December 3rd, 2010

Creating a “Comfortably Bilingual” Talk Event (Part One)

The challenge: Organize a bilingual event without simultaneous or consecutive interpretation.

The challenge: Organize a bilingual event without simultaneous or consecutive interpretation.

When the time came for AQ to put together an event, it was a given that it would be for both Japanese and English audiences. The question was, how?

Anyone who frequents event with foreign language speakers probably has one story to tell about a talk killed by bad interpretation. Usually the blame is vaguely pointed at a lack of skills on the interpreter’s side but I believe it’s the result of not enough communication between the organizers, the speaker, and the interpreter. No one owns the interpretation.

Interpretation can be an underestimated, undervalued, dirty job, and an ad-hoc, shoestring event doesn’t always have the resources to hire and properly prep good simultaneous interpreters. Even if you’re lucky enough to have staff on hand with that particular skill set, it still costs a pretty penny!

What we did:

Our event consisted of a talk by an English speaker followed by a question and answer session. After much experimentation, this is the recipe we went with:

  1. The MC is completely bilingual – speak in English, then Japanese, or the other way around
  2. The talk is in English, at a slower speed than normal
  3. Use two projectors and show slide material in English and Japanese, side by side
  4. Consecutive interpretation for the question and answer session
  5. All signage is in both languages with the same amount and quality of information
  6. All staff members are comfortable with both languages

The key is to aim for comfortably bilingual. Not completely bilingual but comfortably so.

In detail:

1. The MC is completely bilingual

It’s not uncommon to have two MCs for bilingual events but we had the same MC speaking both languages. It unites the audience because everyone focuses on the same host rather than “their host”. Also, the second language feels less like translation simply because it’s the same person talking.

2. The talk is in English, at a slower speed than normal

This can be difficult for many native English speakers but requesting it in the introduction, in both languages, sets the tone.

3. Use two projectors and show slide material in English and Japanese, side by side

You don’t want to physically segregate the crowd by language. The audience can sit anywhere they want, they’re all facing the same way, and the speaker can gesture to either slide when he’s talking, so there’s no main-sub relationship to the languages.

In retrospect, additional notes on the Japanese slides would have helped. Ideally, we would have had a proper rehearsal with the speaker and added more content on the slides of the language that they weren’t speaking.

4. Consecutive interpretation for the question and answer session

We couldn’t get around normal consecutive interpretation for this one. It’s much less obtrusive than it would be for a talk since a Q&A is naturally a conversation between multiple people, but there’s certainly room for improvement. Any ideas?

5. All signs are in both languages with the same amount and quality of information.

Even a small event with less than 50 attendees will have several types of signs. Directions to the venue, information about the food and drinks, and even simple posters with the name of the event should have the same amount of information in the same size.

6. Everyone on the staff is more or less bilingual

Including and especially the person at reception.

Is this the winning recipe that we’ll keep using? Perhaps not, but it worked out pretty well and I think we’re close.

How we got here:

Well, that’s Part Two! I’ll introduce the crazy experiments we conducted before settling on this recipe.

Tomomi SasakiTomomi is a project manager at AQ, in charge of maintaining structure in the creative process and clarity in communications.Read more posts by Tomomi Sasaki


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