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Remote Simultaneous Interpreting: Which Platform Is Best For Me?

Article co-written by Sarah Hickey and Rosemary Hynes.

Remote interpreting solutions have been both in development and in use for a long time now. However, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, uptake was slow. The onset of the pandemic changed this drastically, and, ever since, it seems that the growth, innovation, and investment in this field has been unstoppable. Once considered an afterthought or sub-par alternative to onsite services, remote interpreting has stepped out of the shadows to become the key to continuity of business and care in many industries.

With the rapid development in this field and one tech announcement chasing another, it can be hard to keep up and see the wood for the trees. So let us shed some light on the situation.

In this article, we’re going to focus on the solution that received the most significant boost in the virtual interpreting technology (VIT) space in recent years: remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI). As meetings and events moved online during the pandemic, requests for RSI skyrocketed and ever since, providers in this space have been adapting their solutions to the ever-evolving needs of new and existing clients. Today, there are many different types of RSI platforms that all cater to different use-cases. Naturally, this can make it hard to find one that is most suited for your business needs.

What’s the difference between VRI and RSI?

Before delving deeper into the different types of RSI platforms and how to choose the right one, it is important to first distinguish RSI from video remote interpreting (VRI) because both are remote interpreting solutions that use audio and video. 

From a service standpoint, the main difference is that VRI is performed consecutively (speakers and interpreters taking turns), while RSI is performed simultaneously (interpreting at the same time as the original speaker). And while VRI is predominantly used for smaller meetings or in healthcare and public sector settings where only two different languages need to be supported, RSI is meant for larger events and conferences with people from many different language backgrounds.

From a business standpoint, it is also worth highlighting that interpreters are paid either a day rate or half-day rate for RSI for larger events or conferences. In addition, since the beginning of the RSI boom, hourly rates are becoming increasingly common for shorter assignments of only one or two hours. In comparison, VRI assignments are charged by the minute.

Now let’s get into it!

What are the different types of RSI platforms?

Since March 2020, we have learned about a whole host of different solutions for RSI. There are so many that it can be easy to get them all mixed up. So we have broken them down into four categories. 

  1. Video conferencing platforms without an RSI feature
  2. Video conferencing platforms with an RSI feature
  3. Standalone designated RSI platforms
  4. Virtual booth RSI platforms

Let’s take a look at each category in more detail.

1. Video conferencing platforms without an RSI feature

An example of a video conferencing platform which doesn’t have its own RSI capabilities is Skype. However, that doesn’t mean that it is impossible to do simultaneous interpreting on Skype, it just means that a workaround is needed. This could be:

  • A separate over-the-phone interpreting (OPI) line for interpretation.
  • Two simultaneous meetings with the interpreters joining both and the listeners only joining the meeting with their language.
  • The use of a second audio channel via a social networking application, such as Whatsapp, so that participants can hear the interpretation.
  • An integration with a standalone RSI platform.

2. Video conferencing platforms with an RSI feature

Zoom is the biggest de facto RSI platform, judging by the number of meetings. Platforms like Zoom, Webex, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams (MS Teams) fall under this category. MS Teams is the latest video conferencing platform to add an RSI feature in August 2022. Video conferencing platforms like these were not designed with multilingualism and RSI in mind, but added an RSI feature onto their interface when demand for remote multilingual meetings peaked during the pandemic. Subsequently, the RSI features on these platforms are relatively limited. For example, Zoom only added relay (i.e. when an interpreter interprets from a colleague’s output rather than from the original speaker, in a case where the interpreter doesn’t work with the current speaker’s language) in Spring 2022, and the Google Meet interpreting extension doesn’t allow for multiple booths. Features like a mute button, individual interpreter chats, a handover feature/button, a timer, and an audio volume-control button are often missing from these platforms as well.

