Tour-guide interpretation systems : the pros and cons

 | Interpretation best practices

While a portable interpretation system, also known as a “bidule” or “infoport”, is no substitute for a fully soundproof booth, there are times when this system can serve a useful purpose.

Organizing guided visits which require the speakers, interpreters and delegates to move from one place to another? Need interpretation for just a small number of delegates, too few to warrant a more sophisticated interpretation set-up? Arranging bilingual meetings in small meeting venues where an interpretation booth for simultaneous interpretation simply won’t fit?

If any of the above apply to you, it may make sense to use a portable system, often referred to in the interpreting field as an ‘Infoport’ or ‘bidule’, though bear in mind that it is always preferable to provide your interpreters with a fully soundproof booth where possible. Read below to find out whether a bidule will meet your needs.

How does a portable system, or ‘Infoport’ / ‘bidule’ work ?

A bidule allows for simultaneous interpretation without the use of an interpretation booth. The interpreters are equipped with a radio transmitter/microphone, and each delegate requiring interpretation is given wireless headphones. The interpreters listen to the speaker directly, usually without headphones, and interpret into a microphone. The delegate can then receive the interpretation via the headphones.

The interpreters need to be as close to the speaker as possible throughout the event, especially when on the move, to make sure they can hear well and are able to interpret what is being said. If the meeting is being held in one room only, it is highly recommended that the speaker use a microphone with a PA system, with headphones for the interpreter.

Weighing up the pros and the cons of using a bidule

Here are some important factors to take into account:

The pros 

  • A bidule is inexpensive and easy to set up and carry around
  • It allows for a great deal of flexibility
  • It takes up very little space
  • Delegates can move from room to room with their interpreters
  • It can be used as an alternative when the number of delegates is too high for whispered interpretation.

The cons

  • Since the interpreters are not in a soundproof booth, their voices can distract other participants
  • The sound conditions may be such that it is impossible for the interpreters to translate the entire message
  • The sound quality for the delegates is significantly lower than when a full simultaneous interpretation setup is used.
  • There is no on-site technician available to resolve technical problems which might arise.
  • This system is limited to interpretation between two languages. Also bear in mind that the same number of interpreters is needed as for simultaneous interpretation with a booth.

When the bidule might be your only option

Despite its inherent disadvantages, there is no denying that the bidule can be a very useful solution for short meetings involving a limited number of delegates and for on-the-move events. Imagine, for example, a visit to a factory or a large facility. Thanks to this portable system, delegates are free to move from one site to another while listening to the original commentary in another language.

In conclusion, a portable interpretation system can play a useful role for specific types of events. However, it should never be considered a viable alternative to a professionally-installed simultaneous interpretation system and a fully soundproof booth.

Contact us to find out more about portable interpretation systems or ‘bidules’ and get advice on reputable suppliers.

Interpreting with a bidule at a Tai Chi demonstration during the IOC World Conference on Sport for All in Lima, Peru.

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