There are several options when it comes to choosing the platform that’s right for you. I’ll discuss some of the most popular ones here, comparing features and functionality.
Remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) platforms substitute and complement hardware equipment. They can be used for online events and webinars as well as regular onsite conferences with interpreters connecting remotely from the comfort of their homes or specially equipped studios.
So, what are some of the RSI platforms out there and what features do they offer? What are the technical requirements to support these platforms on your workstation? Well, let’s take a look. But first, a few basics.
Tips for an Efficient RSI Workstation
The photo above shows my remote workstation. As you can see, I have a laptop in front of me with a second monitor connected to it. The RSI platform is launched on one screen while the second screen allows me to consult support materials, glossaries, or search online. You can use two separate computers for this purpose, but it’s not really necessary as one high-power laptop/desktop covers it all. However, you might find having only one screen very inconvenient because any new window you need to open to check your support documents will most likely cover the RSI platform window. This means you’ll probably no longer be able to see the video stream or the chat window used to communicate with your interpreting partner and the moderator. Not being able to see everything will also increase the chances that you’ll miss important information.
So, what else do you need for your work setup?
Quality Headset and Microphone: The most essential criterion in choosing a headset is comfort since you’ll have to wear it for long periods. Some RSI platforms have certain preferences in terms of headset brand and type (see below). However, the final decision is yours.
Ethernet Cable: Another mandatory requirement is a high-speed Ethernet cable (or two!) to connect to the internet. I installed two completely independent Ethernet cables. If one line is down, the system automatically switches to the second line.
Uninterrupted Power Supply: It’s strongly recommended that you purchase an uninterrupted power supply device, which will allow you to work through short-term blackouts and protects your data and equipment.
Soundproofing: Your workstation should be as soundproof as possible to provide clear sound when using the microphone. You’ll also need to close any windows and doors to block outside noises. Many platforms recommend working from a specially equipped studio or hub if there’s one in your location.
Comparison of RSI Platforms
There are several options when it comes to choosing the platform that’s right for you. To help give you an idea of what you should be looking for in a platform, I’ve compiled profiles of some of the most popular ones in which I compare features and functionality. Space does not allow me to compare all the platforms out there, but I hope this detailed overview will help you make a more informed decision. For pricing information, please refer to the websites listed for each platform.
The main criteria I used when comparing the platforms discussed here include:
- Whether the platform also serves as an event platform, or can only be used for RSI
- Video stream
- Audio stream
- Response time to questions (communication quality)
- The ability to listen to the floor speaker and your interpreting partner simultaneously
- Onboarding process
- Technical requirements for the interpreter’s workstation
- Technical support
- Whether the platform offers a mobile app for interpreters
Let’s get started.
Kudo is both an event and RSI platform, which means it doesn’t need additional external program such as Zoom or Skype. KUDO supports screen sharing, document uploading, messaging in chat (for event participants), and polling. It also has an interface for participants and interpreters. Figures 1 and 2 provide a sample setup, including a list of the various functions available to interpreters on the interface.
Video/Audio Stream: KUDO can have several video streams available at once that you can switch between. As shown in Figure 2, there are three incoming and outgoing audio channels displayed on the right side of the screen, which means that, in theory, one pair of interpreters can work with three languages.
Relay Function: Yes, it’s available.
Handover: I think the most interesting and complex function, which is programmed differently on various RSI platforms, is the Handover function. This is used when one interpreter takes over for another. KUDO has a multi-stage Handover process. Handover can be initiated both by the active interpreter (the one broadcasting) and the passive interpreter (the one not interpreting). Here’s the process (see Figure 3 below):
- When it’s time for the second interpreter to take over, the active interpreter clicks the blue button (“Handover”) located to the left of the microphone button.
- The active interpreter will see a message in a grey box displaying “Request sent.”
- To initiate the handover, the passive interpreter clicks the blue “Request to switch” button.
