Zoom simul: Learning to embrace imperfection

As a follow-up to our post on consecutive interpreting via Zoom, we are now featuring a guest post by the wonderful team of interpreters behind trying to teach us all how to use the simul interpreting function in Zoom. Without further ado, please read below for this guest post by Ernest Niño-Murcia (his bio is at the very end of this post).
Photo courtesy of Tamber Hilton. Zoom demo with Judy and Anabella. Our colleague Aimee Benavides could not appear because she was on a paid job interpreting her local school board meeting simultaneously via Zoom.

The current pandemic has made Zoom's video conferencing technology suddenly ubiquitous. Something that you maybe did a webinar on a few times per year is now an everyday resource and a key part of colleagues' livelihood. In a stroke of fortuitous timing, right about the time the outside world started locking down, some colleagues and I discovered that Zoom offered a simultaneous interpreting feature within its platform. Extremely curious (and suddenly with a lot of time on our hands) we logged on with a and began experimenting. We grew our knowledge of the platform through these working sessions and also by eventually hosting demos for other colleagues, finding that teaching also helped us learn. Soon after we were doing our first paid jobs via Zoom simultaneous. We’d like to take this opportunity to reflect and share some points from our experience learning, teaching and using Zoom’s simultaneous function.

Photo by Ernest. Civil mediation session featuring interpreter interface. Shared with permission.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Zoom's simultaneous interpretation capabilities, here is the elevator pitch version (maybe slightly longer. Long elevator ride in a big building or the elevator gets stuck but not for so long that you start to freak out). Note that this is a general overview and not an exhaustive how-to. The exact how-to of setting up and running interpretation in a Zoom meeting is laid out in Zoom’s official instructions.  A Zoom user with an eligible paid account (for individuals, the cheapest would be a Pro plan with webinar add-on totaling about $55/month) can enable interpretation account-wide and then as a feature in a particular meeting or webinar. Once actually in the meeting, the person who set the meeting (known as the host) can turn on interpretation and designate one or more of the participants to act as interpreter(s) to/from one or more of the designated languages.  The interpreter then sees this notification:



Once they accept, they are given a simple interface that controls which channel their output is going to be heard in:





The rest of the participants are then presented with the option of choosing an audio channel for purposes of interpretation:




Selecting a channel allows participants to listen to the interpreter when they are working into that language, as well as hear the other participants in their channel and possibly participants in the other channel (if they choose). Once the interpreter is set up and participants have chosen their channel, you can be off and running with a multilingual meeting that is being interpreted seamlessly for all parties in real time.

Sounds like a dream solution that will revolutionize the way we work and do business, right? Well, yes and no.


  • While Zoom offers a smooth, affordable solution for simple interpreting assignments, it is still at its core a videoconferencing platform with an interpretation feature grafted on, in contrast to existing remote simultaneous interpreting platforms built from the ground up specifically for interpreting. This distinction is especially highlighted by the fact that INTERPRETERS CAN’T HEAR EACH OTHER in Zoom, with serious implications for team interpreting and relay. Monitoring your interpreting partner will require some ingenuity on your part (and a second device). There are additional issues to take into account. 
  • To participate in an online event interpreted through Zoom in any role (speaker, listener, interpreter, host) participants cannot receive their audio via a phone line or connect via Zoom´s simplified browser interface. These options that make conventional Zoom events more accessible actually become obstacles to effective simultaneous and necessitate client education. Menus and buttons will look different depending on whether people are connecting via a tablet, smartphone or computer (all with Zoom downloaded). 
  • Zoom's option to designate an interpreter by their email before the event can run aground if that email isn´t connected to the Zoom account that person then uses to join the meeting. These are not insurmountable obstacles, but they do highlight the need for careful study and practice on the platform before you attempt to do it live. 
  • Once you fully understand not just how Zoom simultaneous works but how it can break down, you can give clear guidance to clients at different stages of the planning process if you are given a seat at the table, from determining which platform to use (and that may mean steering them away from Zoom), to instructing participants before the meeting to ensure a smooth launch and walking people through the various functions once in the meeting. Note that this is a value-added service that goes beyond the scope of interpreting and should be compensated accordingly (especially if your event is hosted on the Zoom account you are paying to maintain).
We received a message from a colleague who received a last-minute request from a client to interpret an event via Zoom. While we were able to guide him through the basics of hosting, interpreting and listening, the meeting was still a failure because of a lack of knowledge and guidance for the client.

