How many interpreters do you use in a class?
Thread poster: fsa

Local time: 22:57
English to Indonesian
+ ...
Jan 19, 2006

I would like to know what you think is the optimum number of interpreters to use in a training classroom. In all cases the interpreter would be translating the instructor's teaching for the participants and interpreting questions the participants have for the instructor.

What in your opinion affects the number of interpreters required for any training class? Some ideas I have heard are:
* Number of participants
* Number of teachers
* Number of hours in a workday (note: this is usually eight hours)
* Number and amount of small-group exercises involved in the training
* Whether the interpreting is "simultaneous" or "consecutive"

My end question is this: what formula do you use to decide how many interpreters are required for any one training event? You help will help settle a discussion among several interpreters and several clients.


Balttext  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:57
English to Latvian
+ ...
Number of interpreters Jan 19, 2006

From what you say, I would go with 2 interpreters per class as the optimal minimum setting.

If there are more than 2 separate working groups formed simultaneously in a single classroom, there should be 1 interpreter per each such group, if interpreting is required during group work.

Well, there could be a lot of other scenarious, but it seems you got the key parameters right.




Local time: 22:57
English to Indonesian
+ ...
Re: Number of interpreters Jan 19, 2006

Thank you for your reply. I kind of knew the parameters I listed were valid ones. However, my problem is, for example, exactly *how* do you figure when the number of participants makes more than one interpreter needed? Similarly, what makes simultaneous interpreting so much more tiring than consecutive interpreting?

The reason I am trying to "quantify" these parameters is so that, when a client requests an interpreter, I can logically explain to the client why two interpreters might be needed (and would, therefore, cost twice as much as one!). As you can imagine, clients would rather make due with just one interpreter. However, if I send only one interpreter and s/he complains of being overworked, I must be able to explain this to the client. Preferably before any trouble starts.

This afternoon I had a long (somewhat heated) discussion with an interpreter. He said two interpreters were needed for a future job similar to the one he was working on now, by himself. I logically asked, "why?". He said (as one reason) "because the future project would have more participants".

I argued (for the sake of some logic, only) that if an interpreter is interpreting for 10 people or 30 people it should be the same. He replied that with more students more questions are asked. I replied that if there is only one interpreter the students just have to wait to ask their questions.

He also said that with two teachers (team teaching) it is harder to interpret. Again, I said only one teacher can talk at one time so, theoretically, it's the same with one teacher or two. Of course I *do* realize that having two teachers means that both stay "fresher", longer. This takes a toll on the interpreter. However, I wanted the interpreter to qualify *and quantify!* his reason for saying two interpreters would be needed in the future project. So far, he hasn't done that.

What I am trying to do is figure out the answer before the clients ask the question . Any more ideas I can use in logically dealing with them?


Eva Villarreal Gutiérrez  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:57
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Simultaneous interpretation preferred if it is an 8-hrs course Jan 19, 2006

I would suggest the use of two interpreters (simultaneous), or otherwise the course time would last too long and be tedious for the participants. Another benefit of this arrangement would be that, for the Q&A sessions, you can provide separate transmission channels for the interpreters, thereby obtaining a more expedite interaction between the trainer and the trainees.

Good luck.


Magda Dziadosz  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:57
Member (2004)
English to Polish
+ ...
My take on this one Jan 19, 2006

I'm speaking here as an interpreter who did a lot of training both consecutive and simultaneous, single-handedly and together with the second interpreter.

First thing, if you hire only one interpreter, it will be a consecutive interpreting. In that case you will need to have 15-20 minutes breaks at least every hour or hour and half and also, you need to allow that the time of delivering the course will be twice as long. That means that if the course is designed for two days, you will need 4 days to deliver it. The number of participants or trainers doesn't really matter, whether there will be 1 trainer and 1 participant or 2 trainers and 100 participants, you still need to have breaks, allow for interpreter to get tired in the second half of the day and all this time it takes for interpreter to interpret when the trainer just sits idle.

If you arrange for simultaneous interpreting - the whole thing is different. The whole course takes shorter - as trainers don't have to wait for interpretation, participants can ask questions in real time and interact with the trainers, you don't need to break for interpreters, since they will take breaks every half an hour or so, in other words, you will pay for two people, but your course will take only half of the time, plus the participants will receive better quality service.

