Seven conference interpretation students from the Middlebury Institute recently had a chance to put their skills to test in the real world in a big way.
Slush China hosts one of China’s top international startup and technology industry conferences each year. Over two days, entrepreneurs, investors, business leaders, and experts from around the world come together to discuss technology innovation trends and share success stories.
Seven second-year students from the Institute teamed up with students from the University of Leeds and Guangdong University of Foreign Studies to form a volunteer team providing remote simultaneous interpretation for the event. Not only was it the first professional experience for the students, but they completed a lot of work in the middle of the night since Monterey has a 15-hour time difference from Beijing.
Putting their skills to the test in the real world
The conference covered 16 different industries, including biotechnology, energy technology, and climate technology. Much of the content was highly specialized, and many presenters spoke very quickly. Despite these challenges, the students rose to the occasion and performed excellently over the two days, earning high praise from the organizers.
Yifan Jia played a unique role as the chief interpreter for the Middlebury team, responsible for communication and coordination with the organizers and the technical team. He had just recently learned about the role of chief interpreter in his practicum course but didn’t expect to experience it so soon.
“At large-scale events, interpreters are definitely not isolated individuals focused solely on their own work, shutting themselves in and only tending to their own little world, because unexpected situations can arise in various stages,” said Jia. “There is a lot of work that requires coordination and cooperation.”
Students often joke they are in “interpretation boot camp,” with 14–16 hours of classes per week, plus 4–6 hours a day doing group or individual practice outside of class. All expressed appreciation for the rigor of their training after being put to the test at the conference.
In their own words: student reflections
I gained a profound understanding of the importance of pretranslation preparation and collaboration with partners during conference interpretation work. Although we only received the Chinese agenda for this event, our three-person group prepared thoroughly. I created a shared Google doc, listing information about all speakers and searching for their past speeches or profiles of their respective companies. Before the event, I studied related materials with my classmates to familiarize myself with the content and ensure translation accuracy. In terms of equipment, I found it best to have three displays showing terminology, the conference agenda, and live updates. This setup made operations very convenient.
This practice shattered some of my preconceptions about remote simultaneous interpretation. I used to think that remote simultaneous interpretation would be easier than on-site interpretation, but after this experience, I realized that, in addition to interpreting skills and pretranslation preparation, the application of the interpretation platform, network stability, and smooth rotations with teammates could all become hurdles to successful remote simultaneous interpretation. Overall, it was a very valuable experience!
It was both painful and joyful. What caught me off guard the most were the sudden changes in information density. One moment the speaker was leisurely giving examples, and the next moment, they delved into highly technical and information-dense content. I learned a lesson: I shouldn’t relax during low-density information moments; I should always stay vigilant! Additionally, during the conference, we encountered technical issues with the live audio signal, but fortunately, I remembered what the teacher had mentioned: to immediately “interrupt with breaking news” to the on-site audience, ensuring the output remained professional.
This event made me truly realize the importance of the teachers’ repeated emphasis on “information integration and capturing key meanings.” For instance, when I encountered moments where I didn’t immediately grasp the speaker’s message, I would wait a bit, taking a moment to ensure comprehension before speaking. As long as you grasp the key information and maintain the pace, a silent pause of one or two seconds is okay.
I couldn’t obtain speaker materials, so pretranslation preparation was even more difficult. Luckily, the information on the websites of the two companies was very comprehensive and included relevant introductions in both Chinese and English. Simultaneous interpretation is challenging, but not having materials makes it even more challenging.
This was my first real-world experience of simultaneous interpretation, and it was also my first taste of the charm of interpretation. However, I didn’t expect it to be so intense. During the event, I constantly reminded myself to apply the skills I learned in class, such as “Adjusting sentence structure when translating from Chinese to English” and “Do not constantly restart sentences, turning Chinese sentences into nouns or phrases in English.” During this event, I tried to “deverbalize” and get the message across. However, I still need to strengthen the authenticity and conciseness of my translations. This event truly presented the challenge and joy of interpretation to me, and I need to work even harder.
Lok Yiu Cheung
I am extremely grateful for this valuable opportunity to provide simultaneous interpretation services for such a grand event. It made me realize that many times there are no materials provided for the conference, and we need to gather information ourselves. I also became more aware of my shortcomings, especially when encountering the field of technological material innovation for the first time. I need to learn more knowledge at different levels. At the same time, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to my classmates’ excellent performances on-site, which was very beneficial!