How DS-Interpretation Has Remained on the Cutting Edge of Language Services for 50 Years

DS-Interpretation rolled out a 10-language hybrid event from Singapore

Celebrating its 50th year in 2022, DS-Interpretation Inc. provides professional conference interpretation, language services, and new technology solutions for onsite, remote, and hybrid meetings and events, as well as top level translation and localization. With offices in San Francisco and Washington, DC, the key to their continued success lies in being a future- and technology-based company.

Not only has the Company constantly transformed through the years to adapt to and lead with new technology, its team recognizes that the pace of digital transformation is faster than ever. This is how they successfully deliver language services for some of the world’s most demanding clients, including PepsiCo, Google, and NATO.

DS-Interpretation’s roots as a technology-driven company run deep. CEO Naomi Bowman’s late father, Bill Wood, founded the company after contributing to a patent for an early version of the FM receiver designed for educational and language-lab use in 1972. In fact, he held what may very well be the first patent in the RSI field for key-switching technology and the rollout of RSI in hospital settings in 1995.

Naomi has been running the Company since 2012. She has an MA in International Relations and has lived in five countries. She is also a technical expert to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for the language industry, representing the United States. Below is an interview with Naomi Bowman, CEO, DS-Interpretation Inc.

We heard you were involved in one of the earliest events to use remote interpreting. Tell us about that.

In 1994, we provided interpretation services for the FIFA World Cup USA, including a remote/hybrid setup using an interpreting hub event at the Cooper Aerobics Center in Texas. Hybrid/remote setups have been used at all the World Cups since, I believe. We have done many large, complex remote and hybrid events dating back to this time. Remote interpreting is certainly not a new thing. What’s new is the technology being used today to make it happen. For the FIFA World Cup Qatar, the hybrid setup is being provided by one of our official technology partners, Interactio, using their cloud interpreting platform.

Can you elaborate on a project where an innovative remote or hybrid solution was needed?

We worked on four international NASA space shuttle missions. For one, between the US and Japan, we provided the interpretation for launch from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), mission control from Huntsville, and landing in Houston. In Huntsville, we had to figure out how to make the simultaneous interpreting work between mission control, the American astronauts,  and the Japanese astronaut. It’s all about signal flows, and in this case delays. It’s fair to say it doesn’t get any more remote than that! Creating innovative remote and hybrid solutions is what we do best.

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What is one of the most memorable client interactions you have had?

We have handled Stanford head-of-state visits for decades, but one in the early 1990s really stands out in shaping my global perspective. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, ended up locked in a closet for about 20 minutes with our founder during a security sweep. The two had a memorable conversation about the impending end of the cold war. My memory of being instage and clipping Gorbachev’s lapel mic onto his tie made me realize the important role that conference interpreting plays in shaping international affairs. It’s a privilege to be part of it. 

Another memorable event was a global client event, held in 2019, before the pandemic; a hybrid setup involving an interpreting hub with nearly 100 interpreters and 32 concurrent language channels to thousands of listeners, both onsite and remote. It was a huge, complex and successful world-wide event that ran for multiple days.

32-channel interpreting hub hybrid setup, Las Vegas 2019

Tell us about what has changed for you since the pandemic?

Everything is last minute, nothing is certain, and we need a variety of solutions and back-up plans. Creativity is a standard tool to use.

One of the biggest thrills comes from experiencing the impact of new technology in action. The pandemic forced the world to work more with cloud-based remote, hub and hybrid setups. At every event now, we need to be prepared for any aspect of it to be remote or change to remote at the last minute. It is a huge rush to bring people together from 32 countries and make them feel connected; or to see meeting attendance in the thousands with 14 languages for a remote conference that would never have taken place on-site; and to see new technology being used to change the way the world communicates.

10-language hybrid event, Dublin 2022

What has allowed your company to continuously be a leader in the industry for 50 years?

We embrace change and flexibility, that means we never really get old. We operate like a startup in that our mentality is constant innovation. We’ll say to our clients, “Let’s look at a better way of doing this to meet your objectives. In fact, let’s meet some objectives you haven’t even thought of yet.” In 2022, we were even erroneously included in a list of top California startups for another industry based on the criteria of track record, executive leadership, market share and innovation. We take it as a testament to the fact that we do excellent work!

Your father, Bill Wood, was famously quoted to have said, “Interpreters will not be replaced by technology — they will be replaced by interpreters who use technology.” How has this statement shaped your ethos as a company?

We believe that technology is a tool to help humans do excellent work. We embrace change by applying our expertise to new technology approaches. And we value the excellent work that interpreters do.

(Main image) Singapore, 10-language hybrid event held in this city in 2022