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The History of Simultaneous Interpreting Equipment

Simultaneous interpreting is a popular interpreting modality, used in conferences, workplace training sessions, and legal or government settings. In the case of simultaneous interpreting, the interpreter performs a 3-part simultaneous process:

  • listening to the source language speaker
  • mentally converting the message into the target language
  • interpreting in the target language to 3rd party/audience

This is done simultaneously while the speaker continues to deliver their speech, which is why simultaneous interpreting requires such a high level of skills and immense concentration.

In this post, we will reveal a (highly contested) timeline of simultaneous interpretation (SI) equipment, and how it is used in the world today. We’ll also highlight four individuals who were crucial to the emergence of SI equipment.

Early Beginnings

The concept of simultaneous interpretation has ancient origins, relating to the chuchotage (French for “whispering”) which refers to the primitive/natural form of interpreting where an individual would use crouching posture and communicate by whispers and murmuring. Today, whispering form of simultaneous interpreting is still common and can be performed without equipment. However, it can work only with a very small group with the interpreter standing or sitting next to the person in need of interpreting. It’s not feasible for this modality to be utilized with more than 2 recipients, otherwise, they won’t be able to hear the interpreter.

Simultaneous Interpretation Equipment

Today, simultaneous interpretation equipment is used in a variety of ways that include: business negotiations, conferences, expo shows, court hearings, tours, group meetings, and more. All of the above requires simultaneous interpreting to be used. There are two major types of equipment: portable and stationary.

Portable equipment is generally used for tours, court hearings, small group discussions and other settings where overall group size and their proximity to each other is manageable. The equipment consists of receivers worn by the listeners and a transmitter with a microphone used by the interpreter.

Stationary equipment is used to achieve the highest level of communication in large group settings such as conferences, auditoriums and other events with a large number of participants requiring interpretation services.

In most cases, simultaneous interpreting equipment includes:

  • Microphone or headset with microphone, these are solely used between the source language speaker and interpreter for clear communication
  • Soundproof interpreting booth that gives the interpreter a noise free area to concentrate.
  • Wireless headsets for 3rd party or audience to hear a clear rendition from the interpreter

For a more detailed breakdown of the different types of simultaneous interpreting equipment available for events, check out our previous blog, “An Introduction to Interpreting Equipment Rental.”

 

Simultaneous Interpretation Misunderstandings

Some individuals believe that simultaneous interpretation was first used in the mid-1920’s. This is a common misunderstanding. As stated earlier, simultaneous interpretation has existed throughout ancient history as chuchotage (whispering & murmurs). Today the only difference is in vast majority of simultaneous interpreting settings, people use simultaneous interpreting equipment such as microphones, soundproof booths, and headsets.

Additionally, multiple sources have different beliefs of when SI equipment was first used. For example, Soviet historians explain that SI equipment was first used in the Soviet Union at the VI Congress of the Comintern in 1928 while western authors believe SI equipment was first used at the International Labor Conference in 1927.

 

4 INSTRUMENTAL PEOPLE

Edward Filene and Gordon-Finlay are credited for creating the original equipment to assist with simultaneous interpretation. Their first design utilized phone equipment and the invention was known as telephonic interpreting. By 1926, an IBM patent was received for the Hushaphone Filene-Finlay system.

The Nuremberg Trials (1945-1946) are remembered as the “official birthdate” of SI equipment. Simultaneous interpretation equipment was utilized throughout the entire trial. However, throughout the late 1920’s into the 1930’s, SI equipment was beginning to become more accepted among interpreters.

1) EDWARD FILENE: American businessman and philanthropist, Filene first mentioned the concept of simultaneous interpretation in 1925. Together with Alan Gordon Finlay, they co-designed the “Filene-Finlay simultaneous translator.” They later patented and commercialized the device with success and sold it to IBM. It was Filene who originally thought of the concept of SI equipment. However, he was not an engineer, which is why he called upon the help of British electrical engineer Alan Gordon Finlay.

2) ALAN GORDON FINLAY: Alan Gordon Finlay was an army engineer and a motivated inventor. By partnering with Edward Filene he became a highly influential person in the emergence of SI equipment. In 1926 IBM received a simultaneous interpretation patent from A. Gordon Finley. This form of interpretation was heavily used after World War II during the Nuremberg trials.

3) ANDRE KAMINKER: Was a phenomenon in language interpretation. In 1934 he simultaneously interpreted Hitler’s speech at Nuremberg for French radio. He was the first individual who tried to do simultaneous interpretation, as we know it today: live from an audio feed without using a pre-translated text.

4) LEON DOSTERT: Leon Dostert was staff officer and interpreter for Gen. Eisenhower. He was called upon to find a practical solution to the language barrier. He assembled teams of interpreters for the Nuremberg trials after WWII. It was the first large scale use of simultaneous interpretation equipment. Later in life, he promoted simultaneous interpretation equipment at the United Nations.

 

Conclusion

As the world becomes more connected, the importance of simultaneous interpretation will continue to grow. Thanks to the innovation of Edward Filene and Alan Gordon Finlay in the 1920’s, individuals were provided the advantage of utilizing SI equipment to overcome language barriers. Almost 100 years later, simultaneous interpretation equipment is still being used for business/government conferences, tours, and other settings. As long as language barriers are present in society, simultaneous interpretation equipment will be needed.

**At Bromberg, we have teams of experienced interpreters along with a full range of interpreting equipment available for rental to help you find the right solution for your simultaneous interpreting equipment needs. Contact us, and we’ll happily provide a full list of our available rental equipment and a consultation to help you decide which solution is right for you.

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