- After the request is sent the message displayed on the blue button will change to “Waiting for approval” with a 15-second countdown. This is the time given for the passive interpreter to confirm that they are ready to take over and click the “I am ready to switch” button.
- The active interpreter will see the “Go” message displayed on the blue button followed by another countdown (60 seconds). During this time, the active interpreter should conclude their interpreting segment and find an appropriate moment to switch the microphone over to the other interpreter.
- Next, the active interpreter clicks the “Go” button to switch off their microphone.
- The “Your turn” message will pop up on the passive interpreter’s screen close to the microphone button, which means it’s time for them to switch on their microphone and take over.
Kudo’s very elaborate handover process is designed for situations when interpreting partners are working from different locations and cannot communicate in person. However, it’s been my experience that the handover process is one of the bottlenecks for RSI in Kudo. I think the entire process is too complicated and that all the buttons and multiple stages required to request and confirm handover is really distracting when interpreting.
Is it possible to listen to the floor speaker and your interpreting partner simultaneously? Kudo did not allow for this option until recently. You could only choose one audio channel. As a result, many interpreters were using another device to call each other via a second application such as Messenger to ensure a seamless handover. But KUDO has recently rolled out a new release with this function enabled so that you can listen to your partner.
Onboarding Process: The onboarding process (e.g., training and adding interpreters to the database) is really well thought out. There’s a dedicated training module on the website complete with text descriptions and video guidelines on how to work with the KUDO platform. After training (or what KUDO refers to as the “interpreter’s journey”), interpreters complete their profiles on the website and can receive assignments from their own clients using the platform.
- 8GB RAM, Intel i7 Core Processor, 15-inch monitor, and cordless mouse
- Dedicated sound card and graphics card
- One additional LCD monitor (minimum size: 20 inches)
- Two professional-grade USB headsets for backup (Suggested models: KOSS CS300 and Logitech H540)
- One APC Smart UPC unit as a power backup for all networking devices
- Google Chrome or Firefox web browsers
- Stable, wired connection for all computers in use by interpreters
- Upload and download network speed of at least 5 Mbps
- Room-wide wireless for redundancy
Technical Support: Technical support is provided by the moderator on the RSI platform. I have to say that KUDO replies very quickly to all questions.
Interprefy is both an event and RSI platform. Online events can be held either directly on the Interprefy platform or you can use Interprefy to connect to external programs such as Zoom, Skype, Webex, or Microsoft Teams. Figure 4 below shows an example of Interprefy’s interface.
Interface: The interface seems simpler than some of the other platforms out there, although there are still a lot of functions and buttons.
- Incoming and outgoing language channels appear on the top panel. One of the incoming channels is always for the source (or floor) language (the one used by the speaker) and the other channel is used for relay (English in Figure 4). The outgoing channels are for the languages you’re interpreting into (French in Figure 4).
- On the right side of the screen at the top you’ll see a Microphone button (red when on/grey when off) and a Cough button. Two chat windows appear below these buttons. The first is used by the virtual booth interpreters and the moderator and the second is an event chat for communication between all the interpreters and moderators working the event.
- On the left side of the screen there are speaker video windows you can switch between. In the top right corner, you’ll see the familiar Handover function.
Handover: Interprefy also has a very nontransparent handover process. If you click the green “Now” button in the upper right, you’ll see several pop-up windows that the active and passive interpreters need to click on before the handover can take place. I didn’t use this function with my interpreting partners. Instead, we usually agreed on manual handover without clicking any buttons. When the time was right, the passive interpreter signaled to the active one via chat that they were ready for handover. The active interpreter would then finish their interpreting segment and switch off their microphone the next time the floor speaker paused. The other interpreter would see this and take over. Like in KUDO, I find it easier to opt for a manual handover process in Interprefy because all the buttons and multiple stages of requesting and confirming handover are really distracting when interpreting.
Is it possible to listen to the floor speaker and your interpreting partner simultaneously? Interprefy does provide the convenient option of listening to both the floor speaker and your partner, and you can even adjust the relative volume of these two audio channels. For example, you can listen to the speaker while listening to your interpreting partner on a lower volume setting in the background—which is a good way to ensure that the interpreting feed is working—or increase the volume of your partner’s sound.
