An Overview of Broadcast Interpreting

braodcastInterpreting for the media can be daunting, especially if you have not done it before, due to the size of the audience  depending on you to follow the proceedings. The amount of preparation for the actual show will depend on the importance of the show to the network and the latter’s experience in working with interpreters. Some outfits will expect you to do your own research.  They’ll bring the talent (you) in, sit you in front of a screen at the studio, do a mic check and you’re ready to go.

The Gold Standard:

If you do not live at the location where you will be working, you should be brought in the day before the show, and plan to spend a good part of the show date prepping for the event.  You may sometimes receive scripts in advance of the date but it is usually useless to devote much time to them because new versions come out every day.  Upon arrival at the studio, you will be given the latest copy and the numerous updates that come in during the day.  Bear in mind that scripts are no guarantee of what will actually be said.  They are a starting point for research as to facts and terminology that may be used.  You will also be supplied with a rundown. This is a timeline or cue-sheet for a live show that informs you when and how long different segments will be running, among which are packages or bumps. The former are pre-recorded segments relative to the show which are not scripted and the latter are brief announcements, usually 10-30 seconds that can contain a voiceover, placed between a pause in the program and a commercial break, stating the name of the program or promoting other events on the network.  They may vary from simple text to short films.  The information in the rundown allows you to know how long you have to speak your bump translations, which you will prepare in advance, according to instructions, and have vetted by the director. Packages may or may not be interpreted depending on content.

Your Responsibilities:

Always come prepared with your own laptop unless you are assured access to one on site.  Also bring any pertinent glossaries or dictionaries, so you can build a case-specific playbook. Be prepared with pertinent filler info in case a satellite goes down temporarily. You will spend several hours annotating the script and meeting with the other interpreters, depending on the format.  If there are different languages involved, this is the time to reach a consensus on terminology, and to establish the order to be followed with your colleague, as to who interprets what.  Usually this is determined on a gender-specific basis but when interventions are very long or several men or women speak for a stretch, this will have to be modified. You should also plan your introductions as interpreters, depending on network policy, which you should inquire about. Remember to take breaks during the day as these programs tend to be aired in prime time so you have a long day ahead of you. The client should provide snacks, beverages and meals throughout the day.  I would not encourage eating very much the later it gets, so you will be alert.


As you get closer to show time, you will be taken to your cubicle to run voice/mic levels and establish your preferences as to what you want to hear.  You may elect to hear the program feed in both ears or choose another option such as hearing yourself at a lower volume on one side so you can better modulate your voice, or hearing your partner to make a smoother transition.  I like to hear myself, in addition to the program, as it gives me more control. The director/producer, always has the option to cut in to cue you and/or give you instructions. You will have your own monitor to follow the event live.

Content That is Not Interpreted:

Do not become overly zealous in wanting to interpret everything that you hear.  Remember that most of these programs are in the entertainment genre so the translation, in addition to being accurate, must be tempered by common sense and general appeal.  Do not try to interpret lyrics or poetry or jokes that don’t make sense or may be deemed offensive in another cultural context, unless you happen to know an equivalent.  You have to tread a very fine line because your audience will certainly be providing feedback on your interpretation via Twitter and that is one of the ways the networks determine your effectiveness.

I trust I have dispelled some of the myths surrounding this exciting and demanding aspect of simultaneous interpreting and encourage you to try it if it interests you. I also invite you to share your comments and questions with me.

About mariacristinadelavegamusings

Certified SpanishEnglish interpreter by the Administrative Offices of the U.S. Courts, the State of Florida and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT), where I have served on the board of directors, am chair of the Public Relations Committee, and have a column entitled "Getting Down to Business" in Proteus, the association newsletter. I am a member of the American Translators Association (ATA) and have a monthly column named "Interpreters Forum". In addition to the prior two associations, I also belong to AIIC (International Association of Conference Interpreters). I own ProTranslating, Inc., an LSP in Florida. I hold an MBA, which keeps one foot firmly grounded in everyday waking consciousness while the other aggressively seeks unity consciousness...

Posted on January 9, 2014, in Interpreting and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Very accurate. I recently did an international broadcast and you hit the nail on the head on everything! The script was very clear and got changed a few types before we went live, my colleague and I had to fix a few things on the translation because either id did not sound natural or would not fit in the allotted time, and there were so many ad-lib moments that in some parts of the show we actually had to forget the script to get the correct message across.

    I can tell you that it was FUN!

    And thank you for another interesting post.

    – Gio

  2. Georganne Weller

    Excellent contribution as always, thanks so much. I plan to circulate this widely in Mexio, thanks again!

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