Conference interpreters: a key role for international events

8 Feb 2024 | International, News

As French Sign Language interpreting is on the rise to enable communication between the hearing and hearing impaired, another profession is also playing a major role in making communication possible: the conference interpreter. With ever increasingly connected world, human interactions and exchanges have greatly augmented. So why is a conference interpreter so crucial when parties who don’t speak the same language come together? What qualifications should they have in order to ensure a quality experience?

Specialists in vocal communication, conference interpreters listen to the words presented by a speaker in one language and transmit the message in (almost) real-time in another (their native language).

Services rendered

The work provided requires high-level expertise in order to transmit the ideas expressed by the speaker in real-time and in a fluid, natural manner, all the while ensuring that the interpretation remains faithful to the meaning, tone and style.

They provide 3 types of services:

    • Simultaneous interpreting. Using very specific material (a sound-proof booth, microphone, headphones, etc.) the interpreter vocally relays the speech as it is being presented.
    • Consecutive interpreting. While the speaker is presenting, the interpreter takes notes. They then reformulate and transmit each new point.
    • Whisper interpreting. Placing themselves beside the intended listener, the interpreter quietly transmits the information directly in the target language.


An indispensable service for all international events

Professional conference interpreters take part in multilingual events where the stakes are high: scientific symposiums, debates, multilateral meetings, international conferences and summits, diplomatic meetings, board of directions meetings, important strategic meetings, etc.

They vocalize the presentation, faithfully rendering it understandable to each and every foreign participant. These experts fill a crucial role: they serve as intermediaries between the participants, enabling people with different native languages, cultures and countries to understand each other and interact.

They are critical in enabling communication for international organizations and European institutions (UN, UNESCO, European commission, etc.), NGOs, ministries, embassies, etc.

Benefits of conference interpreters: 3 key aspects of their contribution

Removing linguistic barriers during seminars, meetings, or international conferences is possible thanks to the expertise of a conference interpreter.

Here are some of the principal aspects of their contribution:

In defence of multilingualism

  • Often considered the first line of defence for multilingualism, conference interpreters are there to transmit and transpose the words of a speaker from one language to another almost instantly. They ensure that linguistic differences don’t serve as an obstacle for following and participating in international meetings. These professionals represent an essential thread enabling the accessibility of these multilingual events.

Saving time and optimal communication

These experts have the necessary skillset to ensure simultaneous interpreting. This method enables you to:

  • Optimize the time consecrated to the event. Since the service is carried out almost instantly, there is no need to plan for additional time for the interpreting. Contrary to a translator (who works on written text), conference interpreters are able to faithfully and immediately deliver the words of a speaker in a different language. It’s a crucial role to ensure beneficial exchanges during international events.
  • Guarantee fluid and effective communication between the various stakeholders thanks to the professional interpretation service. Speaker can comfortably express themselves in their native language, they are thus able to clearly communicate a convincer message to their audience. And the audience is able to concentrate on the words, which are carefully translated to afford a greater overall comprehension, for better active participation, all the while avoiding any misunderstandings or ambiguity.

Facilitating intercultural communication

Professional interpreters don’t just translate words! They also facilitate intercultural communications. By rendering these interactions possible, they take an active role in negotiations and decision making, especially in a context where differing cultures are involved.

Specific skills to meet professional challenges

What training is required to be a conference interpreter?

In order to acquire the necessary skills, each candidate must follow a specific educational programme, (a Master’s, or in France a Bac+5) and this is open to candidates with a Bachelor’s degree (Bac+3) who have perfectly mastered French and English.

In France, there are a number of schools with AIIC (Association Internationale des Interpètes de Conference) accreditation that offer highly qualitative training:

  • Master’s of Conference Interpreting from ISIT (Institut Supérieur d’Interprétation et de Traduction) or ESIT (École Supérieure d’Interprètes et de Traducteurs), both of which are located in Paris. These programmes are accredited by the EMCI (European Masters in Conference Interpreting) European network of excellence in training.
  • Master’s of translation and interpreting in the Conference Interpreting programme from the ITIRI (Institut de Traducteurs, d’Interprètes et de Relations Internationales) in Strasbourg.

Students will take part in courses provided by actual practicing conference interpreters for 2 years. What’s more, they can gain real first-hand experience through internships.

Required professional qualities and skills

In order to meet the inherent challenges of this profession, this oral translation expert must:

  • Be able to adapt to all situations thanks to an excellent mastery of the various interpretation techniques: simultaneous interpreting, on-sight translations, consecutive interpreting, etc.
  • Develop a strong ability to memorize information, concentrate, and manage stress in order to carry out complex missions. They must listen, understand, and orally translate in real-time (simultaneous interpreting) or nearly real-time (consecutive interpreting).
  • Possess linguistic and cultural competencies. That means having perfect mastery over the working languages and have a deep understanding of the cultures (references). This is an absolute imperative to ensure the information communicated remains in-line with the original message from a linguistic, contextual, and cultural perspective.
  • Ensure a quality oral presentation thanks to their skill as an orator (modulating their tone as dictated by the speaker, etc.).
  • Enrich their knowledge of general culture to be able to orally translate a range of highly technical subjects: international disputes, fishing laws, etc., even while the interpreting professional should make the effort to do as much research upstream of a project as possible.
  • Apply all current deontological rules (surrounding confidentiality and more) because these linguistic professionals intervene in strategic events.


The impact of technology on conference interpreting

Recent disruptive technological advances have changed conference interpreting.

Today, professional remote interpreting is possible through a dedicated online platform. With this solution, every participant can connect via a PC or smartphone and see the speaker while listening to their presentation in the language the participant chooses.

While current innovations are not able to replace the human expertise of these linguists specialized in vocal communication, they have facilitated the work they provide by making it more accessible (for example, when an interpreter or the foreign audience is unable to physically attend a meeting).

In the context of a more connected global society, conference interpreters play an indispensable role by removing linguistic and cultural barriers. With their high-level skills, they contribute to making effective, inclusive international communication possible, which is a necessity for institutions, organizations, and businesses.