Onboarding Process: Interprefy’s onboarding process is also well tailored. It starts with a Skype interview. If everything goes well, they send you a checklist with technical requirements for the interpreter’s workstation.
Technical Requirements: The main technical requirements are:
- Laptops: Intel Core i5 (or equivalent competing brand), 4GB RAM, Windows 10 or higher (if using Mac OS X with the latest updated operating system)
- Second computer or tablet
- Ethernet connection (The minimum download speed required is 8Mbps and the minimum upload speed required is 4 Mbps)
- USB professional microphone (recommended: Yeti Nano)
- High-quality noise-canceling headphones (recommended: Sennheiser HD200 Pro and Sennheiser Earbuds SX 3.00)
- Software (Google Chrome and Team Viewer)
After confirming that your equipment complies with the checklist, Interprefy provides training on the platform in the form of a one-hour individual session with a technical specialist who demonstrates the platform functions and answers questions. After that you’re required to pass a brief test (interpreting a five-minute video that’s recorded and sent to other professional interpreters for evaluation). If everything goes well, you’re added to the database.
Technical Support: Interprefy’s response to requests is quite good. You can receive an answer the same day, often within an hour. Technical support is available and provided by a platform moderator.
Mobile App: There’s a mobile app for interpreters, but my experience using it (though I tried it only once) proved that switching between channels takes more time than in a browser on a PC. I also found that the app had a negative impact on the quality of my interpreting (text segments tend to get lost). After I spent several minutes interpreting through the app, I asked my partner to take over due to these reasons.
Voiceboxer is both an event and RSI platform, which means it doesn’t need additional external programs for online events.
Participant Interface: As shown in Figure 5 below, the interface for participants has two windows on the right. The larger window in the center is reserved for the speaker slides uploaded in advance. The window in the upper right displays the video of the speaker. Below the video window there’s a chat channel for participants. Participants can choose their language in the field on the bottom right (either the one spoken on the floor or the interpreted version). The vertical panel on the left displays icons for hand raising, the list of presenters and attendees, screen sharing, and camera settings. A very helpful feature is that the text in the slides is translated according to the language selected by the participant. This means that attendees are able to listen to the language of their preference and see the slides in the same language. All the messages in the chat can also be translated automatically by clicking on the option “to translate.”
Interpreter Interface: The interface for interpreters shown in Figure 6 above contains two video channels. Just like the interface for participants, the larger space in the center is reserved for the presentation slides and the video window displaying the speaker is on the right. A selection of incoming and outgoing audio channels is located at the bottom, with two default channels for each type of audio. On the left is the main incoming channel for the source language used on the floor (in blue) followed by the IT (for relay) channel in the white box. On the right we have the outgoing (target) languages: English (white) and French (red). The vertical panel on the left displays several icons, including the mute function and virtual booth controls to work in pairs remotely (i.e., the multi-stage handover function).
The triangle icon at the top of the left control panel (a slow-down reminder for the presenter) is a new function. The icon at the bottom (independent volume control) can be used to adjust the relative volume of the incoming sound and your partner’s outgoing audio channel, which makes it possible to listen to both the floor and your partner. Below the presenter’s video feed is the booth chat, which can be used by both interpreters and moderators.
Handover: An interesting feature of this platform is that there is no microphone button. By default, one of the interpreters has their microphone on when the event starts. To handover the microphone, the active interpreter sends out the request and the passive interpreter confirms their readiness to take over. Once this is done, the active interpreter finishes their interpreting segment and switches off the microphone.
Technical Support: In terms of technical support, response time varies (sometimes the same day, or you might have to wait several days). I did note that the contact email address was hard to spot because it appears in small print at the bottom right corner.
Onboarding Process: The onboarding process consists of completing the registration form on the website. It should be noted that demo sessions and trainings for interpreters are currently provided not by VoiceBoxer itself but by its partners.
- High-speed internet connection
- Professional headset
- Google Chrome
Mobile App: There’s no mobile application for interpreters.
Interactio is both an event and RSI platform. Like KUDO, Interactio supports screen sharing, document uploading, messaging in the chat (for event participants) and polling. It has an interface for both participants and interpreters.
Interface: The interpreter’s interface in Figure 7 shows two default incoming and outgoing audio channels, although more channels can be configured. On the left, highlighted in blue, we have the incoming audio channel from the floor (English), and on the right, highlighted in light green, the outgoing channel (Spanish). The central panel between them displays important information: the current language being interpreted and the event duration time and interpreter’s streaming time (a helpful function!).
Handover: Like all RSI platforms, Interactio provides relay and handover functions. There is a dedicated Handover button on the right side. If the active interpreter clicks it, the passive interpreter will see the respective message on the central panel. The active interpreter then switches off their microphone and lets the passive interpreter take over. Manual handover is also possible. The passive interpreter can switch on the microphone by clicking the Mic button in the center at the bottom (highlighted in green), which causes the active interpreter’s microphone to switch off automatically. Interactio representatives explained that this function was programmed to enable the passive interpreter to take over without waiting for the active interpreter to switch off their microphone during an emergency (e.g., if the active interpreter is unwell and cannot complete the handover properly).
Technical Support: Initially, it took Interactio two days to answer my question regarding platform training. They replied that training is provided only after the order for your language pair is placed and you’re appointed to the job. (How can I recommend my client to use this platform if I don’t really know much about it?) Interactio did call me later and offered to do a training. As a result, I could better describe the platform functionality here. They did explain that they were a bit behind in their communication due to their increasing workload, which is quite understandable considering how many companies are going online these days. They promised to do better next time.
- Ethernet connection: Connection reaction time (Ping) should be less than 100 milliseconds; download and upload bandwidth should be equal or greater than 10 Mbps
- Google Chrome
- Professional hardwired headset
Mobile App: There’s no mobile app for interpreters. However, at the time of this writing, Interactio is testing an app that can be downloaded to a PC or laptop and used for participating in an event or interpreting alongside the browser version. This is a new feature we have not seen before.
SPEAKUS and VERSPEAK (discussed on page 20) have long been identical in terms of functionality (the company has recently divided into two brands), but some time ago VERSPEAK rolled out a new release with a completely new interface.
Let’s start with SPEAKUS. It’s a dedicated RSI platform, so it connects to external programs for online events.
Interface: As you can see from Figure 8 below, the interface looks simpler than other platforms, but all the main functions are there.
- It’s possible to configure several video channels, including the presenter’s slides, and switch between them. There are two incoming and two outgoing channels. The EN/ZH buttons at the top under the Mute button are for outgoing channels. The Relay/DE/ZH buttons at the bottom are for incoming channels.
- The On Air button controls the interpreter’s microphone (red means on, grey means off). The Mute button is used for switching the microphone off for short periods. Below the On Air button there is a chat for interpreters with hot buttons (“Take please,” “I’m ON AIR,” “Ok,” “Clear”). However, unlike other platforms, you can’t communicate with a moderator here. A special Whatsapp chat has been created for this purpose.
- At the bottom on the left there is one more window (or two, if there are two interpreters). The interpreters can see and hear each other here even if no one is On Air at the moment, which is another distinctive feature of these platforms. The question is whether this is convenient and necessary. In my view, the microphone indicator and the partner’s audio when “On Air” is enough.
- The interpreters’ video and audio feed can be disabled if needed. However, it should be noted that if you accidently switch off the audio on your side, your partner won’t be able to switch it on. It happened to me and my partner once. I accidently switched off my sound, so when I was interpreting I didn’t realize that she couldn’t hear me and didn’t know when to take over. Since there’s nothing to indicate that your partner’s microphone is switched on, the ability to hear is crucial. Related, you can listen to two audio channels at once: the floor and your partner’s.
