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Where can I listen to real interpreters at work?

16 February 2010 Tuesday

Before I give you my answer to the question in today’s title, I have to say that I am a bit surprised I don’t get asked this more often. I guess it’s because

1) my students already know the answer, and
2) other people who ask me about conference interpreting aren’t aware that portals of interpreted events exist, so they don’t think to inquire after the links. Anyway, for what it’s worth, I thought I’d share with readers my top three websites for listening to real, live conference interpreters in action.

The first is EP Live, the European Parliament’s portal to webcasts of its plenary sessions, committee meetings and press briefings. These events can either be followed live (as the portal’s name implies) or viewed after the fact as podcasts. Here’s the fun part: you can switch between listening to the original language feed or tuning into any of the interpreting booths working at that particular meeting. Ever wondered what Joseph Daul sounds like in Polish? Wonder no more…

A second resource is the United Nations Web TV portal. It’s like the Parliament’s, in that it offers a range of webcasts of events in real time, either in the original or the interpreted version. The main difference is in the language coverage; while EP Live offers the opportunity to listen to upward of 20 different booths for some meetings, English, Spanish and French are the main languages you’ll find represented on the UN’s site.
One feature that the UN site offers which the Parliament’s doesn’t is that it allows you to filter your search not only by category – meetings, news, features, issues, etc. –  but also by language. The UN site’s search engine lists the six official languages plus Portuguese, Japanese and Kiswahili. Neat!

Most interpreting students have already explored the EP and UN portals, so at this point I’m haven’t yet told them anything new. However, there is another, possibly less known place to catch conference interpreters at work: the European Commission’s Conferences WebTV portal, the one-stop shop for viewing all of the Commission’s webstreamed conferences and other events. If you’re lucky enough or time your visit correctly, you can follow the events live. You can also browse the archive of events and individual presentations by keyword or date.

Just like the other portals, once you’ve found what you’re looking for on the Commission’s WebTV, you can switch between the original language feed and the various interpreted versions.

Personally, I find the European Commission’s portal much more useful for practicing than the Parliament’s, since it provides complete, webstreamed coverage of events from start to finish. Picture a web page with links to every single thing said at a two-day fisheries meeting, from the opening session and keynote speech to the Q&A sessions, with – added bonus! – all the Powerpoint presentations thrown into the bargain. What more could one ask for?
The Commission’s webstreamed events are also a lot closer to what new interpreters will actually be doing when they first hit the market – after all, how many beginners cut their teeth on plenary sessions in Strasbourg or the UN General Assembly?

Before I conclude, let me just say that the one drawback of all of these portals (for interpreting students at least) is that it is not possible to listen to both the original and the interpretation as the same time. The only way to do that, as far as I can tell, is to open up two browser tabs and try to time the feed from the floor with the one from the booth so that they coincide. However, due to the delays caused by buffering, this is nigh on impossible. So if you want to compare a speech with its interpretation, you have to listen to the two versions separately, which is nowhere near as useful for learning purposes as listening to an interpreter working simultaneously from the original.

Still, these websites are perfect for students eager to hear how professional conference interpreters sound when they work, as well as for the merely curious who are wondering what real, live interpreters get up to all day.
Enjoy!