Relay interpreting or indirect interpreting is one of the many forms of interpreting services. Its seamless execution disguises its use particularly in large conferences.
When relay interpreting it used, an interpreter listens to the speaker and translates the message into a language known by the rest of the interpreting team. They then interpret the message they received into the language spoken by each target group.
When is Relay Interpreting Used?
Typically, multiple languages are spoken by different conference attendees. Often, the major languages spoken are English, Mandarin, Spanish, French and German. This seems straightforward. However, in some conferences, there will be participants who speak rare languages. Sometimes, there are no interpreters available for a specific language pair. In these two scenarios, relay interpreting is often used.
For example, the working languages in a conference held in the United States are Portuguese, Mandarin and English. It is hard to find a Mandarin to Portuguese interpreter in the U.S. But there would always be an English to Portuguese and English to Mandarin interpreters. Thus, the two interpreters could establish a relay team.
Once the Mandarin speaker starts to talk, the Mandarin-English interpreter will render the message into English for the conference delegates who speak the language. The second interpreter listens to the Mandarin-English interpreter instead of the speaker who speaks in Mandarin. He or she listens to the English interpretation and renders it into Portuguese for the Portuguese-speaking delegates. The entire process is done simultaneously.
If you base it on the description, relay interpreting looks like a simple process. But in reality, the procedure is complex. Its successful execution relies on excellent synchronization. Likewise, relay interpreting has its own set of challenges, particularly in setting up the required equipment for simultaneous relay interpreting, including the audio equipment.
Types of Relay Interpreting
When you say relay interpreting, the first thing that comes to mind is simultaneous interpreting. However, it can also be done through consecutive relay interpreting. The example mentioned earlier (Mandarin to English to Portuguese) is simultaneous.
Here is an example. A visitor from Thailand is hospitalized in Madrid. The patient does not speak Spanish. But an interpreting service is available. So the doctor can comfortably speak in Spanish which will simultaneously be rendered into English. The English to Thai interpreter then renders the statement into Thai for the patient. The patient can respond in Thai, which will be rendered into English before it is rendered into Spanish.
Many conference organizers now see the value of relay interpreting when they are requested to find interpreters in many languages.
Understanding a Thing or Two about Languages
Many people know about majority languages such as French, English, German, Mandarin or Spanish. However, languages come in various categories.
There are languages that belong to a minority group:
1. Minority Language
This is defined as a language that is used by a smaller group in a country. The speakers of a minority language could be citizens of the country but they speak their own language because they are protecting some cultural, religious or ethnic features of their language.
For example, German is the official language in Germany. But there are also minority languages spoken in the country, such as North Frisian, Saterland Frisian, Danish, Romani, Lower Sorbian and Upper Sorbian. While many countries recognize the minority languages spoken in specific areas in each country, other governments often suppress the use of minority languages.
2. Indigenous Language
They are also minority languages in a sense but the indigenous language is spoken by the country’s ethnic groups. These groups have used the language/s before the arrival of people who now rule the country. For example, the indigenous people of New Zealand spoke Maori before they were invaded by Britain. The United States has several indigenous languages such as Navajo, Western Apache, Dakota, Crow, Winnebago, Cherokee, Central Alaskan Yup’ik, O’odham language, Shoshone, Hopi, Choctaw, Alabama, Seminole, Cree, Cheyenne, Chippewa/Ojibwe and Keres.
3. Languages of Limited Diffusion
You might not be too familiar with languages of limited diffusion or LLD. The languages in this category may be the country’s official language/s, but they could also be indigenous or minority languages. What makes it different is that the language is spoken by a smaller group and not often taught as a foreign language. Estonian, for example is the official language in Estonia but the majority of the population speak English. In Laos, the official language is Lao, but one of the most well known minority languages is Hmong.
These terms are significant since not many schools offer programs for most of these languages, thus finding interpreters speaking these languages could be difficult.
Looking Deeper into Relay Interpreting and Its Applications
To further explain the process of relay interpreting, it means that a proxy language is used when the direct interpreters between two languages are not available. If the working languages for a conference, for example are Arabic, German and English and the event organizer cannot find an Arabic-German interpreter, the recourse is to book the services of Arabic-English interpreter and a German-English interpreter. You can see that the common language is English, which in relay interpreting, is called the pivot language.
Relay interpreting can be applied to large conferences where multiple languages are involved, such as UN conferences, but it can also be used in smaller meetings when there are no available direct interpreters for the working languages.
The process can be used for sign language interpreting as well. For example, in the United States, American Sign Language (ASL) is used. If a deaf person from a foreign country does not know ASL, he or she can use home signs or informal sign language. The deaf interpreter then interprets this into ASL, which in turn is rendered into English by an interpreter with normal hearing.
It requires additional equipment. In simultaneous conference interpretations, the usual interpreting setup consists of microphone, headset and transmitter for the interpreters who are housed inside interpreters’ booths. Headsets and receivers are provided for the conference attendees. In relay interpreting, an interpretation console is needed. The console should be able to receive transmission from the other interpreters as well as send transmissions to other receivers.
Although relay interpreting is quite effective for international meetings were there are multiple working languages, the process does have its own set of problems.
- Accuracy is one of the most obvious problem when it comes to relay interpreting. In normal situations, it is already difficult to precisely capture the entire meaning of the original. Therefore, accuracy is affected the more times the message is rendered into another language. It is important to limit the number of ”relays” to avoid the loss of tone, connotation and meaning of the original message.
- Communication delay is another problem that can occur when relay interpreting is used. Since it is often used in simultaneous interpreting, delays can become longer if the message goes into several translations before it can be relayed.
Historically, relay interpreting is not new. It has been used centuries back. There was an account of relay interpreting being used by conquerors, traders and explorers when they encountered people that were previously unknown to them. When Cortez explored Mexico, relay interpreting was employed between Spanish and Maya, Nahuatl and Totonac.
Today, the United Nations uses the process during its conferences and the organization is using its six official languages. The European Union, which has 24 official languages rely on relay interpreting as well when conducting conferences and meetings since it is difficult to find interpreters for every language pair. Just imagine how many interpreters you will need if you are organizing a full-scale EU conference.
Relay interpreting is handled by professional interpreters who have years of experience in different types of conference interpreting. It is not an easy project, as it requires very good synchronization.
With its seamless operation, it is seldom, if ever, that conference delegates realize that relay interpreting is being used. The most they actually notice is a slight delay, which is typical, even for normal simultaneous interpreting.
To ensure success and see to it that there is no communication breakdown, it is very vital to work only with professional translators or a professional translation company that have the right experience and the required equipment for relay interpreting.
Let the Experts Handle the Complex Requirements of Relay Interpreting
Worry about the other aspects of your event and leave the interpreting in the hands of the expert interpreters of Day Translations, Inc. We are a professional language service company that offers interpretation services and the right technical equipment for meetings and conferences worldwide. Day Translations only works with highly skilled and experienced interpreters who always deliver accurate work. You can easily connect with us, as we are open 24/7, 365 days of the year. Give us a call at 1-800-969-6853 or send us an email at Contact us and let us discuss your interpreting requirements.
Image Copyright: English: Master Sgt. Adam M. Stump, USAF [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons