One, Two, Sound Check: Interpreters meet with SI equipment providers

Conference interpreters and sound engineers want to collaborate, so in Turkey we brought them together to form bonds.

“[Interpreters] don’t have those dead fish eyes anymore.” That’s what a technician told me, a broad smile on his face, when I ran into him at an assignment a couple of months after our event called “One, Two, Sound Check”, a conference bringing together SI equipment providers and conference interpreters. “They’ve started greeting us, and have stopped rapping on the window!” Nothing could have made me happier!

“One, Two, Sound Check” took place in Istanbul on 13 January 2017, co-organized by the Conference Interpreters Association of Turkey (TKTD) (, and AIIC Turkey ( More than 80 participants from various cities in the country attended, including conference interpreters (members and non-members of AIIC and/or TKTD), over 20 SI equipment providers represented by their owners, managers and/or technical staff, representatives of conference organizers and congress centers, and academics.

Keynote speaker Klaus Ziegler, Coordinator of AIIC’s Technical and Health Committee and ISO Group, talked about the two revised ISO booth standards (ISO 2603 and ISO 4043) and new equipment requirements (the then draft ISO 20109). Panel discussions were held on the importance of cooperation and communication between stakeholders, scientific aspects of how sound quality influences the quality of interpretation, and expectations parties have of one another. There were heated discussions on this last topic, but rather than summarize them here I would refer the reader to this article on the same topic in AIIC’s webzine Communicate!.

The surprise highlight of the event was the switch in roles of the two professional groups present – interpreters at the technicians’ table trying to coordinate microphones (with the help of real technicians), and technicians next to an interpreter in the booth trying to parrot speeches (when interpretation was not needed!). Participants said they enjoyed themselves tremendously and also gained a whole new perspective on what the other party was doing.

Although the conference was very much appreciated, the real eye-opener for us were the results of an anonymous survey that TKTD carried out in November/December 2016 with responses from 76 Interpreters and 56 owners/managers/technicians of equipment suppliers. There were two sets of questions, with those aimed at interpreters formulated by interpreters, and those for technicians written with the help of fellow technicians. For questions with multiple answers, the respondents were asked to rate each item on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being ‘completely irrelevant’, and 5 ‘extremely relevant’. When interpreting results, we added up items that scored 4 and 5 to establish a ranking.

Of course, some answers just confirmed what we had been presuming all along, but still the messages of both parties were compelling, and some results made us perceive the situation in a whole new light.

We are all humans after all – but with different priorities

We asked interpreters what they expected most of technicians. The top three answers were “active listening” [during the conference], “standard booth/equipment” and “solution-orientedness”. “Kindness” came fourth – no surprise, we all want to see a friendly face in the morning – but with 62% only.

Technicians, on the other hand, had other priorities. Their top three expectations were “direct reporting of problems” [rather than going to the client first], “leaving a clean booth behind” (quite embarrassing: one respondent commented that he once even found discarded nylon stockings in the booth), and “politeness”.

In a similar vein, the top three complaints of interpreters about technicians were “not listening actively/indifferent”, “incompetent” and “substandard booth/equipment”. This suggests that interpreters can tolerate a substandard booth as long as the technicians can solve the problems.

And those of the technicians were “leaving a messy booth behind”, “impolite” (the technicians who we asked for help also included a related item that said “not greeting/thanking the technician”), and “asking the technician questions that should be asked to the client”.


Both interpreters and technicians want to collaborate.

Message 1
  • Interpreters: I need your help to do my job right!
  • Technicians: Treat me right so I can help you out!

We asked both groups whether it was important for them to know each other from a former assignment. It seems familiarity is an important factor for both: 72% of the interpreters and a telling 91% of technicians said yes.

Message 2
  • Interpreters & Technicians: I feel more secure and at ease when I know you.

Then there were three questions that we addressed exclusively to technicians and their answers caught us by surprise. The first was “Is it important for you whether the interpreter is a TKTD member?” We, very naively, thought that they, too, would see membership as a kind of quality assurance, but less than half of them (47.3%) seemed to agree with us.

Message 3
  • Technicians: I don’t see what’s in it for me when the interpretation is good

Similarly, only 69.1% said they cared about the quality of the interpretation. (We did not even consider asking the interpreters whether it was important for them if the technicians did their job well because we were pretty sure that the answer would be 100% yes.)

Message 4
  • Technicians: I don’t feel part of a “team” with you.

Finally, we asked technicians whether it was important for them that interpreters were knowledgeable about the technical equipment. We were assuming it did not matter much, but almost all (96.4%) said yes. Additional comments revealed that they expected us to know basic things like switching between channels, connecting our own headset or being careful in handling the equipment.

Message 5
  • Technicians: Take good care of the equipment and don’t blame my equipment for your own mistakes!

What we heard – loud and clear

There were more questions and really pages of comments by technicians and interpreters, but overall our main conclusions were that interpreters seem to be more performance- and quality-focused, and tend to underestimate the human aspect (and unfortunately, sometimes the importance of manners), while technicians seem to be more relation-/behavior-focused, and do not think quality (i.e. the quality of interpretation) matters much (and mistake the interpreter’s cry for attention for diva behavior).

The priority of interpreters is to do their job right, whereas that of technicians is to be treated right. Interpreters are well aware that they need technicians to perform to the best of their ability (but are not really good at showing they appreciate sound engineers' efforts), but technicians do not feel that it takes a “team” to stage a high quality performance. It seems much education is needed for both parties…

Time for action!

At the conference, the interpreters’ association promised to inform all members of the results and take necessary actions to improve the situation. In the following six months, we organized two member meetings, one in Ankara and one in Istanbul, with a presentation of the survey and discussion of concrete suggestions. As a result, we have drafted an “in-booth checklist” that consists of items about booth manners as well as reminders vis-à-vis the aforementioned expectations of technicians (greeting and thanking technicians, tidying up before we leave, handling the equipment more carefully, etc.). The checklist has been prepared in consultation with SI equipment providers, both unofficially and officially, and once designed and produced will be sent to them to be placed in the booths.

Seeing that knowing each other better makes a big difference, we have decided to organize more social gatherings (our first occasion will be the publication of the new ISO standards in Turkish). We will repeat the survey once we have introduced the changes and implemented them for some time, and hope to see a significant change in results. At the end of the day, we know very well that we cannot deliver our best without the genuine help and support of our sound engineers.

Bahar Çotur is President of the Conference Interpreters Association of Turkey (TKTD) and a member of AIIC Vega in Turkey.

Thanks go out to Luigi Luccarelli for editing this article.

Recommended citation format:
Bahar COTUR. "One, Two, Sound Check: Interpreters meet with SI equipment providers". September 30, 2017. Accessed October 20, 2017. <>.