What Conference Interpreting Providers Need to Know About ISO 23155:2022

ISO 231552022 for Conference Interpreting

Hundreds of thousands of multilingual conferences and meetings take place every year with simultaneous interpretation. This number will keep growing after the pandemic and in view of the option to provide interpreting services (including conference interpreting services) remotely; what we now call “distance interpreting.”

The brains of conference interpreters ensure multilingual communication at high-level, formal, specialized, multilingual meetings, on any topic you can think of; from international security to vaccines, climate change, diplomacy, humanitarian crises, religion, and neurolinguistics. Conference interpreters use aural, visual, and other clues (“sensory input”) to understand complex reasoning and transfer it from one language into another.

Although International Standards were already in place for community, legal, and healthcare interpreting, ISO 23155:2022 “Interpreting services — Conference interpreting — Requirements and recommendations” had not been published until January 2, 2022. It was approved unanimously by ISO experts representing their respective National Standards Boards.

Drawing substantially from the wealth of knowledge and experience of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), ISO 23155:2022 tells the industry how conference interpreting should be done. It also lays down requirements and recommendations concerning two key players: conference interpreters and conference interpreting service providers (CISP).

The standard enshrines key facts: conference interpreting is extremely and intellectually demanding; hence, conference interpreters must meet stringent competence and qualification criteria. It also acknowledges the critical concept of cognitive load — the “amount of mental effort exerted by an interpreter when interpreting in a given environment” — while stressing the importance of teamwork in the “cockpit” and the need for conference interpreters to communicate visually and orally without obstruction. At the end of the day, conference interpreting is teamwork!

But ISO 23155:2022 also introduces new ideas: the need to protect the health and safety of conference interpreters; risk management when planning for a conference; the requirement for CISPs and their subcontractors to have thorough knowledge of conference interpreting, and more.

The standard is even more pertinent today because of the proliferation of online and virtual meetings; that is, when conference interpreters interpret without being in the same space as speakers or signers, participants, or both.

First, because conference interpreters are faced with a disproportionate amount of intellectual effort and increased stress. Mitigation measures are needed (shorter working hours, more or longer breaks) for cognitive load to remain within the limits of the finite processing capacity of the human brain. Many questions have arisen: How do you ensure effective communication between interpreters? Is non-co-located interpreting (“home alone”) adequate for conference interpreting? What percentage of remote speakers makes a conference “hybrid”?

Second, because distance interpreting is an emerging market with very specific technical requirements concerning sound and video quality.

Third, because in the global village, it is even more difficult to select a provider when geography becomes irrelevant, and many clients will never meet a provider to talk with face to face or visit their premises. The safety embedded in ISO certification by an independent certification body will help users of conference interpreting ask for and get better quality in a transparent manner.

The good news is that, as with any other industry, in conference interpreting the new standard is a huge opportunity for quality CISPs — be they independent conference interpreters, consultant interpreters, or LSPs. Certification is a sign of excellence and an unquestionable advantage when doing business.

The best providers of conference interpreting services worldwide are already seeking ISO 23155:2022 certification to distinguish themselves in the industry and strengthen their position in national and international tenders, as national and regional awarding authorities now have a benchmark for drafting tender documents to meet their needs. A level playing field is bound to promote quality.