No paper, no travel – can we get any greener these days?

No more traveling, paper coffee cups and the like … instead it’s videoconference interpreting, paperless office, and paperless booth (or no booth at all, for that matter)  … so could we be any more eco-friendly at all? We could indeed – after all, we are generating tons of digital waste in our “new normal” everyday life. Huge amounts of data is stored in data centres and being sent back and forth from “the cloud” to our personal devices every second, all of which requires computing power and drives energy consumption. Just writing and sending an email releases ten grams of CO2 – this is one of the things I learnt from Siegfried Behrendt, head of the “Resources, Economics & Resilience” department at the Institute for Future Studies and Technology Assessment in Berlin, in this article by Thomas Röbke (link to the German version below). It is a really interesting read about how to reduce our computer- or cloud-related carbon footprint.

Here are some tips I found relevant for conference interpreters (and ordinary human beings):

  • Use climate-neutral email providers, search engines (like Ecosia or Gexsi), streaming platforms (Betterstream), and online shops.
  • When streaming videos, choose standard definition (SD) instead of high definition (HD) or ultra-high definition (UHD).
  • Switch of your camera in videoconferences if there is no need for you to be seen (which, on the other hand, makes meetings less communicative). Consider making phone calls instead of zooming from time to time. Consider using a chat instead of a parallel video connection to stay in touch with your remote boothmate.
  • Avoid sending unnecessary emails and saving them forever on your provider’s server. Empty your sent folder regularly. For example, when organising a large team of interpreters, avoid sending all documents in all languages to the whole team.
  • Don’t send pictures if you can send texts instead (e.g. a link instead of a screenshot of a webpage). Delete pictures you don’t need (Do you really need five versions of the same motive?).
  • Choose a cable or Wifi over a mobile data connection, which is the most energy-intensive option.
  • Don’t duplicate all your data by saving it permanently on your hard drive and in the cloud. However, this makes observing the backup rule of three more difficult. Alternatively, you can start by using external hard drives or USB sticks to backup data you don’t normally need access to (more data on your hard drive requires more computing power).

There are certainly many more things we can do to become greener digital conference interpreters, or citizens. Just drop me a line or leave a comment to share your thoughts!

Further reading on how to be a green conference interpreter:

Grüne Dolmetscherin – Interview mit Sarah King von Caterina Saccani

Make IT Green – Cloud Computing and its Contribution to Climate Change by Greenpeace

Digitaler Abfall lässt sich vermeiden –

About the author

Anja Rütten is a freelance conference interpreter for German (A), Spanish (B), English (C), and French (C) based in Düsseldorf, Germany. She has specialised in knowledge management since the mid-1990s.

New normal conferences – virtual or in person?

One year into the pandemic, I thought it might be time to think about what our new normal work environment as conference interpreters will look like. Will new normal meetings and conferences return to the “real world”, or will most of them remain virtual?

I very much hope that our new reality brings the best of both worlds together and we can help conference hosts to make wise decisions as to when to meet in person or online. After many, many, many discussions I held and heard in the past year, I have tried to draw up an overview of the pros and cons of organising conferences with interpretation on-site or virtually, using interpreting hubs, or having interpreters work from their own offices. I hope you find it useful!

Did I miss anything? I will be happy to include further aspects, just drop me a line 🙂

