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InterpretAmerica Blog

Barry S. Olsen

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Remote Interpreting Technology Roll Out: The Devil Is in the Details

[fa icon="calendar'] Aug 3, 2017 11:28:41 AM / by Barry S. Olsen posted in Technology, Remote interpreting

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In the May-June edition of the ATA Chronicle I published an article entitled Remote Interpreting: Feeling Our Way into the Future.” (If you haven’t read it yet, just click on the link.) The article highlights the challenges and opportunities that remote interpreting presents for multilingual communication, generally, and for individual interpreters. Just as it has permeated every other aspect of modern society, whether wanted or not, the increased use of technology to deliver interpreting services in new ways is inevitable. 

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Internet Connection Speed for Interpreters: How to Test It and Why It Matters

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 9, 2016 7:02:43 AM / by Barry S. Olsen posted in Technology, Remote interpreting, Internet speed test

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In many parts of the world, Internet access has become almost like electricity. With few exceptions, we expect it to be there and we expect it to work. For interpreters, it doesn’t matter if we are at a conference in a soundproof booth, at a medical clinic or a courthouse, the ability to access online materials while working with all kinds of devices is important. In addition, with the growth of remote interpreting platforms, fast, reliable Internet access has become essential for interpreters working over the Internet. Needless to say, reliable Internet access is essential for translators as well.

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In Memoriam: William "Bill" Graeper (1937-2016)

[fa icon="calendar'] Aug 11, 2016 12:45:55 PM / by Barry S. Olsen posted in interpreting, business of interpreting

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Many of those who have chosen interpreting as a profession see it as a calling as much as a way to make a living. We care about communication and believe deep down that what we do makes the world a better place.

Since our founding in 2009, at InterpretAmerica, we have worked constantly to build bridges between interpreters of different specialties, interpreter associations of different kinds, and the professional and business sides of the language industry. 

Along the way, we have had the opportunity to meet some outstanding people who have made interpreting better. William “Bill” Graeper was one of those people.

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Professional Baseball, Globalization and the Need for Professional Interpreting

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 11, 2016 1:40:20 PM / by Barry S. Olsen posted in interpreting, interpreting employment, Client Education, Interpreter, business, Major League Baseball, language, baseball

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Baseball is an integral part of American cultural identity. So when news broke in January that Major League Baseball would require all 30 teams to provide two full-time Spanish/English interpreters, the news made headlines across the country.

The move by MLB authorities is proof positive that baseball isn’t exclusively America’s pastime anymore and hasn’t been for some time. Many of the best players don’t necessarily speak English. They weren’t hired to. They signed on the dotted line and came to the US from Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and elsewhere because they could pitch, hit or steal bases better than other MLB hopefuls who DO speak English as a first language. With 25 percent of all MLB players hailing from Spanish-speaking countries at the beginning of the 2015 season, this new rule was long overdue.  


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WebRTC and the Rising Tide of Remote Interpretation over the Internet

[fa icon="calendar'] Jan 19, 2016 6:00:00 AM / by Barry S. Olsen posted in Technology, Remote interpreting, WebRTC

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For generations, scientists and innovators have lamented being limited by the technology available during their lifetime. Translators for centuries were subject to limits inherent to quill, ink and parchment—the technology of their time. Then along came the typewriter, followed by the word processor, translation memories, the Internet. Translation continues to evolve with the technologies of the times.

So it goes with interpreting as well. As communication technologies advance, interpreting is being made available in ways that it never could be before. There are many technologies used to deliver interpreting services from a distance today. For this blog I want to focus on one that, while still in its infancy, is having a profound effect on the way interpreting is being provided: WebRTC.

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Choosing a USB Headset for Remote Interpreting

[fa icon="calendar'] Dec 8, 2015 11:08:34 AM / by Barry S. Olsen posted in Technology, Remote interpreting

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Headsets anyone? (Photo by: Barry S. Olsen)


With a growing number of platforms that provide remote interpreting (simultaneous) for a plethora of use cases (e.g. Interprefy,  VoiceBoxer, ZipDX), interpreters now find themselves needing to equip their offices with the right equipment for the job. And since interpreters don’t usually have a sound technician on the payroll (or at least I don’t), knowing a bit about sound and headsets becomes a real asset.

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Interpreter, Know Thyself!

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 30, 2015 12:40:07 PM / by Barry S. Olsen posted in interpreting, translation, Interpreter, International Translation Day

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Today we celebrate International Translation Day. As we do so, many will reference St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators (and by extension, interpreters).

We would like to celebrate this profession we love so much by referencing a different ancient figure, the Greek god Apollo. It turns out that Apollo has some very cogent words of wisdom for modern-day interpreters and translators.

As legend has it, Apollo gave the Oracle at Delphi several condensed pearls of wisdom that became known as the Delphic maxims. The most famous of these, γνῶθι σεαυτόν, was so important that it was actually carved into the façade of Apollo’s temple at Delphi. Its translation into English: “Know thyself."

