Applying Interpreting to Conferences

Applying interpreting to multilingual conferences is actually very easy. All you have to do is put yourself in the hands of the experts.

Speaking seriously now, even after eighteen years in interpreting, I am still and always in awe at the work conference interpreters do from our little passport-control-like booths at the back of the room and with the help of our sound technicians.

See, conference interpreting is only possible thanks to technology.

A modern invention, it came of age during the Nuremberg Trials after World War II and last year celebrated its first century at the service of, well, the world.

Used by international organisations like the United Nations, in medical congresses, trade events, board meetings, and more, this technology, now certified under ISO standards, enables us, interpreters, to render our translation in multiple languages at the same time the speaker is saying the original speech and to a large audience that listens to our translation through earphones.

Given the huge cognitive load of 1) listening, 2) processing and extracting meaning, 3) translating, 4) conveying the message coherently in another language, conference interpreters work in teams of two and, sometimes, even three.

Informally, each team is referred to as a “booth”; thus, event organisers and interpreter managers often speak of ‘the Spanish booth”, “the German booth”, “the French booth”, and so on. Booths/teams are named after the main language interpreters translate into (that is, the interpreters’ mother tongue or A language), even if the actual interpreters in the team also speak and work with other ones.

That is why, in the world of conference interpreting, I am and will always be in the Spanish booth, even if I also speak English and Portuguese.

A lot goes into putting together and running interpreting teams, and good team leaders and interpreting managers are true assets. However, as with all things Multilateral, things for you are quite simple; all you need to do is know the following:


  • Date/s, time/s, and location of the event
  • Proper conference interpreting booths installed and monitored by professional technicians
  • The (complete) programme for the event
  • The name of the speakers and/or participants
  • Any reference materials available
  • The PowerPoint presentations to be used, if any


  • We will arrive at least 30’/40’ before the start time
  • We will have read all reference materials sent to us
  • We will have studied and learned all jargon and vocabulary specific to your company and industry
  • We will keep to the schedule during the day and be back on time from lunch and coffee breaks
  • We will be discreet during “shared” moments, such as lunch time
  • We will be respectful, polite, and professional
  • We will strive to do the best job possible for you

Conference interpreting is a joint effort – the ultimate teamwork in and out of the booth:  between booth partners, among the different booths, between interpreters and technicians and, most importantly, between us (interpreters) and you.

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