The importance of standardized booths for event interpreting success

 | Interpretation best practices, Research findings

Many factors come together to ensure high-quality interpreting for an event. One that immediately jumps to mind is the professionalism and competence of the interpreters. Although this is clearly an essential component, it tends to overshadow the decisive effect of external factors (poor lighting, bad sound quality, lack of a direct view of the speakers) on the interpreting process, which in itself is complex and demanding. Event organizers and venues have a part to play in creating optimal working conditions by respecting recognized standards for interpretation booths.

Interpreting booths in a conference roomIn a workload study carried out by AIIC in 2003, 55% of surveyed interpreters stated that physical conditions in booths represented the main stress factor during an event. Booths that don’t comply with ISO standards (ISO 4043 and ISO 2603) can results in stressful, unpleasant and ultimately unproductive work environments:

  • CO2 levels can reach unacceptable levels after 90 minutes
  • Rising temperatures become an issue after 3 hours
  • Air flow is insufficient in 87% of booths
  • Fresh air supplies are often non-existent
  • Lighting can be inadequate
  • Booth dimensions do not always comply with standards
  • Poor visibility of the speaker and/or screen

AIIC has been working for several decades with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to draft and update standards for booths that set guidelines on size (fixed booths, for example, must measure at least 2.5 metres in width by 2.3 in height by 2.4 in depth, as they will constitute the work space for two people for 6-7 hours a day); accessibility and visibility (an unobstructed view of the hall and the screen); windows (anti-glare); sound proofing; cables (built-in); air conditioning and lighting (separate to those of the conference hall); working surface dimensions (large enough to take notes and manage documents); consoles, and even chairs.

A conference with interpreting booths in the background

Although progress is being made, most fixed booths still do not comply with these ISO standards. This is partly due to ignorance of the ISO standards and a lack of understanding of the importance of ISO-compliant booths on the quality of interpretation. Extensive outreach work needs to be done with architecture schools and architects to raise awareness and foment the systematic incorporation of ISO 2603 during the design stage of conference venues. This would spare the costly, but necessary, process of bringing booths into compliance at a later date while ensuring better working conditions for interpreters.

Interpreters are critical to the success of international conferences and events. It makes perfect sense to enable them to perform their best by providing the right working conditions and environment where they can do their job correctly. Upgrading interpretation booths can be expensive, but it is certainly less costly than doing nothing.


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Danielle GREE
Member of Calliope in Spain