Recommendations on RSIThe COVID-19 outbreak has had a major impact on the interpreting market. Closed borders, a ban on all mass gatherings, and social distancing measures in place have resulted in large-scale cancellations of events requiring conference interpreting.
ASKOT, the Czech Association of Conference Interpreters, established a working group on remote simultaneous interpreting to investigate whether RSI might be a viable emergency solution for some of the events that are at risk of being cancelled or postponed. This document outlines some basic information that interpreters may find useful when faced with the current situation.
What are the technical options?
- Interpreting from a hub/studio
Interpreting in standard booths that comply with relevant ISO standards, with the support of an on-site technician. The image and sound from the meeting room (as well as from remote speakers) is transmitted to screens installed in the hub.
- Interpreting in an alternative environment (from home or from an office) via online platforms
The interpreter runs software on their computer to turn it into a virtual mouse-controlled console. Before the event, they need to familiarise themselves with the platform and they may need to allow for remote access to their computer so that a technician can verify and/or adjust their computer settings.
When interpreters and participants do not share the same room, it is essential to meet a number of technical and ergonomic parameters (e.g. ISO/PAS 24019) in order to provide a good quality of sound for the participants and to allow for interpreters to deliver high quality output. This requires a view of conference participants from multiple cameras (a close-up view of the speaker, the chair and the panellists, the audience and projected documents) and smooth synchronised transmission of the image and sound via a reliable high-speed, high-capacity internet connection. This often translates into higher tech support costs when compared to conventional on-site interpreting.
What to be on the look-out for?
Remote interpreting results in added cognitive load for both the interpreters and their audience. By its nature, conference interpreting is a very demanding cognitive activity that requires high levels of concentration. Even the slightest disruption can have a negative impact on the interpreter’s performance. With remote interpreting, this challenge is increased by the need to carefully follow the camera stream and the presentations being projected.
Interpreting in a hub/via online platforms
- A reliable internet connection and the quality of hardware equipment of all conference participants, including their headsets and microphones, as well as strict microphone discipline are paramount for the quality of video and sound transmission.
- In their contracts, interpreters should negotiate a waiver of liability for any damage caused by a failure of technical means of communication, including connection failures.
- The higher cognitive requirements associated with simultaneous remote interpreting and the need for significant investment in technical equipment should be reflected in the interpreters’ fees.
- It is safe to assume that remote interpreting output will be recorded. If this is indeed the case, then interpreters are also entitled to royalties, which should be negotiated with the client directly.
Interpreting via online platforms
- The interpreter’s location should be sufficiently quiet. The interpreter must also take potential sound-related risks into account, including noise from local construction sites, loud traffic, pets, doorbells and other household noises. This applies in two ways: the interpreter needs to ensure that their performance is not disturbed, but they also need to consider noises that might be picked up by their microphones and transmitted to their audience.
- The interpreter needs to have sufficient equipment:
-￫a computer with a high-performance processor and at least 8GB RAM
-￫a fast and stable wired internet connection (wi-fi is not sufficient) that meets the platform operator’s requirements
-￫a high-quality headset with an integrated microphone and USB connector (a desktop microphone is not advisable as it tends to pick up ambient noises, such as your laptop fan)
-￫a second computer or monitor for viewing documents is also recommended
- Before the event, the interpreter must learn how the platform works and how the virtual console is controlled. They will also need to make sure that their computer is set up properly and have these settings checked by a remote technician.
- The interpreter communicates with the technician (and with their colleague/s in the virtual booth if these are located elsewhere) through chat windows. Working in a virtual booth where colleagues are not seated together should only be used as a very last resort when dealing with extreme cases. Conference interpreting is a matter of teamwork. Co-located colleagues are able to assist each other by writing down numbers or difficult terms, by using visual contact for handovers, and by helping each other in unexpected situations. Considering the added cognitive load resulting from remote simultaneous interpreting, colleagues in each booth should be co-located and cooperate even more closely than usual (e.g. when communicating with a remote technician).
- If a technician requires remote access to the interpreter’s computer, the interpreter should refrain from using a computer where they store client data and other sensitive information.
- Having back-up equipment is highly recommended: a spare computer to run the virtual console, a spare headset, a back-up internet connection (a wired connection from a second internet service provider or, as a last resort, a strong enough mobile network) and also a power back-up. It is important to avoid a single-point-of-failure scenario in which one faulty element can prevent the whole system from running (typically an internet or electricity failure).
The International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) has tested several RSI platforms, checking them against various ISO parameters. None of the platforms were found to be 100% compliant with these parameters. E.g., none of them were able to provide sufficient protection against acoustic shock, which can cause temporary or permanent hearing damage. The results of this study can be accessed here: https://aiic.net/page/8831.
It is likely that due to the present situation, remote simultaneous interpreting may become a more frequent mode of interpreting. If you are considering remote simultaneous interpreting as an option, we strongly recommend that you take into account AIIC’s Guidelines for Distance Interpreting https://aiic.net/page/8734, AIIC’s Covid-19 Distance Interpreting Recommendations for Institutions and DI Hubs https://aiic.net/page/8964/ and AIIC’s Best Practices for Interpreters During the Covid-19 Crisis https://aiic.net/page/8956.
This document (PDF) can be accessed here: PDF Recommendations on RSI