5 reasons why boothmates should share a physical space

Sharing a physical space with your boothmate has numerous professional and personal advantages over working alone from home.

Covid lockdowns and the rise of the Remote Simultaneous Interpreting (RSI) platform have had an extraordinary effect on the interpreting profession. One of the big changes is that conference interpreters are no longer sharing a physical space with their boothmates. Either we are home alone (what AIIC calls “non co-located”), or, in many international institutions, we work one person per booth.

I’d like to explain why we should all be in a hurry to work in the same space as our boothmate(s) again and how we can make that happen. 

We have no control over Covid restrictions, but let’s hope they will soon come to an end and we will be allowed to share booths again. RSI on the other hand is here to stay, and the practical arrangements are very much under our control. RSI typically involves each interpreter working remotely from one another – but doesn’t have to.

Shared space

RSI and working in a shared space (co-location) are NOT mutually exclusive. Next time you’re due to work “from home” with a colleague who lives across town, think about sharing a workspace. It could be a professional interpreting hub, but it doesn’t have to be. A rented office space or one of your respective homes will work just as well. Office space can be rented by the day, or by the month and shared rental for several colleagues could be minimal… and of course it’s tax deductible.

But, I hear you say,  RSI means working with people from all over the globe so we can’t pop across town and share a physical space. To which I would reply that 1) it’s not a great idea to work with boothmates you don’t know at all, 2) a lot of the interpreters we know do live in the same city as us,
and 3) we are working for a lot of the same clients as pre-Covid, when recruitment was determined by geography, so often enough we ARE working in RSI with interpreters from across town, not on the other side of the globe.

So why should we co-locate? 

1. Teamwork

When you work in the same physical space as someone you can hit the “cough” button, turn to your colleague and say “what was that?”

Interpreters working together can (and should) write down numbers, dates, proper names and terminology for each other. 

A (good!) boothmate will also find not only a document that the speaker is reading from but also the place in that document, and hand to you while you interpret. And boothmates sharing a space can confer before, and during, the meeting about what was said, what is likely to be said, and about terminology. 

Handovers are also a piece of cake when your colleague is sitting next to you!

All of this makes for better interpreting.

2. Terminological consistency

When you share a space with someone you listen to their output by default – you can just hear because they are sitting next to you. And at the same time you are listening to the original on your headphones. This means that you are aware of which terms your boothmate is using for which concepts and you, and they, can align those terms as you go along. 

This makes the combined output of your booth better.

It’s possible to listen to your colleague and the speaker on some RSI platforms but it’s very tiring because both the sound sources are digital (hence less good); and you can’t adjust the balance of each channel (how much of each you hear on which ear).

3. Quality & reputation

Interpreters monitor their own performance of course, but we’ve always known that in some ways we are also working for our boothmate – to impress them… or at least not humiliate ourselves in front of them. This is how professional reputations are built. It’s also one way that, collectively, we maintain quality standards in the profession. So both interpreters and the profession have something to gain from us sharing a space.

4. Becoming a better interpreter

Listening to the speaker and our boothmate at the same time is also how many of us got better at interpreting. We listened to senior interpreters (or just plain better interpreters) work. We listened and we learned. We borrowed their nice turns of phrase and we understood better a meeting, a topic, the world at large, because of how they interpreted. We even asked them to explain stuff to us.

All of this makes for better interpreting.

Now you might say that there are technological solutions that make all of the above possible in RSI. Absolutely. I’ve seen them, tried them as well. But two years into RSI and their use is very patchy. WhatsApp (with or without video chat), Google Docs, Jamboard… there are many ways to write a note for your remote colleague or share a document, etc. But they can’t be much good because interpreters have voted with their feet. We’re not using them. 

(My personal experience is that 1) interpreters have different preferences and different hardware and therefore may not agree on which tool(s) to use; and 2) that those tools all take a bit too long, and a bit too much cognitive effort, to use while interpreting simultaneously. But that discussion will have to be the subject of another article entirely!)

5. Mental health

For many of the reasons outlined above, interpreting is less stressful when you do it in the same space as a colleague – you have professional, terminological and moral support at hand! 

But also, many interpreters are sociable types, if not outright extrovert. We like the buzz of the busy meeting room. We enjoy meeting other interpreters. Working at home alone is a world apart from that and it has slowly been weighing on some of us. Working in a shared space is a breath of fresh air compared to the claustrophobic world of the virtual booth. 

It’s also great to be able to vent. Turning to your colleague to share your frustration at the speed of a speech or to express the sort of reaction to what was said that we are not allowed to do on air are important ways of dealing with the stresses of the job. And they have been sorely missed these last two years. 

For all these reasons I strongly recommend working with your boothmate in a shared space whenever you can, including those RSI assignments that you could do from home, alone.

Images: S. Jarvis; A. Gillies; A. Gillies; Sasha Freemind / Unsplash

Further reading 

Chmiel, A., Boothmates forever? — On teamwork in a simultaneous interpreting booth
Gillies, A., Notetaking in Simultaneous Interpreting
ISO 23155 Conference Interpreting
Setton, R. & Dawrant A., Conference Interpreting, 9.3.1 pp. 342-344

About author View all posts Author website

Andrew Gillies

Andy Gillies is a conference interpreter and interpreter trainer based in Paris. He works from French, German and Polish into English at the European Parliament, the European Patent Office and the European Space Agency, amongst other places. He’s written extensively on interpreter training and has published other occasional musings about the profession for industry outlets.

A part-time nerd, Andy has always been interested in how interpreters can leverage tech to their advantage - be it glossary software; tablets for consecutive; Learning Management Systems for training; or more recently… RSI.

And failing that he's also written about how not to advertise being a luddite.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Dear Andy,

    Thank you very much for this excellent article. I will use it if I may in discussions with colleagues.
    However I still find it difficult to „sell“ the need for co-location to our customers. I‘m afraid they are not likely to really see why they should pay for it and most colleagues will not go as far as to assume the difference in cost.

    Kind regards,

    • hi Ines, thanks. I’m glad you liked the article.
      You’re right of course, but then selling anything to customers is difficult, isn’t it? There are solutions I think, but which vary a lot depending on your situation. Some people can simply co-locate at home. I can’t! Renting an office space together with colleagues and splitting the cost is one option… it’s tax deductible! Or setting up a business renting an office space TO colleagues (and yourself).
      My fear is that all these little things that we have trouble selling to customers … like sound quality, teamwork, working hours, the need for breaks, teams of three per booth not two… are slowly eroding the service that we can actually provide. And one day we’ll find ourselves selling a product that isn’t good enough. And then we’re stuffed!
      all the best from Paris

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