin-Reynolds: “It is of huge help and relief for us to know that we can count on such a professional team to assist with interpretation on our bilingual meetings.

cover of BritCham Colombia’s commemorative book “Un camino, muchas historias” which included an article by interpretingCO

About the book

To commemorate its 40th anniversary, BritCham Colombia (the British Chamber of Commerce in the country) launched the book Un camino, muchas historias (Spanish for “One Path, Many Stories”), with original illustrations by Colombian-Venezuelan artist Adriana Rosell.

‘This publication reflects the historical development of the bilateral relationship between Colombia and the United Kingdom, one of Colombia’s most important allies on the old continent. This collection of stories about remarkable and influential characters reveals the extensive and valuable intercultural dialogue between two friendly nations that have excelled in sharing various expressions of history, culture, sports, and trade,’ BritCham stated in a press release. (Semana Magazine)

interpreter wearing headset concentrates while rendering simultaneous interpretation
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Choosing the right type of interpretation for your event is key. Getting it right is what will ensure clear...

Choosing the right type of interpretation for your event is key. Getting it right is what will ensure clear communication so that your meeting, event, visit, or mission achieves its objectives. The right option for you will depend on several factors, including event type (on-site, hybrid, or remote), venue, number of participants, number of languages, budget, and subject matter.

At interpreting, our experienced language strategy consultants are available to explain the details to you and suggest the right fit in each case. That being said, the more informed you are, the better you’ll be able to successfully plan your event’s logistics. Read on to find out the basics about simultaneous, consecutive, and whispered interpretation.

Choosing the right type of interpretation for your event is key. Getting it right is what will ensure clear communication so that your meeting, event, visit, or mission achieves its objectives.

Simultaneous interpretation

simultaneous interpretation illustration portraying interpreter, speaker, and audience

How does simultaneous interpretation work?

The interpreter listens to the speech in the source (original) language and simultaneously translates it into the target language—at the same time that the speaker is talking—with a lag of only a few seconds. Participants hear the translation in real time through receiver headsets (for on-site attendees) or by selecting their preferred language channel on the online platform being used (for remote participants). This type of interpretation allows the speaker to present without pauses, saving valuable time and avoiding interruptions. 

When is simultaneous the best option?

With professional simultaneous interpretation you get the sense of communicating directly, without intermediaries or interruptions, which is amazing. It helps you optimise your time (real time interpretation means no pauses or repetitions are required for translation), ensure that communication flows without interruptions, simultaneously translate into multiple languages in real time, and minimise the possibility of details being lost in translation. 

Simultaneous interpretation is the way to go for conferences, seminars, business meetings, summits, presentations, negotiations, launches, interviews, tours, workshops, and business roundtable meetings, amongst others.

What else should I know?

Simultaneous interpretation requires the use of equipment (onsite) or software (remote), as well as competent and experienced interpreters who are trained in making split-second decisions that weigh the subtleties of expression.

Interpreting requires great effort and concentration. For onsite sessions that last longer than two hours and remote events over an hour long, interpreters must work in teams of two, taking twenty-minute turns on the mic. This international best practice is essential to ensure both a high-quality interpretation and the interpreters’ good health.

See an example of Spanish to English simultaneous interpretation here.

Interested in learning more about what goes on in a simultaneous interpreter’s brain while at work? Watch this fascinating TED talk:

Consecutive interpretation

consecutive interpretation illustration portraying interpreter and multilingual interlocutors

How does consecutive interpretation work?

The speaker pauses after each sentence or two so that the interpreter can translate what was said into the target language. Please keep in mind that this process doubles the time spent in dialogue or presentations. Speakers must also be sure to pause frequently to allow the interpreter to relay the message in the target language.

When should it be used?

Consecutive interpretation has been largely replaced by simultaneous, but it can still be useful in certain instances, such as accompanying small groups on a field visit, as well as in brief meetings, negotiations, interviews, and press conferences.

What else should I know?

In addition to having appropriate mastery of the languages being used and sufficient interpretation experience, consecutive interpretation requires a specific skill set and training, which involves an excellent memory, note-taking proficiency, and polished social skills.

Click here to see an example of live consecutive interpretation in action during Rory O’Neill’s visit to Bogotá.

Whispered or chuchotage interpretation

whispered or chuchotage interpretation illustration portraying interpreter and person listening to interpretation

What is whispered interpretation?

Also known as chuchotage, whispered interpretation is when the interpreter sits next to the person (or up to three people) who requires interpretation, simultaneously whispering the translation of what is being said into the person’s ear. It is perhaps the least common of the three options.

When is whispered interpretation a good idea?

At meetings or field visits in which only one or two people require translation, chuchotage may be used instead of consecutive interpretation in order to save time.

What else should I know?

The interpreter and listeners will be in close physical proximity to one another, so the interpreter’s physical presentation and social skills, in addition to essential language and interpretation skills, must be impeccable.

Additionally, the conditions—including the interpreter’s position—must allow the interpreter to clearly hear the speaker over the sound of his/her own voice. This also means whispered interpretation is not an option for events that take place in loud or noisy venues.

We hope this crash course has helped you to gain some insight into the different types of interpretation available, their relative pros and cons, and when to choose one over another. Our language strategy consultants are just a call (or email or WhatsApp) away to help answer any questions you might have and apply their invaluable experience to be at your service.

Further information

You can also check out this table comparing the main features of each type of interpretation for further information.