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Speakers at conference

As a freelance interpreter I’ve done my fair share of customer outreach over the years, whether it’s cold emailing prospects or attending networking events.

It’s no surprise that my target of choice is the meetings and events industry, with a special focus on conferences attracting an international audience. And yet, although the names of these events may suggest otherwise (Global Forum on X or International Conference on Y), quite often the answer I get is something along these lines: “Thanks for your inquiry, but this event will be in English only”.

That doesn’t surprise me. Everywhere in the world people conduct business and communicate with their international stakeholders in English on a day-to-day basis, so surely they’re able to follow a 2-day conference without the support of an interpreter. 

But are they?

Let’s talk about why hiring interpreters is something event organisers should always consider when catering to a multinational audience.

Interpreters are a “safety net” for Italian listeners

English proficiency varies across Europe, with Italy, France and Spain currently classed as “moderate”, at least according to this index. But sending emails in English or talking to colleagues about familiar subjects doesn’t necessarily mean that people would be comfortable listening to dense, technical presentations all day long (and over multiple days!) even if the topic falls within their area of expertise.

I’ve seen it first hand: Italian delegates with a high enough level of English will listen to the live translation as well as the floor, just so they’re sure not to miss anything.

Thanks for your help today! I can understand English just fine but it does get tiring when it’s all day.

If they’re less comfortable with their comprehension skills they’ll rely solely on the interpretation, but the opposite is also true, with delegates choosing not to listen to the interpreters at all because they’re able to follow everything themselves. Or so they think: I also witnessed the occasional comment or question during the Q&A demonstrating that maybe they didn’t quite understand as well as they thought they did.

Amplifying participation and engagement

By the time I moved to the UK back in 2009, I already had a BA in Interpreting Studies and an IELTS score of 8 (out of 9) under my belt. I was by all means already an “expert” user of English – and my level of proficiency was certainly higher than the current “moderate” average in Italy. And yet my very first interaction with a native at a Starbucks in northern England was borderline traumatic! I just wasn’t used to the accent or to interacting with people in English outside the pristine conditions of a language class. And if my company had sent me abroad to attend a training course, without professional interpretation available, I certainly would’ve been able to understand the majority of the content, but would I have felt brave enough to ask questions or actively engage in the discussion? I doubt it.

That’s why having interpreters on-site is so important: limiting an event to a single language erects barriers that exclude non-English speakers from fully participating and engaging.

Facilitating dialogue and cooperation

Events are not just opportunities to disseminate information: they’re platforms for people to have meaningful interactions, collaborate and strengthen existing relationships.

This is especially true for European Works Councils, where company representatives and trade unionists meet with the management team to discuss a variety of issues impacting the business at a central or local level. These meetings are highly interactive, with each delegate contributing with insights from the branch or region they represent.

It’s safe to say that events like these wouldn’t function if attendees weren’t given the opportunity to express themselves in their mother tongue. Again, most of them will have a working knowledge of English, but chatting informally with your foreign colleagues at dinner or during the coffee breaks isn’t the same as having a meaningful discussion on complex issues.

Investing in interpreting services ensures that every attendee, regardless of their linguistic background, can actively contribute, share insights, and connect with fellow participants.

Is “inclusivity” just another buzzword?

Inclusivity is rightfully at the forefront of everyone’s minds these days. But have you considered that, by choosing to deliver your international conference in English only, your event automatically becomes less inclusive and accessible?

I have already outlined how language proficiency is a much more nuanced affair than people tend to think, so imagine how much easier it is to network and share knowledge with fellow attendees when interpreters are readily available onsite.

But it also goes beyond that: giving attendees the opportunity to enjoy an event’s content in their language of choice adds value to the whole experience. Interpreters always strive for accuracy and clarity when conveying information between different languages. This commitment to precision helps prevent misunderstandings and miscommunications, fostering a more inclusive and productive exchange of ideas at the event.

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I’m an Italian translator and interpreter based in London, helping clients across the UK (and beyond) communicate effectively with their Italian stakeholders. My specialties include simultaneous interpreting at multilingual conferences and events, along with marketing and creative translation. Need help communicating in languages other than Italian? Let’s talk! I can put you in touch with the right people or, better yet, organise the entire interpreting provision for your event, so you don’t have to worry about a thing.

Make sure you check out Word Of Mouth Translations, the company I co-founded, for your wider-reaching language needs.

Bruno Musarra

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