3. Standalone designated RSI platforms

This type of platform can host its own meetings but RSI is its raison d’être. Many examples of such platforms can be seen in our Language Technology Atlas. The interpreter control panel is quite complete and often aims to resemble that of an in-person booth as much as possible. There are two typical scenarios for the use of designated RSI platforms:

  1. The meeting takes place on the RSI platform in which all participants — speakers, attendees, and interpreters — join the same platform. 
  2. The meeting takes place on a different platform, e.g. Zoom, but the interpretation happens on the RSI platform. In this case, speakers and participants join the original meeting on Zoom and only the interpreters log into the RSI platform. The original audio from the meeting (and potentially the video) and the interpreter’s output are fed back and forth between the two platforms.

In both cases, whether the meeting happens on the RSI platform or not, the interpreters are typically not visible to the speakers and attendees (although some platforms can enable this upon request). They act in the background, just as they would in an onsite meeting when they interpret from a physical booth.

4. Virtual booth RSI platforms

Just like with a physical soundproof booth at an onsite meeting, these platforms function alongside the original meeting taking place on a video conferencing platform. The two major distinctions from standalone RSI platforms are that virtual booths do not integrate with video conferencing platforms but, rather, run in parallel and that they don’t function as standalone meeting platforms. When using this technology, interpreters join the original meeting on a video conferencing platform so they can access the audio and video feeds directly. From there, the interpreters listen to the speeches and deliver the interpretation into the original meeting. However, the interpreters’ rendition is also transmitted into the virtual booth tool alongside the original meeting, so that the interpreters can listen to each other’s interpretation and take relay.

Interpreters and clients may prefer virtual booths to standalone RSI platforms for three primary reasons:

  1. The process of injecting the original meeting audio into an RSI platform has been known to degrade sound or add artifacts. Therefore, because the interpreters are in the same meeting as the participants and their audio is fed directly into the meeting, using a virtual booth may reduce the risk of sound degradation in the injection process. 
  2. As the original audio is not fed into the virtual booth, the risk of copyright and privacy issues is minimized. 
  3. This type of technology can potentially work with any video conferencing platform, virtual event organizer, or streaming platform, making it quite versatile.

Which RSI solution is best for me?

The best RSI solution for you or your clients will depend on your requirements and budget. Here, we have created a brief table outlining the different RSI solutions and their advantages and disadvantages.

Type of RSI solutionAdvantagesDisadvantages
Video conferencing platforms without an RSI featureLow costUse the platform of your choice with a workaroundInterpreters can be present in the original meetingQuite complicated setups that often require a tech team Limited interpreting featuresThe larger and more multilingual the meeting, the more complex these are to set up
Video conferencing platforms with an RSI featureLow costBasic RSI featuresInterpreters can be present in the original meetingGood event management featuresOften requires tech savvy interpreters to workaround the shortcomings of the interpreting featuresNo designated RSI technical teamLarge, multilingual meetings can be hard to set up
Standalone designated RSI platformsOften have their own interpreter database for booking interpretersExcellent RSI features for the interpretersCan hold the meeting on the platformDesignated RSI technical teamInterpreters don’t need to perform beyond their roleExpensiveComplicated setup if client chooses to use own technicians (vs. the RSI platform’s tech team)Interpreters are typically not part of the original meeting but operate in the backgroundEvent management features aren’t as developed as video conferencing platforms
Virtual booth RSI platformsMid-range costExcellent RSI featuresCan work alongside the video conferencing platform of your choiceNo injection of original video and sound into the RSI platformCopyright and privacy issues are minimizedInterpreters can be present in the original meetingIt cannot function as a standalone meeting platformNo event management featuresIt can be confusing for interpreters to have to mute their mics in both the original meeting and the virtual boothOften interpreters need at least two devices to be in the original meeting and the virtual booth

Still unsure about which RSI platform to use for your next event? Want to learn more about other interpreting technologies and how to use them? No problem. Contact us and talk to one of our experts directly.

This article was co-written by Sarah Hickey, Nimdzi's VP of Research. If you have any questions about interpreting technology, reach out to Sarah at [email protected].

This article was co-written by Rosemary Hynes, Nimdzi's Lead Interpreting Researcher. If you have any questions about interpreting technology, reach out to Rosemary at [email protected].

24 May 2023

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