I'm working on behalf of a client who plans to present a series of webinars for audiences in the country of Georgia. The presenters speak English. Attendees will mostly speak Georgian, but there will be some English speakers as well. So we need to accommodate both languages. I have had to think through a lot of issues and look at specialized features to support these needs. As a public service, here are some of the big ticket items…
1) Platform commands, prompts, help - Web conferencing software is overwhelmingly English-language oriented. A few technologies offer alternate languages of operation. Make sure you know the following:
a) Are your desired target languages offered as options?
b) Is the language of operation automatically selected based on the accessing computer's native language configuration, or do attendees select their language from a list? If a list, are languages presented in the language of selection, or is the list all in English?
c) Can the vendor create a new language of operation upon request? What is the fee to add a language?
d) Which items appear in the alternate language? Vendors might translate primary display commands, but not translate popup tips or help text.
2) Registration - Are registration pages available in your desired target languages?
a) Does the vendor translate standard field labels such as First Name, Last Name, and Email?
b) Does the vendor let you add custom fields in another alphabet?
c) Is there a provision for right-to-left languages? Can label and input field swap positions? Can text input show from right to left?
3) Emails - If the vendor creates standardized confirmation/reminder emails, can that text be translated? If you can customize all text in the email, can you copy and paste alternate alphabets? Does the vendor add their own footers that will appear in English? Can you customize/translate the subject line of your event emails?
4) Visual Materials - Is there any provision for displaying slides in the attendee's choice of language? In other words, can you translate your PowerPoint deck and show English slides to English attendees and Spanish slides to Spanish attendees? Will all languages advance in sync automatically, or do presenters need to manually control each display language slide deck individually?
5) Audio - Does your vendor support simultaneous interpreters and separate audio tracks for different languages?
a) Can interpreters listen to the presenting language and transmit to the alternate track for listeners? Can they listen to a translated language from another interpreter and interpret that to a third language? (This is referred to as relay interpretation using a pivot language.)
b) If your vendor offers integrated phone and streaming audio, are both supported in an interpretation scenario?
c) Is interpretation one-way (presenters to audience only) or two-way (you can open attendee lines and have the interpreter translate back to the presenters' language)? If two-way, is there provision for a single bi-directional interpreter or for two one-way interpreters?
6) Chat/Q&A - Is there a way to involve one or more text translators to translate typed chat, announcements, or questions between languages? Are all messages seen in all languages, or are there dedicated text streams for different languages?
7) Speaker Preparation - In addition to the above technology planning, you should plan to work in advance with your presentation team to make sure they understand how to make their presentation style work better with interpretation. Slow down the pace a bit. Make sure to give a moment before switching to a new slide to let the interpreter finish up on the existing slide. If using annotations or highlighting individual points on a slide, pause between pointing out different items so there is no confusion as to which one you are referencing when the interpreter is translating. Work on reducing the use of contractions and colloquialisms that might not translate well or convey the same meaning in another language. If at all possible, do a run through with your presenters and your interpreter so they have a chance to get familiar with the speech patterns, context, and content you are presenting.
I will follow up this post over the next few days with a look at two webinar technologies that try to accommodate the special needs of multilingual webinars. You will have a chance to see how they differ in their approach and where the inevitable trade offs occur.