Remote Simultaneous Interpreting: Options and Standards

By Cyril Flerov

Even though experiments with Remote Simultaneous Interpretation (RSI) have been taking place since the early 1970s, it is only relatively recently that we have heard more and more about this type of interpretation.


[Remote simultaneous interpreting - featured image]


It may exist in several configurations, namely:

  • Internal cable – interpreters are in the same building but not in the conference room. Professional consoles, booths and equipment are used. Professional quality audio feed and the video feed of the speaker and of the PowerPoint charts are provided. Interpreters have the ability to interact with delegates and ask questions.
  • External cable – interpreters are in a different location than delegates or users of interpretation. This is a more problematic option, because interpreters may have no access to the delegates, video feed may not be provided and sound quality may be substandard. Dedicated audio and video feeds might not always be used.
  • RSI from home – attempts are being made by various commercial parties to develop platforms to be used by simultaneous interpreters from their homes or offices.

While internal cable is certainly possible (though not ideal) and external cable might be possible under very specific and tightly controlled conditions with a possible loss of quality, RSI from home is the most problematic option for a variety of technical and logistical reasons.

It would be a mistake to promote RSI from home as equal to or better than internal or external cable.

Sound Quality

“Interpreters need better sound quality than do delegates”

Source-language sound quality should not be evaluated by interpreters subjectively. For professional simultaneous interpretation, sound quality is defined by ISO Standard 2603 (fixed booths for simultaneous interpretation) and ISO Standard 4043 (mobile booths for simultaneous interpretation). The standards require to “correctly reproduce audio-frequencies between 125 Hz and 12500 Hz.” Sound quality either is or is not ISO compliant.

From home platform designers intend to use Voice over IP (VoIP), landlines and cellular phones with their RSI systems. The quality of VoIP connections varies significantly as can be seen in this example:


VoIP (even the Wide Band Audio option limited to 7,000Hz instead of 12,500 Hz required by ISO) does not provide sufficient sound quality. As a result, higher frequencies such as treble, which are important for speech intelligibility, are lost. The use of landlines and cellular phones results in a loss of lower frequencies as well as in an additional deterioration of sound quality.

[Remote Simultaneous Interpreting -- Figure 1]

The human voice becomes more difficult to understand when using VoIP/Wide Band Audio and landline/cell phones. It becomes muddy and tinny, and loses its dimension. While conference participants may be more tolerant as far as sound quality is concerned, it is worth remembering that they are only listening to the presentation and are not interpreting. Interpretation is a very different cognitive task from listening, and therefore, interpreters require better sound quality than do delegates.

Additionally, VoIP has a number of other complications not related to the poor frequency reproduction. These include excessive gain, packet loss, packet delay, jitter, signal latency, etc.

All of these small, but multiple, issues may start to add up, and if the presenter has poor public speaking skills, RSI’s proverbial camel’s back might just break.

[Remore simultaneous interpreting]

Excessive use of relay, unclear hiring practices, undefined equipment requirements, acoustic shock, legal issues, lack of video, interpreter provided hardware – these are but a few items from a laundry list that can complicate the quality of the interpretation and therefore affect the end user.

Interpreters are effectively being asked to work in substandard conditions with poor sound quality and potentially user-un-friendly interfaces, something that may be justified by statements such as, “for convenience’s sake” or “you cannot stop progress.” However, the reality is such that, as of today, there are no RSI platforms known to this author that would provide an ISO quality experience for the interpreter.

“Clients must be aware that today RSI is still a very experimental technology, not yet ready for commercial application”

While we need to appreciate all attempts to develop Remote Simultaneous Interpretation for whatever the setting may be, both interpreters and their clients must be aware that today it is still a very experimental technology, not yet ready for commercial application. Purchasing such services is at the client’s own risk, and standards of the profession cannot and should not be lowered to accommodate underdeveloped technology.

