INTERPRETER (noun) 1. one who translates orally for parties conversing in different languages

GET THE LINGO STRAIGHT: Translation involves the written word, while interpretation involves the spoken word. You may need translation services for multilingual brochures and agendas, but if you want your non-English-speaking attendees to understand the speakers, you need an interpreter. A “simultaneous interpreter” listens to a presentation through a headset while sitting in a soundproof booth. He or she simultaneously transmits the message in another language through a microphone to participants wearing headsets. Today's systems are often wireless.

While simultaneous interpretation is most common for conferences, there are other kinds. With “consecutive interpretation,” the interpreter listens to a speaker's complete statement and then begins interpreting. When the interpreter is finished, the speaker continues. The speaker and the interpreter alternate throughout the presentation. This system is less costly and cumbersome (no booths), but it is usually only used for short presentations in which two languages are involved.

In a third method, “whispered interpretation,” the interpreter speaks in a low voice to one or two attendees to relate what is being said.


Because of the concentration required for simultaneous interpretation, interpreters work in pairs, alternating every 20 to 30 minutes. The cost of an interpreter ranges from $600 to $900 a day, but can be higher depending on the language and the interpreter's specialized knowledge. These figures don't include the cost of booths and technical equipment.


Ideally, interpreters are in a virtually soundproof cabin on risers at the back of the meeting room with a direct view of the speaker. If the budget is tight, a tabletop booth can work if you have space to leave at least 15 feet between the interpreters and the audience. If the interpreters cannot see the speaker, the booth will need a monitor so that they can see the speaker's body language and any slides or video. Also, remember that if there will be questions from the floor, the interpreter will hear them only if you provide floor microphones.


Well in advance of your event, interpreters need to have background materials that will help them to understand the subject of your conference and the lingo, acronyms, and other special terminology. Provide them with any charts, tables, or maps the speaker will be using, as well as specific names, dates, and numbers that can help them to do their job. A pre-speech meeting between the speaker and the interpreters can be extremely helpful.

Sources: Interpreters Division of the American Translators Association,; Convention Industry Council,; Barinas Translations Consultants Inc.,

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