When we asked how the meeting had gone, he wrote:

The people my client is working with set up the call and, of course, didn't know to enable the interpretation prior to the meeting. When I got on, I told them about it. They made me a cohost figuring that I could set it up on my end but, of course, I couldn't... My client assured me that this will never happen again.   

We invite you to watch a video of our recent webinar for the University of Arizona, ¨Expand your Toolkit: Zoom for Remote Simultaneous Interpreting¨ and reach out to us at training@TEAlanguagesolutions.com if we can be of assistance in helping you master this new tool.


Ernest Niño-Murcia is a federally certified Spanish court interpreter, conference interpreter and interpreter trainer based in Des Moines, Iowa, USA. He is currently interpreting Governor Kim Reynold's biweekly press conferences live over the air for Iowa PBS. Additionally, Ernest is a Jeopardy! Champion (2012), whose greatest achievement on the show was beating an attorney to the buzzer to answer "co-defendant" in the "11 letter words" category.¨


Jobs: Spanish court interpreter (federally certified) in Laredo and Brownsville, TX

We recently received a notification from the Southern District of Texas that two US District Courts have vacancies for federally certified Spanish interpreters, which we are happy to share here. These sound like great opportunities for federally certified Spanish interpreters who might want to make the switch from freelance to full-time in-house employment. As much as we love running our own business, we can certainly see how attractive it would be to work in-house, especially during these unprecedented times. We have not yet been to the US District Court in either Laredo or Brownsville, but the folks who sent us this announcement seem very nice! We might also be a bit biased, as we spent some time in Texas as kids and have many fond memories.

Please refer to the link for any additional information, as this is all we have on our end. Here's the link again. Please keep us posted if you apply for one of the positions and/or get hired -- it would be fantastic if one of our readers landed the job. Feel free to share with your network. Best of luck!

Jobs: Spanish court interpreter (federally certified) in Del Rio, TX

We know this pandemic has been very tough for many freelance linguists, especially those who focus exclusively on interpreting (we do both interpreting and translation and while both have suffered, it's nice to have two income streams). We've heard from several long-time freelance court interpreters that they are beginning to look for in-house positions, of which relatively few exist here in the United States. We've got some good news for those fellow court interpreters who are federally certified (Spanish): the US District Court in Del Rio, Texas, has four full-time staff positions (pay is up to $104,000)  that they are trying to fill, and we are delighted to share the job posting here

A quick note on how this posting reached us. Judy is a federally certified Spanish court interpreter and had received several emails from the very friendly staff at the Del Rio court to invite her to come interpret for a few days earlier this year. Unfortunately, the dates didn't work out and Judy wasn't available, but all the interactions we've had with the court have been lovely, so based on that limited interaction, we'd definitely recommend having a look at this job posting. As you might guess, Del Rio is located at the Texas-Mexico border. 

Please keep us posted if you apply and/or get one of these positions - we'd love to share the success story here. 

Interpreting depositions via Zoom

It's been a while since we have posted, and we hope you forgive us. After more than 10 years and 500+ blog posts, we'd run out of ideas a bit, and there are now so many other excellent blogs for translators and interpreters that we thought we'd take a break. But now that we are in lockdown due to COVID-19, we have some new ideas for topical issues. Today's topic is about interpreting depositions via Zoom and whether that's possible and how it all works. Here's Judy's experience from the United States, where she's a court-certified (Nevada, California, federal) Spanish interpreter and a veteran of more than 1,500 depositions. Please note that depositions seem to be unique to the U.S. legal system, but this information is still useful for other types of proceedings that now have to be interpreted remotely. 

