What constitutes essential translators’ equipment and what’s simply a ‘nice to have’? I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about languages, but there’s a practical side to the art of translating and interpreting as well.
As such, I thought it worth sharing this round-up of essential translation and interpretation equipment. Whether you’re new to the industry or a seasoned pro, it’s always worth checking that the kit you use provides you with the best possible chance of translating as effectively and efficiently as possible.
A quick bit of scene-setting before I dive into the detail… Demand for translators and interpreters is growing. An increasingly global trading environment, political shifts, the pandemic and more are all driving this demand.
In the US, for example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 24% increase in the number of jobs for interpreters and translators between 2020 and 2030. That equates to the creation of 19,300 new jobs in the decade to 2030.
I’m seeing similar growth expectations in countries around the world, with the global language services industry estimated to be worth US $73.6 billion by 2025.
Linguists who want to tap into this growth need to ensure they are well positioned to do so. And that starts with having the right translator systems and equipment, or the right interpretation system, for those working with spoken language. I’ll look at each of these in turn, below.
Translators need a range of tools and equipment if they are to work at maximum efficiency. I’ve looked at the best translation tools previously, so I’m focusing on equipment rather than software today. If you want to read more about the best translation kit in terms of software, then you can click the link below, where I’ve covered everything from computer-assisted translation tools and localization platforms to website translation tools and language and content editing resources.
Software aside, one of the most important pieces of kit that any translator needs is a trusty bilingual dictionary, whether online or offline. Of course, if you’re using a hard copy translation dictionary, it’s important to replace it regularly with the latest version. The Oxford English Dictionary adds hundreds of new words, phrases and senses every quarter – the December 2021 update saw over 700 new entries. The same occurs with dictionaries around the world, so be sure you aren’t using an out-of-date resource if you prefer to work with a printed dictionary rather than a digital one.
Read more: 10 Best Translation Tools for Translators
In terms of physical translators’ equipment, then, what are the essentials? I’ll start with the basics: a decent laptop or PC. It doesn’t have to be the latest, ultra-cool, ultra-expensive model, but it does need to be powerful enough to handle large files with ease and it needs to be reliable.
These are non-negotiables when it comes to providing a professional translation service in 2022, so not an area to try and skimp on in terms of cost. Doing so could end up costing you more if you end up working less efficiently as a result of trying to make do with an older laptop. Remember, too, that a laptop will generally need replacing every three years or so – something to factor into your long-term budgeting.
You’ll also need a stable internet connection – that’s another given. Waiting hours for files to download or holding video calls that cut in and out all the time doesn’t speak to an efficient, professional translation service.
Next on my list of translating equipment is a smartphone. This is key to managing clients on the go, whether it’s responding to a query on a translation you’ve just submitted or replying speedily to a new work opportunity that drops into your Inbox. Clients have plenty of choice when it comes to the translators they choose to work with. If you can show yourself to be responsive and prompt in your communications, you’re likely to have happier clients. Make clients wait hours (or worse, days) for replies to their emails and they’re more likely to consider alternative translation solutions, no matter how impressive your language skills may be.
Other useful items include webcams and translation headsets, so that you can hold professional video calls with your clients. And if you like to work with hard copy documents as well as those on screen, a decent printer is a must.
I wanted to add a quick word on office furniture at this point. Having the right desk and chair can make a huge difference to your long-term postural health. They can prevent aches and pains and even head off potential injuries.
Desks these days come in all shapes and sizes, including some very swanky adjustable height models, where you can press a button to convert a regular height desk to one suitable for standing at. As with your choice of laptop, this is another area where buying the best you can afford is a sensible, long-term investment.
The same goes for your office chair. You’re going to spend hours sitting in it every day, so a chair that’s adjustable to ensure it’s the right height and provides decent lumbar support is another non-negotiable. There’s plenty of advice online about how to choose the right office chair if you’re struggling to know where to start.
In addition to the above, there may be a few other pieces of translation equipment that you need, depending on the nature of the service that you provide.
For example, do you translate from audio or video recordings? If so, you’ll need things like translation headsets and transcription foot pedals to ensure that your workflow is as smooth as possible. Having a decent foot pedal can make a huge difference to how fast you are able to transcribe. And that can, of course, have a big impact on how much you can earn per hour/day.
If you’re an interpreter, rather than a translator, then the advice below should help ensure you have the right interpreting equipment for 2022.
The type of interpretation equipment you need will depend on the types of interpretation work you undertake. I’ll look at a few of the most common types of interpretation here, to provide examples of how much the equipment required can differ. Using this as your guide, you should be able to identify the ideal equipment to meet your needs.
If you provide simultaneous interpretation, you’ll need quite a bit of kit – more so than for any other kind of interpretation. I’ll look at in-person simultaneous interpretation first, then consider remote video interpretation separately. Incidentally, if you’re a translator who wants to move into interpretation, there’s some helpful advice in the link provided below.
Read more: How Can a Translator Become an Interpreter?
Most venues that host conferences and events regularly for international audiences will have in-house simultaneous interpretation equipment. Or at the least they will be able to recommend a company that can provide mobile equipment that meet the required ISO standards.
You’ll need a booth, first of all, kitted out with interpretation consoles and headsets, mics and lamps for each interpreter. The venue will also need to provide a PA system outside of the booth, including microphones and speakers, along with headset receivers for those who want to listen to the translated version of the event. You can find out more about simultaneous interpretation by clicking the link below.
Read more: Simultaneous Interpretation – How it Works
Companies around the world were forced by the pandemic to switch to online events rather than in-person ones. Many have stuck with the digital format, either as a result of ongoing restrictions around movement and travel or simply because they’ve discovered the convenience of running events remotely. This has led to a sustained demand for remote video interpretation.
If you deliver simultaneous translation remotely (or any other kind of interpretation, for that matter), a decent headset and mic will be your key interpreting tools. Interpretation headsets vary widely in quality, so be sure to read or watch plenty of reviews before you commit to buy. Generally speaking, the more you can spend, the better quality you’re likely to get.
A binaural headset (one where you hear the sound through two earpieces) is likely to be better than a mono one. Look for one with voice monitoring technology so that you can hear yourself talk, while also listening to the content that you’re interpreting. Look for one with hand-held controls for the volume and to mute the microphone too, as these can come in very handy in terms of your workflow. A microphone that cancels out background noises is also an excellent investment.
One tip here is to avoid wireless interpreter headsets. They just add complications and difficulties so, really, why would you? There are plenty of wired language interpretation devices with long leads that will provide you with sufficient mobility while you have the headset on.
Depending on the nature of the event that you’re providing remote interpretation services for, you may also need to invest in a decent webcam. This is particularly important for consecutive interpretation that’s delivered remotely, when you will be the focus of attention during the part of the conversation that you’re converting from one language to another.
Again, a good quality headset with mic is super important, of course.
If you’re delivering consecutive interpretation in person at a meeting, then you won’t need any specialist interpretation equipment. If it’s as part of an event on stage, you’ll need a microphone and PA system, but the venue or the event organiser should provide that.
Some forms of interpretation mean you’ll need to interpret while on the move. In these cases, you can use portable interpretation equipment. A mobile interpreting kit includes everything you need to interpret on the go: a microphone, interpreting headsets and a radio transmitter. Is the sound quality as good as in fixed booths in a leading conference centre? Absolutely not – but it is certainly a solution that’s solid enough to enable you to interpret in situations where you need to be mobile. Or more importantly, where your clients do.
I hope you’ve found this roundup of essential translators’ equipment and interpretation equipment useful. Even if you’ve been providing language services for a while, it’s good to review your kit every so often in order to ensure you’re benefitting from the latest technology. This is particularly the case with things like interpreting headsets, where technology keeps delivering improvements year on year.
If you have any other recommendations for essential translators’ equipment or have a particular piece of kit that you think your fellow linguists would benefit from, please leave a comment below.