Handover: There’s no automatic handover function here. However, in my opinion, this is not a flaw. As I have already mentioned, a complicated handover mechanism is counterintuitive and only distracts interpreters from the interpreting process.
Onboarding Process: The process is quite simple. You agree to participate in a demo session where you can see the interface for yourself and ask questions. The demo takes about 30 minutes. No testing is required.
Technical Support: The response time for both SPEAKUS and VERSPEAK is excellent. A response usually comes within an hour. Technical support is provided via external applications (e.g., Whatsapp).
- High-power computer, Intel Core I3 or higher, 4GB RAM, Windows 8.0 or higher
- Ethernet connection (minimum speed 10Mbps)
- Comfortable USB noise-canceling headset with microphone
- Mozilla Firefox
Mobile App: There’s no mobile application for interpreters.
VERSPEAK is also an RSI platform only. Figure 9 shows the new release of the VERSPEAK interface:
- It’s possible to configure several video channels, including the presenter’s slides, and switch between them. There are two incoming and two outgoing channels. The RU/EN buttons at the bottom next to the Mute button are for outgoing channels and the ORIGINAL, RELAY (RU), and RELAY (EN) buttons on the left are for incoming channels.
- The On Air button controls the interpreter’s microphone (red means on, grey means off). The Mute button is used for switching the microphone off for short periods. On the right side on the bottom control panel, there are buttons for chat (clicking on it will enable a chat), a dictionary (enabling a built-in dictionary: Multitran), and agenda (accessing the conference materials).
- Above the bottom control panel there are two windows. Like we saw it on the SPEAKUS interface, the interpreters can see and hear each other here even if no one is On Air at the moment. There are also hot buttons here (“Take please” and “Take over”) designed to streamline the interpreters’ communication.
- The interpreters’ video and audio feed can be disabled if needed like we saw it on SPEAKUS.
Handover: Same as SPEAKUS.
Onboarding process: Same as SPEAKUS.
Technical Support: Same as SPEAKUS.
Technical Requirements: Same as SPEAKUS.
Mobile App: Same as SPEAKUS.
Zoom, an online platform for holding meetings and conferences, now offers an interpreting function. This function is available under the Pro Plan with the optional add-on Add Video Webinars Plan. The conference host can enable this function when an additional audio channel needs to be created for a language to which an interpreter is assigned. Meeting participants can then select the channel (language) they want to listen to. (For more details on this function, please see the link above.)
The only thing that’s missing in Zoom that sets it apart from dedicated RSI platforms is the relay and handover functions. Interpreters can’t hear each other, which really complicates the handover process. This means interpreters have to connect via an external channel (e.g., Messenger or Skype) and hold the call throughout the conference so they can hear each other and ensure a seamless handover. Another option is to connect to the Zoom conference from a second device as a participant and listen to the interpreting channel.
Technical requirements for the interpreter’s workstation are not mentioned anywhere on Zoom’s website. Technical support is missing (the client has to undertake this responsibility). The response time to questions is very slow, sometimes more than a week, but this is obviously due to peak demand these days. Interpreters who have tried working with Zoom say that everything works well and that the sound quality is good. However, sometimes they face various issues (e.g., the host fails to assign an interpreter). Zoom states on its website that the interpreting function is still in a testing stage, which means errors are inevitable. Zoom also has a mobile app that can be used for interpreting.
The New Reality
It seems that remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) is the new reality. There are many options out there besides the ones I’ve covered here, so don’t feel like you’re limited to these selections. Take the time to research what works best for you. I hope this information will be helpful and that you now have a better understanding of what RSI involves and how these platforms can be implemented into your work environment.
Natalia Fedorenkova has been a freelance English>Russian conference interpreter since 2017. Since 2019, she has worked as a freelance interpreter for the Interprefy platform, gaining significant practical experience in remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI). She organizes RSI webinars for interpreters and businesses. She is a graduate of the Lomonosov State Moscow University, where she studied the theory and practice of translation. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.