We'd love it if this blog post could serve as a repository for information and tips on how to best interpret via Zoom, so please share your comments below. Please note that this blog post is not about interpreting using Zoom's simultaneous interpreting function, as we have not yet tested it and clients haven't requested it. For better or for worse, this is about consecutive interpreting via Zoom. 

My set-up. Yes, I cleaned my desk for you.

The basics
It took clients, mainly law firms and court reporting firms, a few weeks to get systems set up to hold depositions remotely. Most of my clients use Zoom or Remote Counsel that also runs on Zoom. I did my first depositions via Zoom in mid-March and have been doing one a week or so since then.

  • Download Zoom. If you have never used Zoom before, make sure you download the software here. It's super quick and easy, but it's your responsibility to make sure everything works. If you need tech support, consider hiring someone to help (remote, of course). If you don't know your way around Zoom, be sure to watch a quick tutorial. First order of business: locate the "mute" button and remember that you are on camera unless you switch it off. You don't want to make news like this one (humor is much needed these days). You may have read about some Zoome privacy issues in the last month or so, and our friends Alex Drechsel and Josh Goldsmith over at techforword have a great summary here
  • Basic computer set-up. Many interpreters have never done any sort of remote work, and that's of course absolutely fine. If you are ready to take remote work during this crisis (and now that in-person work is basiscally non-existent), make sure you have the basic set-up. You don't need much other than a computer and a camera (most laptops have an integrated camera). If you use a desktop computer, you can purchase an inexpensive external video camera. I also have a small cover for the camera so I can slide the cover into the closed position on my laptop when I am not using it (for privacy reasons). Mine is similar to this one. Make sure you have a quiet space to work, even though I know this can be a challenge these days. I have a dedicated home office and I put my dogs away before starting as they love, love, love to bark at inconvenient times.
  • Headset. In order to have good incoming and outgoing audio, you should wear a headset (the other option is a good free-standing mic, but most won't have that). I use an older model of this Jabra that I purchased years ago to do RSI (remote simultaneous interpreting) and it's served me well. Our lovely colleague Alex Drechsel has an amazing blog post on headsets here (a must-read). In addition, Tamber Hilton did excellent video reviews of headsets for both Mac and PC. I'm currently thinking about upgrading my headset because I want integrated hearing protection (such as PreservEar) to prevent acoustic shock, and I am currently exploring options. We will report on this journey in another blog post.
    They really wanted to stay, but no!
Ready, set, go!
Image credit: Canva
  • Who's in charge of tech issues? Some of our clients, mainly court reporting firms, have put together handy informational sheets on how to best use Zoom and how to guarantee audio quality. This usually gets sent to all parties, but not everyone follows these suggestions. Other times, individual lawyers have contacted us asking for help because they've never done this before. We usually say that it's ideal that all parties use Zoom online (computer or mobile devices) rather than calling in, which is unfortunately also an option that makes for bad audio and no video. We don't like to make things too complicated for clients who may be overwhelmed by this process, but we emphasize that it's ideal if all parties wear a headset and to avoid cell phones that get put on speakerphone (I've had to make that work, too). None of my assignments have gone so badly that we've had to log off, but some have been tough. In general, I'd say that everyone is in charge of their own tech, but you can't interpret what you can't hear, so if the audio quality is poor, you must speak up. The court reporter will want that, too, but she/he will usually have the added benefit of a recording, while you need to make it work in real time.
  • Identify yourself. I recently took a fantastic webinar with Steven Mines about interpreting via Zoom, and I learned that you can change your default name in Zoom (by right-clicking on your name, instructions are here). This is great because I add "interpreter" in front of my name so everyone easily knows who I am. So now I am "Interpreter Judy Jenner."
  • Ask participants to speak one at a time. For those of you who have done quite a few depositions, you know that this is a challenge. I've rarely been in one where people DON'T talk over each other. This has been surprisingly better when doing depositions remotely, but it's a good idea to briefly remind the parties before you start that speaking one at a time is crucial. Ask the attorneys for their permission to communicate the same thing to the deponent in the other language.
