Hearing Loss and Acoustic Shock

A Silent Threat for Interpreters

Publication researched and written by Sarah Hickey.

Interpreters are taught to look after their voice. Unlike speakers, who take natural turns, interpreters have to interpret for everyone, non-stop, for sometimes long periods of time. The fact that this can put a strain on one’s voice is well-known in the interpreting community. Interpreters understand the real threat of the “no voice, no job” causality. To prevent such an extreme scenario, some interpreter programs even offer voice coaching to instill best practices for maintaining one’s voice right from the start. 

But what about interpreters’ hearing?

Hearing loss: an occupation hazard

Whether it’s during traditional simultaneous interpreting at conferences or during a remote interpreting assignment, interpreters often work with headsets. Prolonged use of earbuds and headsets can, in general, cause hearing loss. This was confirmed by a number of studies, including a large study from the American Medical Association in 2011. 

Adding to the problem is that during simultaneous interpreting, interpreters only cover one ear so they can hear the speaker but also monitor their own output. Experts in the field of audiology know that the imbalance created by just covering one ear can be even more damaging than if both ears were covered. The second earpiece that just sits behind the ear, in this scenario, presents another risk. When sound is received behind the ear, the vibrations travel through the bones of the skull and cause the inner ear to vibrate more than it should. While it might be okay to receive sound this way at low volume, it is harder to quantify which levels are safe because our hearing is based on the energy of sound in the medium of air and bone-conducting sound is received through the medium of bone, for which no safe listening limits exist yet. Over time, both aspects add up, and can increase the risk of hearing loss.

This has been a preview. The full report can be accessed online by Nimdzi Partners.

The full publication contains information on the real consequences of hearing loss and acoustic shock on the interpreters' jobs as well as the results of a survey Nimdzi conducted among a panel of interpreters to verify the risks of their occupation. If you are not a Nimdzi Partner, contact us.


This publication was researched and written by Nimdzi's Chief Researcher, Sarah Hickey. If you want to learn more on the topic of hearing loss and acoustic shock for interpreters or on interpreting in general, please reach out to Sarah at [email protected].

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