7 Tips for Your Remote Interpreting Station
by: Brooke LaTurno, EIPA 3.8 - Interpreter Coordinator
By now, many interpreters have acquired various equipment to help them create remote interpreting stations in their homes. If you have not yet put together a remote setup in your home and are interested in remote interpreting assignments, I hope this blog helps you prepare your home for remote work.
Keep in mind that the equipment and resources that work best for your needs will depend on whether you are creating an interpreting station as a permanent fixture in your home, or a temporary setup that can be taken down and easily put back up as needed. Some interpreters go the whole nine yards — creating impressive interpreting stations with lighting rigs on par with a theatrical production or VRS company. To those interpreters, I tip my hat! Others (like myself) have more modest setups that can easily be broken down at the end of an assignment.
Below are several considerations to make when assembling a remote interpreting station.
We have limited control over the sounds that exist in and around our homes, depending on the place where we live and the people and/or animals we live with. Each of us must take stock of the everyday sounds of our home lives to determine whether interpreting from home will be effective. If your area/residence has a lot of noise pollution and you still want to interpret remotely, you may want to invest in materials to help you soundproof the room where you will be working.
We can take inspiration from professionals who have home recording studios. A common practice for DIYers is to hang acoustic blankets or lay rugs to help absorb sound. According to Gregory Johnson in the blog post 6 Steps to Converting a Bedroom into a Home Recording Studio (https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/pro-audio/tips-and-solutions/bedroom-makeover-home-studio): “…the process of soundproofing a room is accomplished using a combination of four tactics such as adding mass, damping, decoupling, and filling air gaps. When a room is perfectly soundproofed, outside noises stay outside and don’t disturb your sessions, and inside noises stay inside and don’t disturb your neighbors.” If you are interested in more strategies to combat noise, Deidre Sullivan’s blog post Easy Ways to Soundproof Your Room or Apartment (https://www.thespruce.com/soundproof-your-room-or-apartment-4062945) outlines nine practical tips.
Natural sources of light often provide very clear resolution, however it is not always available depending on the room layout, weather, and time of day. Ring lights are an affordable option since the market is currently flooded with different models. This option (https://www.amazon.com/Conference-Lighting-Brightness-Broadcasting-Streaming/dp/B08YJPJLFV) can be clipped onto your monitor or connected to a mini tripod. It has various brightness levels which are easily controlled using the attached remote.
A strong internet connection is undeniably of vital importance when interpreting from home. There are many websites online that can run an internet speed test (https://www.speedtest.net/). If your video quality when video conferencing is not up to par, you may want to contact your internet service provider to discuss options to improve your internet. An Ethernet (wired) connection typically provides a stronger connection with less lagging than Wi-Fi (wireless).
A solid color backdrop is an important feature when interpreting remotely. Much like our approach to professional dress, a backdrop should be in a contrasting color that is easy on the eyes. The backdrop helps to make the interpreter’s picture quality clear, demonstrates professionalism, and minimizes visual distractions.
Low-cost option: solid fabric tablecloth (https://www.amazon.com/KAITATSU-SEN-Rectangular-Tablecloth-60×102-inch/dp/B01KO3Q2TA?th=1)
Before investing in a greenscreen-style backdrop, I setup a dark blue tablecloth on my wall using pins to keep it in place. This was a simple solution that worked very well for my first few remote assignments. If you are just starting to test the waters of remote interpreting, this could be a good temporary option while you figure out whether this type of work is something you want to do more of.
Popular option: Amazon “greenscreen” style backdrop (https://www.amazon.com/Fancierstudio-Collapsible-Reversible-Background-Chroma-Key/dp/B00JSAOGWG),
This backdrop can be hung on a wall or propped up against furniture. The product that is linked here can be a little tricky to figure out how to collapse and fold back into the carrycase. There are many videos online with instructions for how to fold backdrops like this one. Here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPn8MCr-8ik) is a link to a video with clear instructions for two different approaches.
Investment option: paint your wall! This tip came from a team interpreter I recently worked with. This option could make for a tranquil work experience, especially if you plan to do a lot of virtual assignments. Depending on your living situation, you may not be at liberty to paint a wall in your home. If that is the case, you may want to check out removable peel and stick wallpaper options.
However, if you are allowed to paint, this option will save you from fussing with a collapsible backdrop. It does not necessarily have to be an expensive undertaking either, if you are willing to do the painting yourself.
Your computer may come with a built-in webcam. If not, you will need to acquire an external webcam to connect to your computer. External webcams typically result in better quality image/sound, however there are interpreters with clear audio and visuals who use an internal webcam. If you are uncertain about the clarity of your image/sound, reach out to a friend or peer to do a video chat test run with you. Ask them to evaluate the clarity of your image, lighting, and sound. A fellow interpreter will likely have a good eye for spotting any details that may impact your work, so if you are able to ask a peer to meet digitally and give you feedback that is a great option.
When choosing whether to use a headset or earbuds while interpreting, you may want to weigh the pros and cons of wireless versus wired options. If you are using a wireless product, you will want to check the battery life to ensure that your device will have power for the duration of your assignment. Alternately, if you use wired headphones, you may find it awkward or distracting to have a cord to contend with (in your lap or across your back).
Adjustable Laptop Stand (https://www.amazon.com/Compatible-Boyata-Foldable-Heat-Vent-Adjustable/dp/B07HBQSCM3/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=boyata&qid=1643391096&sr=8-3)Thank you to Melanie for this recommendation! There are many different models on the market that are adjustable and lightweight. Pick one that matches the specifications of your laptop and enjoy the versatility of controlling the height and angle of your computer. This accessory can also help improve your posture and minimize back pain.
Laptop Cooling Pad (https://www.amazon.com/HV-F2056-15-6-17-Laptop-Cooler-Cooling/dp/B00NNMB3KS)
When we run multiple programs simultaneously on our computers, it can sometimes feel like we are putting them through a gauntlet. If your laptop is getting a little long in the tooth, but you are not yet ready to replace it, a cooling pad can help improve your laptop’s performance and protect it from overheating.
I hope these ideas are helpful to you as you start planning your home interpreting station. Experiment with different options until you find what feels comfortable, and what provides the best outcome for you and your clients.
I would like to say a big thank you to the interpreters in our community for sharing their insights and advice with me. Please feel free to share any advice or personal experiences you have had that may assist others in our field who are starting their remote interpreting journey.
For more information about remote interpreting, please read my previous blog post: https://interpreterresource.com/interpreter-education/remote-interpreting-the-new-normal/