My 2c,

[Edited at 2006-01-19 20:22]


teju  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:57
English to Spanish
+ ...
My two cents Jan 19, 2006

This is my opinion based on my years of experience as an interpreter at conferences and in court. I'll answer your questions one by one.

First of all, I would like to clarify that the only sane way to interpret while someone is teaching a class is doing simultaneous interpretation with wireless equipment. I've never heard of a class interpreted in the consecutive mode (other than maybe a small short meeting at a church or a non-profit organization). It's distracting and it doubles the time it would normally take. You are also boring the people who don't need an interpreter.

Consecutive interpretation is much more tiring than simultaneous because you are relying on your memory much more. It requires a lot more concentration.

The number of participants does not make a difference to the interpreter. If there are more people in a class, and more questions will be asked, that only means that the assignment will take longer. When you interpret for one or for one hundred, there's no difference, the effort is the same. The same can be said about whether there's one teacher involved, or several. There's only one person speaking at a time, it makes no diffence to us.

It's not the number of participants that determine if you need more than one interpreter, but rather the number of hours that the interpreter will be needed. There are experts who claim that interpreters should take a break after 45 minutes of interpretation, while others say that two hours is the maximum time that an interpreter should work without taking a break. There is no set rule about how many hours an interpreter can continue working without a break. Assignments are not supposed to be a test of our endurance. And remember, the fact that an interpreter can work for 8 hours without a break, that doesn't mean that the interpreter is working at 100% capacity. I'd be willing to bet that there were errors and omissions.

Most of us just use common sense. If the assignment is half a day or shorter, usually one interpreter is enough. I would never schedule only one interpreter for a full day's work, it's too much. What happens then is that the quality of our work begins to decline.

A colleague with many years of experience who I admire a lot, told me something that happened to her while she was interpreting during a long trial. The trial had gone on and on all day, it was after five, and the judge wanted to continue. My friend, exahausted and perplexed at the judge's insistence to keep going, proceeded to inform the judge in a monotone voice:

"Your honor, the interpreter would like the record to show that after many hours of work, she is no longer able to guarantee the accuracy of her interpretation". That took care of things. Of course, the judge decided to continue the trial the next day. That was incredibly clever of her. "Proceed at your own risk, because I'm no longer responsible for what I say, you've been warned".

Team interpreting is a must if the assignment takes more than three or four hours. It's in the client's best interest that we do a good job. Imagine that in order to coordinate a seminar, you have to pay your instructor, promote it, rent the location, prepare the materials, etc. There's a lot of time, effort and money that goes into it. Imagine that because you want to save a few bucks from the whole budget, you hire only one interpreter, and what people hear is not really what was said because the interpreter was exhausted. You've then spent all that money and the end result is very poor and unprofessional. We are not machines. In an ideal situation you would have two interpreters for an assignment that would take 8 hours, and they would take breaks every hour or so, as they see fit.

Hope this was helpful.


Kevin Kelly  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:57
Member (2005)
Russian to English
+ ...
Expecting a single interpreter to work an 8-hour day... Jan 19, 2006

...without a partner and with few or no breaks is interpreter abuse. Period. The fact that some interpreters are willing to accept such conditions does not change this fact.

As a minimum, an interpreter working alone should have a 10-15 minute break every hour. Anything else virtually guarantees impaired performance. Controlled studies have shown that after about 30-40 minutes of uninterrupted interpreting, two things tend to happen: accuracy decreases measurably, and the interpreter fails to perceive the decline in performance. This occurs for both simultaneous and consecutive modes; they are equally taxing on the interpreter, but for different reasons.

In the situation under discussion the only viable approach is to have two well-qualified interpreters working in the simultaneous mode and alternating every 30-45 minutes. This keeps the overall time required to a minimum and ensures maximum efficiency and accuracy. Any client unwilling to accept this reality is willing to sacrifice quality for (imagined) expediency.

The number of teachers/students is irrelevant, as only one person can speak at a time. The only issue for the intepreter is how long she will be expected to work without a break.

These opinions may seem rigid to some, but I have too frequently seen the disasters that result from making unrealistic demands on interpreters. And who suffers even more than the interpreter? The students, of course.


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