Tips: Interpreters at Your Conference

Tips: Interpreters at Your Conference

If you are organising an international conference, you will more than likely want to make use of the services of interpreters. But how to go about this? 

T'VcN Tolk- en Vertaalcentrum Nederland' can provide you with a bit of practical guidance in deploying interpreters at conferences and events.


Floor language

The working language of the conference, as used by the chair and the conference speakers, is referred to as the 'floor language'. The floor language is also known as the 'active' language, with all other languages in use being referred to as 'passive' languages. Smaller conferences generally will only have one floor language, other languages only being spoken every now and then (during Q&A sessions, for instance). However, at larger, multilingual conferences, there may very well be presentations in multiple languages, resulting in there being multiple floor languages in use. If this is the case, it is important to identify the number of floor languages in advance, as this is of consequence to which interpreters need to be engaged. Having been provided with this information, TVcN will be able to assemble a team of interpreters exactly right for providing as seamless as possible an interpretation service.


Active and passive languages

The languages our interpreters are able to provide services in are divided into A, B and C-class languages. The interpreter's native tongue, a language he has active command of, forms the A-class language. He interprets from his B and C-class languages into the A-class one. B-class languages, too, are languages which the interpreter has active mastery of. This is the interpreter's second native language - should he have been raised bilingually - or the language he has a mastery of at or near the level of that of his native tongue. The interpreter also provides interpreting services into his B-class languages. The C-class languages are languages he only has a passive command of, languages from which he can interpret into his A and B-class languages. Conference interpreters often have full understanding of multiple such C-class languages.


When the interpreters of a team together have mastery of a great many active languages, this allows for services to provided in many more language combinations. Should there be any interpreters present that do not speak one of the floor languages, they will interpret into one of the common floor languages. To provide an example: If a conference speaker will make a presentation in Bengali while most of the interpreters do not understand this language, an interpreter will be engaged to interpret the Bengali into a common language, such as, for example, English. The other interpreters will then interpret from the English into their respective languages.


The right team

Conferences in which a great many languages will be spoken face logistical difficulties due to the number of language combinations required. Should English be the floor language, this provides few problems: most interpreters have active mastery of the language and are able to interpret from and into it. But should the floor language be, say, Spanish, and should interpretation services be provided from the Spanish into Mongolian, Khmer and Farsi, the matter is far more complicated. This should be taken account of when inviting speakers. Always confer with TVcN about the language combinations to be used and for which combinations interpretation services can be provided.


Room layout

We strongly advise that the agency providing the interpretation booths and equipment - which may be the interpretation agency itself - be provided with a plan of the rooms to be used beforehand, so it can map out in advance where the booths and equipment needs to be positioned and where the cables will come to lie. The position of the interpretation booths is of crucial importance to being able to successfully provide interpretation services. The following guidelines should be taken account of to the extent possible:

  • Make sure that the interpreters have direct eye contact with the speakers.
  • The interpreters ought to be able to discreetly leave the booths and the room, without disturbing the speakers.
  • Booths should be positioned next to each other.
  • Ensure there is plenty of space for the technicians next to the booths.

Inform the interpreters

The interpreters are of course eager to do their work as best as they can, but they will need your help to accomplish this. The better they have been informed about what will be going on beforehand, the better they can perform their work. So, reserve plenty of time in your schedule to duly inform the interpreters. Common reference materials include:

  • The daily schedule;
  • The presentations by the speakers;
  • A list of the delegates;
  • A list of the organisations participating;
  • A list of industry-specific acronyms, abbreviations and terminology;
  • As much background information as possible;
  • All available hand-outs;
  • Records or minutes of any previous conferences.

Concluding tips

  • Appoint someone to be responsible for the headphones provided to the guests. This person should be able to quickly explain how they work and possibly provide an illustrated leaflet so as to avoid language-related misunderstandings.
  • Hold one final check with all the interpreters and technicians to ensure all equipment is in proper working order.
  • Go over all issues like the positioning of the booths and the languages to be interpreted into and from one final time with the head of the team of interpreters.
  • Appoint someone to regularly check up with the head of the team to enquire after any issues at hand, or to ensure there is plenty of water available to the interpreters, etc.

Naturally, TVcN is happy to help you assemble the right team of conference interpreters.


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