The European Parliament’s responds to remote interpreting challenges

The world of interpreting has changed greatly throughout 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Drastic changes to our agenda have accelerated the development of technologies by two to three years and turned upside down our way of life and working routines, writes Natalia Fedorenkova, a Russian-English interpreter.

The impact has not been confined to individual interpreters, so the EUATC asked Natalia to talk to Tom Jayes, Acting Head of Strategy and Innovation, DG LINC (Directorate-General for Logistics and Interpretation for Conferences) in the European Parliament, to learn how that institution has adapted to the ‘new normal’.

Natalia: What is your take on how the pandemic has impacted the work of the European Parliament and how fast did it manage to adjust to the new conditions, including working under lockdowns?

Tom: When the Covid-19 crisis hit in March last year, overnight we found ourselves locked in our homes, forced to adjust to an online existence. Obviously, this was tough for everyone. The saving grace was that we had, by that time, already started exploring certain technical services involving remote participation.

In less than two weeks we succeeded in rolling out a remote participation tool. In fact, even before that, in the first week after the lockdown, we held several urgent high-level emergency meetings. The European Parliament had to continue its work. After all, it was even more crucial for all European institutions to be able to do so in the emergency conditions and contribute to adopting necessary response measures.

It wasn’t easy – especially in the beginning: the speakers – session participants were not used to working online either and, often, did not even have any headsets. The sound quality was not up to the usual level and this caused a great deal of frustration on the part of interpreters.

Natalia: What software did you choose in the end for holding remote meetings and interpretation?

Tom: Interactio was chosen for remote participation at the beginning. We had to balance two aspects: it had to be the best user-friendly tool from the interpreters’ perspective. The interface had to produce good sound quality and, at the same time ,be appropriate for participants of the meetings.

We had to sit down together with the Interactio team to introduce nececessary changes to the platform – particularly improving the sound quality and the interface. We set up a Technical working group for this purpose. For remote interpreting, we considered a broader number of platforms, and intend to remain flexible taking into account the balance mentioned. When we made our initial assessment of whether remote Simultaneous Interpreting (RSI) was a possibility for the European Parliament, we looked at Kudo, Interprefy, Qua Qua and Interactio.

The purpose of that assessment was to see how the European Parliament could work in RSI mode and how it would have to be organised. Later on, when we decided to do some live tests with RSI, we opted to look more closely at the possibilities of Interactio and QuaQua, as they were the ones which seemed to match best the features we were after.

Natalia: What is your vision for the future? When Covid-19 finally goes away and Parliament buildings open their doors, will all the meetings go back to the face-to-face mode? What about the interpretation – will the interpreters rush back to the booths or is RSI here with us to stay for the long run?

Tom: The physical presence of interpreters in booths is a preferred option for the technical team and interpretation service. It is easier for us to ensure top quality and best technical stability this way. As far as I know, the interpreters themselves – and there are about 1,500 interpreters who we work with regularly – would mostly like to return to familiar environment too.

However, there are, I think, three groups here: a reluctant group that has not accepted RSI in any form even till this day; a middle group that adjusted well, but prefers onsite interpreting and RSI enthusiasts that are working from home and loving it. However, we are fully aware that in the last year there has been an irreversible paradigm shift in interpreting. Institutions and government have different realities, and are usually a little behind innovations on the market. For now, we are looking at RSI as a solution to a crisis, not only the current Covid-19 crisis, but others that may come in future. We aren’t addressing RSI as a permanent change to the way we will work routinely in the future. The go-to interpretation mode for us is still onsite interpreting. Though, I think, remote participation in sessions of Parliament will continue to some extent. I think that we will see more hybrid solutions for meetings in the next year.

As for remote interpreting, we provide interpretation into 24 languages and RSI technologies are still a complex way of delivering this service with the required quality. This may change in future: it is an ongoing process, as technologies are evolving continuously. However, RSI may open up new possibilities. For instance, holding more meeting simultaneously and with more languages.

Natalia: Thank you for these insights, Tom, I think they will be of great interest to the interpreter’s community. Thank you for your time and good luck with your endeavours!