On-site Full remote/virtual Hub
Participants and interpreters meet in person at a physical conference/meeting venue Participants and interpreters all work from their own offices relying on their personal equipment and internet connections Meeting can take place physically or virtually, interpreters work from “hubs”, i.e. in booths from a single location, RSI software permanently installed, professional technical support, secure and redundant internet connection
Host’s needs
Confidentiality Full control over attendance Good for open formats with no confidentiality issues Protected server structures and connections – sensitive information is protected
Reliability No connection issues Risk of technical failure is accepted; participants use “standard” equipment/connections too Reliable, redundant connection for events where software/hardware/connection failures would be problematic or costly
Time More time-consuming due to travel time Good for short notice meetings, replacement straightforward (but sound checks etc. need to be factored in) Time-saving if hub is located close to interpreters’ offices
Logistics More logistics required (travel, set-up of sound/interpreting system) Short set-up time, flexible, no travel Time and cost-saving if interpreters are closer to hub than to meeting venue
Technical equipment Professional, state-of-the-art equipment and technical support Reliance on interpreters’ own equipment and expertise in using it Professional, state-of-the-art interpreting equipment and technical support
Software No RSI (Remote Simultaneous Interpreting) software required RSI software to be booked/managed by organiser (or by a designated interpreter) Professional RSI (Remote Simultaneous Interpreting) software support/hosting
Collaboration and personal contact Personal contact, coffee break chats, lively exchanges, spontaneous encounters Less personal contact, screen time more tiring – “Zoom fatigue” (recommended for shorter meetings) Personal contact possible if participants meet in person and interpreters work from hubs (but no direct contact with interpreters)
interpreters’ needs
Sound (transmission) quality Excellent transmission quality (frequency band, latency, lip synchronicity) allowing for trouble-free interpretation Bad sound may affect quality and hearing, USB microphones required for participants! Bad sound may affect quality and hearing, USB microphones required for participants!
Work environment On-site amenities: professional equipment, catering etc.  Comfortable “private” environment Amenities of professionally-equipped booth
Cognitive load Cognitive load OK for full-day meetings Cognitive load significantly higher, OK for 3-4 hours (or larger teams/work in shifts required) Cognitive load significantly higher, OK for 3-4 hours (or larger teams/work in shifts required)
Technical equipment Provided by organiser Interpreter provides headset, ethernet cable, high-speed internet, back-up internet, second device, bigger screen etc. Provided by the hub
Software No RSI (Remote Simultaneous Interpreting) software required RSI (Remote Simultaneous Interpreting) software to be booked/managed by organiser (or by a designated interpreter) Professional RSI (Remote Simultaneous Interpreting) support
Collaboration and personal contact Personal contact, teamwork, smooth handovers, mutual support (terminology, numbers, document management) Teamwork, e.g. handovers and mutual support (terminology, numbers, document management) via chat or additional video connection Teamwork as on-site: smooth handovers, mutual support (terminology, numbers, document management)

About the author

Anja Rütten is a freelance conference interpreter for German (A), Spanish (B), English (C), and French (C) based in Düsseldorf, Germany. She has specialised in knowledge management since the mid-1990s.

How to be boothmates without sharing a booth – My impressions from the #Innov1nt Summit 2021

Just in case you missed out on last week’s Innovation In Interpreting Summit by @adrechsel and @Goldsmith_Josh, aka Techforword, here comes my short and personal recap.

The good news is: If you want to watch all the panels and loads of useful video contributions around how technology can support you in the booth, setting up your own interpreting studio, sim-consec, digital notetaking, remote simultaneous interpreting, remote teaching any many more, it’s not too late! You can still buy the power pack (including access to all videos and lots of bonus material) until midnight on 3 March 2021 here.

This is my video contribution on How to be boothmates without sharing a booth. (which is in German with English subtitles by my dear colleague Leonie Wagener). It is about digitalising – instead of just digitising – collaboration between interpreters.

Most of what’s in this video has also been – at least briefly – mentioned in our collaborative Unfinished Handbook For Remote Simultaneous Interpreters. If you feel there is something missing, please drop me a line!

I also had the honour to moderate a panel on New Frontiers in Interpreting Technology. My four wonderful panellists were Bart Defrancq, Bianca Prandi, Jorn Rijckaert, and Oliver Pouliot. There was interpretation from spoken English into International Sign Language and vice versa provided by Helsa Borinstein and Romy O’Callaghan, and we even had live captions in English by Norma MacHaye. Even without the inspiring discussion, I could have just watched the sign language interpreting and live captioning for ages. But then the discussion as such wasn’t too bad either 🙂

Looking back on the last 25 years, it seems to me like around every five years some innovative technology comes about and changes our professional lives in a way for us to ask “how could we ever …?”