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Remote Interpreting: How Would You Define It?

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 7, 2014 12:49:04 AM / by Barry S. Olsen

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Few people think of the same thing when they hear or use the term “remote interpreting,” and with good reason. 

I’ve spent much of my time and energy over the last two years speaking about technology’s growing influence on interpreting. As I have conversed with interpreters, educators and clients all over the world, one thing has become painfully apparent: few people think of the same thing when they hear or use the term “remote interpreting,” and with good reason. The term is bandied about to refer to a multitude of different scenarios that are as different from one another as apples and oranges.

So, what to do? First off, the meetings or interactions that make use of remote interpreting should be divided into two broad categories: face-to-face meetings and virtual meetings.

Face-to-Face Meetings

In face-to-face meetings with remote interpreting, the interlocutors (delegates to a conference, a physician and patient, or participants in a courtroom) are all physically in the same place, only the interpreters are remote. These types of interpreted encounters are on the rise in conference, legal and healthcare interpreting. The most notorious example of this kind of remote interpreting is probably the meeting of European heads of state and government at Hampton Court in the UK in 2005. The historic castle had neither the space nor the technology to accommodate the army of interpreters, interpreting booths and equipment needed to provide interpretation into 22 languages simultaneously so a temporary structure was built nearby to house the operation (see photo below). Remote interpreting? Yes, but just a hop, skip and a jump from the meeting room.

Over-the-phone and video remote interpreting operate under the same principle, the interpreter is the only "remote" participant of the meeting, but instead of being in a booth or across the hallway, they may be across town or across the globe from the interlocutors. The technologies employed tend to be less complex and the interactions interpreted are often shorter in duration.

Remote interpreting for face-to-face meetings is one of the main sources of concern for interpreters today, as it removes them from a venue where they were once physically present to do their job. Although I don’t believe this trend will physically remove interpreters from all interpreted interactions, this drive for efficiency will continue.

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Throwing My Hat into the Technology Ring Again with Webflakes.com

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 7, 2014 12:46:54 AM / by Barry S. Olsen

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“Why?” you ask. “Why would a seasoned translator and interpreter get involved in crowdsourcing, which, according to many, is undermining the translation profession?” That’s a fair question. And here’s my answer.

Two years ago, I decided to practice what I had been preaching about technology and the language services industry. I joined forces with a Silicon Valley startup called ZipDX to design and create the first integrated platform for providing remote simultaneous interpretation for teleconferences and webinars. If you attended the 2013 Annual American Translators Association Conference in San Antonio, Texas earlier this month you may have heard one interpreter’s perspective on that technology platform, which offers simultaneous interpretation services to an entirely new market segment. 

Now I’ve thrown my hat into the technology ring again, this time to focus on the polemical yet promising idea of crowdsourced translation. This month I joined the Advisory Board of Webflakes, an innovative startup company I wrote about a few months ago. Here's a link to the official press release, if you are curious.

 “Why?” you ask. “Why would a seasoned translator and interpreter get involved in crowdsourcing, which, according to many, is undermining the translation profession?” That’s a fair question. And here’s my answer:

I’ve spent the last seven years watching technology and its effects on translation and interpreting. I’ve observed how the language professions have reacted to both the major and minor impacts that technology is having on what we translators and interpreters do. And, no doubt, many of you have heard me preach about the once-in-a-generation opportunity we have to influence the future of multilingual communication. But to do so, we have to roll up our sleeves and be willing to get our hands dirty. That is, to get involved in the design and implementation of the new service delivery and business models that are changing how language services are provided and paid for.

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Webflakes.com—Could a Flurry of Crowdsourced Translation Become a Blizzard?

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 7, 2014 12:42:49 AM / by Barry S. Olsen

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I find Webflakes compelling for two reasons. First, it is a harbinger of things to come. Second, Webflakes has taken crowdsourcing and based its entire business model on it, and not only for translation, but for content creation as well.

One of the most powerful aspects of Internet connectivity is the way it facilitates communication. It empowers like-minded individuals to express their ideas, discuss them with others and build communities. Today’s bloggers write about everything from soup to nuts, from French wine to Thai food, and from South American soccer to Russian hockey.

Social media guru Michael Hyatt reports that there are over 164 million blogs out there today. More and more of them with unique and compelling content are in languages other than English. So what’s an English-speaking Japanese manga enthusiast to do? Enter webflakes.com—a new website that hand picks foreign-language blogs about a broad range of lifestyle topics like fashion, wine, travel, design and architecture, just to name a few, and then translates them into English.

Their premise is simple, find the best bloggers in other languages (their current focus is on Spanish, French, Italian and Japanese) and translate their blog posts into English using crowdsourced translation. As Webflakes CEO Nathan Shuchami aptly puts it, “the best experts don’t always write in English.” So their goal is to “liberate content from the boundaries of language.”

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