Updated: Jul 5
Planning and hosting a large conference or event can be incredibly complicated, whether it’s in-person, virtual, or a hybrid of the two. One of the many details organizers have to consider is the audience’s language. This is especially important in our new reality of globe-spanning virtual events.
According to a recent survey of more than 200 organizations in the US and UK, 58% of event planners work with multilingual audiences. In some cases, non-native English speakers make up more than 25% of attendees of conferences and other events. While most reported more than 5 different native languages spoken by audience members, about 7% of audiences include speakers of as many as 20 different languages!
Despite all of this, 29% of respondents stated that translation services are rarely offered for events.
The survey found that the three most common reasons why no interpreters or interpreting software are offered are:
● the impression that finding and/or scheduling live interpreters is complicated
● the impression that equipment related to interpreting is too difficult to set up and run
● the thought that if an advertised event is in English, non-English speakers won’t attend.
You may have noticed that all of these are impressions or thoughts, not necessarily reality. For instance, there are a number of translation companies that have a stable of interpreters and experience in connecting them with events, taking the technical and scheduling burden off event organizers.
Even if these blocks to providing interpreting services may not be as formidable as they seem, there’s another issue that might feel overwhelming for event organizers: figuring out which is the best kind of interpreting for multilingual audiences.
The choice essentially comes down to two options: machine interpreters or human interpreters.
Both have advantages and disadvantages.
Machine interpreting, for instance, generally costs less and is easier to set up and certainly easier to schedule (no need to make sure individual people are available!).
But on the other hand, while AI is becoming increasingly accurate at translating certain languages, live interpreting can be especially difficult, since features of speech like filler words, colloquialisms, and figurative language are hard or impossible for machines to understand.
And then there’s the fact that machine translation simply doesn’t work with certain languages. AI can only “learn” a language through a large amount of written material and online users. Many of the world’s languages lack these things. Because of this, while an estimated 7,000 languages are spoken in the world today, only about 100 can be translated by machines.
It’s possible to find a human interpreter who speaks a language that machines can’t currently translate, of course. Human interpreters can also understand the subtleties and nuances of language that machines can’t.
But calling on human translators can be more costly than working with AI, and possibly more complicated to set up if interpreters are working in different geographic locations. They can also be more complicated to schedule -- although, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t know if this is as big an issue as some event organizers think. For instance, like many translation companies, aiaTranslations works with interpreters around the world, meaning that it’s highly likely a remote interpreter would be available at any time.
In the end, human interpreters seem like the best solution for a multi-lingual event, since speeches are almost certain to include linguistic nuances, proper names, and wordplay that machines just wouldn’t be able to process. Human translators are also the only choice if you want interpreting services for languages that aren’t translatable by AI.
But if event organizers can’t afford to hire human translators, or prefer not to, using a machine option is still important. Opting out of interpreting isn’t a choice to make lightly. It could hurt your organization’s image and alienate potential clients or supporters.
In addition to making an event more accessible, having an option for attendees to hear speeches in their preferred language “translates to” your organization respecting and welcoming all people.
Contact Our Writer – Alysa Salzberg