With remote simultaneous interpreting taking center stage, what should you consider before offering this service?
Conference interpreters are among the groups worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. With events cancelled and flights suspended, most of us found ourselves homebound and without income. Under these circumstances, it is not unreasonable to consider remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI). Indeed, in many countries, the lockdown created a golden opportunity for RSI platforms to take center stage and market themselves as a viable alternative to in-person interpreting. With RSI hubs not being an option at the moment, the only option is fully remote interpreting from home. RSI and in-person interpreting are quite different and there are several factors you need to consider before offering this service. In this article, I will highlight the main factors.
Research shows that RSI causes more fatigue than in-person interpreting. The reasons for this are manifold. It could be the multiple impulses one is exposed to when working remotely. We are used to multitasking in the booth but in a remote setting, in addition to the cognitive load of interpreting, we also have to deal with communication via chat, two screens for the software based console and another for the documents, and sometimes even an extra communication channel with the booth partner. It could also be the electromagnetic radiation one is exposed to from long hours behind the computer screen. Whatever it is, RSI is more tiring and it is not sustainable to carry on as usual in this setting.
When doing in-person interpreting, specialized technicians handle everything related to interpreting equipment. In RSI, you are the technician. You need to have the adequate equipment (fast computer, stable internet connection, headset with microphone, extra power supply and a back-up for all that!) and run tests before every job. We all know that technology can have a life of its own and being faced with technology issues before or during your interpreting assignment only adds to the stress.
In light of the above, work conditions have to be adapted to our new reality. Working two times three hour sessions with a lunch break in between is not sustainable. We have no idea how long the lockdown will last and we must prioritise our health. Shorter work hours, more frequent breaks and a larger interpreting team are a good start to make sure working remotely does not have a negative impact on our performance.
What happens if you experience a power cut in your area? What if your broadband connection breaks down? What if you can’t hear the speaker properly? In short, who is responsible if something goes wrong? Having an addendum to your regular interpreting contract or even a special contract for RSI is very important. It needs to be made clear that if something goes wrong despite you having taken all necessary measures, you are not to be held liable.
So you have educated yourself about every aspect of remote interpreting, invested in training, attended webinars, watched so many videos and equipped a home office. You are ready to offer this service. Then comes the first assignment and you are faced with participants who log into the meeting on their mobile phones while driving and without using earphones. Whatever you have done will not be enough if your clients are not equally prepared. After all, it takes two to tango. You need to have open communication channels with your clients in order to understand their needs and advise them accordingly. Many of your clients may be quite confused by the whole situation and may need guidance as how to salvage some of the meetings they had to cancel or postpone.
What should you say to a potential client who approaches you for a short assignment, requires you to work on your own, and then asks you for your hourly rate? When we perform in-person interpreting, in addition to our daily fee, overtime and recording fee (if any), the client covers our travel, accommodation and per diem. When working in a remote setting, the client does not have to bear any of these costs so why should they save on the interpreter’s fees as well? It is only reasonable that conference interpreters should charge more for their remote services as they have to perform more tasks and take care of many more things over and above the tasks that come with their job as interpreters.
These are challenging times for conference interpreters, but there are also opportunities and RSI is one of them. We need to educate ourselves about remote interpreting in order to be able to make the right decisions and offer sensible advice to our clients. Even after this crisis, I expect RSI to occupy a certain percentage of the market. We are now laying the groundwork for what is yet to come.
Maha El-Metwally is a conference interpreter in the Arabic booth. She works for a wide range of international organizations, including the European Institutions and the United Nations. She is a member of AIIC, CIoL and ATA. She is also a Board member of ITI. Maha is a qualified interpreter trainer. She is passionate about technology in the field of interpreting and offers courses on the subject internationally.