1995 – … write translations on a typewriter?
2000 – … do translations without Google/electronic dictionaries/translation memories?
2005 – … travel and run a business with no mobile internet/ phone?
2010 – … live without linguee?
2015 – … survive without your laptop/tablet in the booth?
2020 – … prepare technical conferences on your own? Live without Zoom?

So I asked my panellist colleagues what they thought the next big thing would be in 2025. For Bart, and also for Bianca, it is definitely ASR (Automatic Speech Recognition) that is going to help create a new kind of artificial boothmate, displaying difficult elements like numbers, acronyms, and named entities in real time. Bianca also thinks that the majority of interpreter colleagues will finally embrace computers as a valuable support in the booth. Oliver made me a bit envious when he said that as a sign language interpreter, for a very long time he just brought his physical self to the booth, with no technical support whatsoever (not even pen and paper I suppose). He and Jorn mentioned sign language avatars as a new technology in sign language interpreting. Jorn also explained how ASR could be a good way for deaf sign language interpreters to be able to interpret from spoken language into sign language with automatic live captions being their intermediate language.

We then discussed skills. Are there any skills, like knowing how to read a map or remembering phone numbers for our kids, that will become obsolete for conference interpreters? Won’t we memorise key terminology before each conference in the future?

There was general agreement that interpreters shouldn’t become “lazy” and rely on a virtual boothmate to spit out any terminology needed in real-time. We should rather develop strategies as to best use CAI tools in the booth and in preparation, as Bianca put it. So predicting a “virtual boothmate’s” errors might be a decisive skill in the future. After all, the strengths and weaknesses of humans and machines are quite different and should be used so that they complement each other, as Bart explained. Jorn gave us a very interesting account of how sign language interpreters due to COVID-19 started to do their own recordings and video editing at home instead of relying on a cameraman.

My final question was twofold: What do you wish had never been invented (like built-in laptop microphones), and which piece of hardware (e.g. a rollable 34-inch screen which I can bring to the booth) or software (for me: fully functional abstracting/automatic mind-mapping) is top on your wishlist?

Oliver explained how video auto-focus was a real nightmare for sign language interpreters, something I had never thought about before. It tends to never get the focus right, what with sign language interpreters constantly moving and gesturing. Just like Jorn, he saw perfect ASR as a real opportunity in sign language interpreting. Bart referred to the downsides of data sharing in the remote simultaneous interpreting industry. He saw speaker control as a promising feature of the future so that instead of waving at the speaker to slow down, the system will simply slow down the speech electronically as soon as certain threshold values are reached – very promising indeed! Bianca’s wishes were the nicest ones: computers serving as a “second brain” in the booth, and – most importantly – being able to see our boothmates on RSI platforms. I couldn’t have thought of any better concluding remarks!

About the author

Anja Rütten is a freelance conference interpreter for German (A), Spanish (B), English (C), and French (C) based in Düsseldorf, Germany. She has specialised in knowledge management since the mid-1990s.


The Unfinished Handbook for Remote Simultaneous Interpreters

Together with Angelika Eberhardt and Peter Sand, I have compiled tips and tricks around remote simultaneous interpreting (be it from a hub or from home) that we have been collecting ourselves or that colleagues have shared with us. It is meant as an informal collection of personal experiences that work for some while others may find them completely pointless. The purpose of this document is not to discuss the pros and cons of remote vs. on-site interpreting, or recommend either of them.

This is a work-in-progress document that we will try to constantly update – so feel free to share your best practices, workarounds, and tips in the comments or via email! We will try to keep track of the credits as best we can.

For a fullscreen view, click here.