  • Consecutive only (but there is a simul function in Zoom). Yes, we know: In most depositions, we whisper interpret the question into the deponent's ear and do sim-consec or straight short consec for the responses (preferences vary; but that tends to be the method that most interpreters and attorneys favor). Online you will have to do everything in consecutive mode, which is quite a challenge for those of us who don't do a lot of long consecutive. Some deponents are long-winded, but in person they will make natural pauses to allow you to interpret. In may experience that hasn't been the case much online. I've realized that I go through a lot of paper (I used recycled paper) and that my note-taking technique is average at best, which is why I've signed up for an AIIC course with David Violet this coming Saturday (held via Zoom!). If you are a bit hestiant to do consecutive, you might want to practice first using Speechpool videos (among other fantastic resources).
  • All the normal rules and the codes of ethics still apply. The setting will be more informal because you are at home, but the rules are the same. Arrive early (I still shoot for 15 minutes and hear crickets for most of the time, but it's always good to be early!) and well prepared. Have water, paper, pens, etc. nearby. Dress appropriately. Interpret in the first person and when you speak to ask for repetition, use the third person. You all know the drill, but sometimes it's good to remind yourself of the basics. Ask for breaks if you need one -- just like in real life, it's unreasonable to go for three hours without a break.
  • Team interpreting. Unfortunately, I have yet to do team interpreting for any deposition, ever. I work mostly in Nevada and we sadly haven't been able to convince clients that team interpreting is the standard. Now we have the chance to do it with online depositions, which are indeed more exhausting than in-person events. I've brought this up to several clients and have made a case for team interpreting while also presenting the great argument that having two interpreters online is ideal in case one has tech problems. No one has agreed to this yet, but I will keep on asking. In accordance with best practices and recommendations from all leading T&I associations, we really should only interpret 30 minutes at a time before switching with a partner, which can, by the way, be more of a challenge online.
    Time is always an issue. Image credit: Canva.
  • Same or increased rates. This is not the time to lower your rate -- quite the contrary. It might be a good idea to increase your rate a bit to reflect the extra tech effort and cognitive load that's part of interpreting online. I know it is tempting to reduce your rate now that you have less work, but I strongly advise against it. Of course you should also enforce your usual cancellation rules. I've had several depositions cancel at the last minute and I've always been able to enforce my 24-hour cancellation policy.
  • Unexpected. During in-person assignments, you don't have time to look up terminology (unless it's during a break), but turns out that in spite of the additional cognitive load, I did have the time to briefly double-check a term or two during the assignment, which was something I didn't expect. I have many fantastic online versions of dictionaries installed and also via subscription, and the one I use the most is Wordfinder (fee-based) as it allows me to search across many different resources at the same time.
Final impressions (for now)
Even though I've had some audio issues, including a deponent who was clearly outside on a cell phone speaker phone in what sounded like heavy traffic and having to rip my headset off my head a few times when high-pitched noises came out of nowhere, my experiences interpreting depositions via Zoom have been mainly very positive. I was afraid of how we'd handle exhibits and sight translation, because when interpreting in-person you usually get a copy of the document you are asked to sight-translate and that can't be easily done via Zoom unless someone puts the electronic document in the chat box, but it seems that most attorneys have adapted their process and I haven't seen many exhibits. Of course the worst-case scenario is for an attorney to read from a complicated document that you don't have in front of you and you having to take detailed notes to interpret that for the deponent. This could be very, very tough, but I haven't come across that situation yet. Something I also really like about interpreting depositions via Zoom is that I don't have to drive anywhere, which usually decreases my hourly rate as here in Nevada we usually don't bill for driving time. So I'd say that my hourly rate is now higher when you strip out the time for driving, which is a great thing. Overall, there are of course drawbacks to interpreting via Zoom, but I am grateful that it exists as an alternative. This blog post isn't meant to be exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination, but we hope you find this information useful if you are considering taking some of these assignments.

As we mentioned before, please do share your ideas, experiences, tips, tricks, and best practices below. We'd very much like for this blog post to serve as a reference point for what we've all learned about deposition interpreting via Zoom in the times of COVID-19. There have been excellent discussions about this on Twitter, but a blog post is a bit more permanent and easier to read. Speaking of reading: thanks for reading!
Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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