In the future, we may see more one-time RSI external cable events with large budgets and possibly somewhat improved sound quality. The question as to when ISO compliance will be achieved in RSI remains unanswered. Governments of some countries are already participating in, and in fact piloting RSI projects, with mixed results.

In its current state, RSI poses a significant danger of degrading and dehumanizing our profession. The situation is somewhat similar to that of the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago, when new technology was introduced without considering the impact it would have not only on those producing the goods, but also on those receiving the end product.


This blog entry is based on the author’s presentation at the 2015 ATA Annual Conference. Full downloadable PowerPoint slides can be found at: https://app.box.com/s/n7tjbw4jpgxr9iiepsefqwjmjyypcnuq



[Cyril Flerov picture]

Cyril  Flerov  is  a  professionally  trained  USA  based  Russian  conference  interpreter  (Russian  A, English  B).  He has over 25 years  of  experience and worked freelance at events organized by major US and international clients. A member of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) and of The American Association of Language Specialists (TAALS), he has extensive experience teaching  conference interpretation  both  in  Russia  and  in  the  United  States,  including  at MIIS – Middlebury  Institute  of International  Studies in  Monterey,  California. His speaking engagements and seminars about interpretation include ATA, CHICATA, NCTA, CFI, NASA, STIBC, and others.  www.cyrilflerov.com


Image: Mary Theresa McLean/pixabay
Audio comparison – interpretation from JS Cote on Vimeo

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ata-divisions.org/ID/remote-simultaneous-interpreting/


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  1. Bob Feron

    This is not a new technique or phenomenon. Those of us who work as interpreters with governments and international organizations have been providing high quality remote conference and simultaneous interpreting services for real-time teleconference meetings for many years. I’ve served as a conference interpreter for such remote conferences on many occasions. Since I work between Portuguese and English, the participants who speak Portuguese are typically located in Brazil, Angola or Mozambique. The participants who speak English are typically located in the U.S., Africa or South Asia. In the case of meetings hosted by international organizations, there’s not always an active meeting participant in the U.S., where I’m located. When the meeting host is the World Bank, for example, the interpreters work from an interpreting booth located in Washington DC, adjacent to the audio technicians’ room, but often all the meeting participants are on other continents. In my experience, the audio quality is usually superb, and the closed-circuit TV screen quality is OK, but could be improved. I also do interpreting for a U.S. government agency, for which the English speakers are in the U.S., but the Portuguese speakers are in Brazil. So this methodology is nothing new. In fact, it’s quite routine.

  2. EJCarter

    Remote interpreting. Every time I am asked to do it I repress a shudder. In an ordinary conference setting, while in the booth, I prefer not to work with one ear free (as I’ve sometimes been advised to) because I struggle to hear over my own voice. I don’t know if I have a specific timbre, or a particularly cavernous throat or something, but my own voice resonates in my head so much that I really need the best possible sound quality in order to hear anything but myself. I’ve done telephone interpreting (with some participants present in the room and others joining remotely) and with the poor sound quality and the fact that often speakers who cannot see me will forget that I am there and therefore interrupt each other or talk simultaneously with each other…. I must admit, it hasn’t been my best work. I’ve pretty much given up on remote interpreting entirely, because the fact is that sometimes it can work well, but you just never know what you’re going to get….

    1. Cyril Flerov

      Dear EJ. Re one ear vs two I always recommend my students to use both ears and monitor and control their volume by choosing a correct type of semi-open headset instead of listening with only one ear. You may want to check out my forum on Linkedin called “Teaching Simultaneous Interpretation” where i discuss think topic. You ll need free LinkedIn membership. The link is: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/3919168/3919168-191445099

  3. Candelier bourrier nicole

    Most useful and exhaustive. Thank tou. More of the quality sound information is required for colleagues who are accepting deteriorated sound conditions sometimes.
    As a hyper acousic person myself i am always very attentive with technicians to the perfect quality of sound.. . Half the work is achieved
    Remote interpreting is at a tottering phase and we must educate clients and seek better technologies from home. I keep away for the time being.
    Merci beaucoup

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