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Why do I need two simultaneous interpreters for my event?

Image: vecteezy.com

When it comes to pitching interpreting services to new clients, a common question arises: “Why do I need two simultaneous interpreters for my event? Isn’t one enough?”

The short answer is no.

Simultaneous interpreters always work in pairs—sometimes even in teams of three, especially for particularly lengthy meetings. There aren’t really any exceptions to this rule, unless we’re talking about a very short session of about 30 minutes max. While it might be tempting to bypass this basic practice and hire a solo interpreter, the truth is that it’s not in the best interest of the client (or the interpreter). Here’s why:

Simultaneous interpreting isn’t easy

Juggling listening and speaking simultaneously is already demanding. But our role extends beyond that. As interpreters, we actively absorb the source message, analyze its meaning, and then faithfully reproduce it in another language—all while ensuring our delivery remains well-structured and grammatically sound. This intricate process unfolds in real time and is repeated again and again for as long as the speaker has the floor.

Numerous studies emphasize the significant cognitive load associated with this complex task, hence the need to take breaks every 20-30 minutes. I can tell you that the quality of my own output generally starts deteriorating after about half an hour, which is when the fatigue kicks in.

Collaboration is key

Another thing that’s worth mentioning: switching off the mic at regular intervals doesn’t mean you can chill with a book and a cup of coffee while your colleague is doing all the work. The booth partner is there to provide support when needed, whether it’s looking up technical terms or jotting down names and numbers to make their colleague’s life a little easier.

A lesson I learned the hard way…

Around 12 years ago, during my early days as an interpreter, I received an offer from an agency client. They needed simultaneous interpretation services for a conference near London. But there was a catch—the budget was tight, and hiring two interpreters seemed financially unfeasible for the end-customer. Despite this, the client assured me that the conference agenda would be thoughtfully structured, allowing for frequent breaks and rest between sessions.

Eventually I said yes but, as it turned out, I didn’t have the luxury of taking ‘frequent’ breaks. Instead, I found myself interpreting nonstop for two hours straight, with a mere 5-minute breather between presentations. In hindsight, I should have pulled out, but the client was very persuasive, plus at the time I just didn’t know any better.

And how did it go? I somehow managed to soldier through to the end, but truth be told, my performance suffered and the listeners noticed. After the event, I approached the person who had commissioned the service, emphasizing that simultaneous interpreting is typically a team effort. Her response left me flabbergasted: “We understand that, but the booth setup and technician costs were just too high for us. Hiring two interpreters was out of the question!” That’s like saying: “We splurged on fancy cookware, so we’ll just skip hiring a chef!”

But what if the budget is tight?

Consider this: Do you truly need professional simultaneous interpreters for your event?

If your attendees struggle to understand or express themselves in a foreign language, and you aim for seamless communication, taking shortcuts won’t serve them well. Opting for a solo interpreter might leave half the room in the dark, with the poor interpreter gasping for air over the microphone! This will inevitably jeopardise the success of your event and beg the question why you paid for language interpretation in the first place.

Author: Bruno Musarra

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Word of Mouth is a London-based language services consultancy. Our offering includes specialised translation, creative translation for marketing and advertising, and conference interpreting. Our core languages are English, Italian, French and Chinese, but we can easily provide all European languages (and more).

Why are we different? We don’t just outsource to anyone for the sake of meeting a deadline (and inevitably compromising on quality). Instead, we work closely with a carefully selected network of highly experienced professionals who can cover the languages that we don’t.

Need help with a multilingual translation or want us to put together a team of interpreters for your event? Get in touch today for a quote or book an exploratory call.