Boothmate communication in remote interpreting
The vast majority of my conference interpreting work is remote, so I’m always on the lookout for ways to make the online interpreting experience more pleasant for me and more effective for my clients. I actually really enjoy remote interpreting, but one of the main challenges when you’re not sitting in a booth together is communicating with boothmates.
On a basic level, you have to agree on the handover procedure (how to organize the switch from one interpreter to another) and the duration of shifts. It’s also helpful to be able to ask or answer terminology questions, send your partner a tip about something you heard that they missed, reshuffle who is going to interpret what, and other communication issues.
My least favorite way of doing this is via the in-meeting (Zoom, WebEx, etc.) chat. This method comes with several drawbacks and risks:
- One can easily send a message to the wrong person (or even to the entire meeting!)
- The chat is often busy with messages from meeting participants, so every time you see a red dot, it’s difficult to know whether someone is messaging you specifically
- There is little to no flexibility with settings and workflow (enabling/disabling audio notifications, using video)
- What if the platform freezes, or your boothmate’s connection drops, or you and your boothmate(s) find yourselves in different virtual rooms? The team is left scrambling for a means of communication
For these reasons, I much prefer using an external communication platform (bonus points for interpreter-specific features!).
What I had been using…
It’s possible to use an external video channel such as a (second) Zoom meeting, FaceTime, Skype, etc., but this can require an additional device, and none of these video conference tools have interpreter-specific features such as a handover button (one click that lets your boothmate know that it’s time to switch).
It’s worth mentioning that of course, a potential solution would be for the client to use a videoconferencing platform that has interpreting features built in. There are plenty of them out there (Kudo, Interprefy, etc.), but they don’t seem to have a lot of uptake among my clients, and more than 90% of my interpreting work is over Zoom, Webex, or similar online platforms.
The default back-channel communication method, at least among the interpreters I work with, is WhatsApp, probably because:
- Nearly every interpreter is already on WhatsApp
- You can choose whether to just do messaging, or to do a video call
- WhatsApp has automatic sound alerts (a “ping” tone when someone messages you) that can be helpful when you’re already trying to watch the conference presentation, the in-meeting chat, your reference documents, your terminology resources, etc.
But still, WhatsApp has its issues. Of course, it has no interpreter-specific features. Many people don’t like to use it for security reasons and because it’s associated with Facebook/Meta, and from the online privacy/security standpoint, it has access to your contacts. Additionally, you have to do some fiddling with WhatsApp’s settings in order not to get notifications from other people while you’re working.
Enter Cymo Booth
Amélie Roy, a buddy from the Glendon College Master of Conference Interpreting program, and one of my most trusted boothmates, recently asked if I’d be willing to try Cymo Booth, which bills itself as “The Zoom back channel for professional interpreters.” My first reaction was, I’m interested, but do we really need to install and learn to use yet another tool? However, Amélie assured me that Cymo Booth was super user-friendly and that I could try it with literally one click: only one interpreter, the virtual booth host, needs to have a Cymo Booth account, and the other(s) just click(s) on the link to access the virtual booth. After a short test (Amélie had done more extensive testing on her own), we decided to try Cymo Booth for our upcoming assignment, with WhatsApp (our previous go-to) open in the background as plan B.
After this first test run of Cymo Booth, I can say that I love it! That’s the executive summary. Essentially, Cymo Booth allows you to:
- See your partner if you want to (or you can keep the camera off)
- Talk to your partner if you want to (or you can turn the mic off)
- Message your partner using either pre-set messages (“Mic on”) or by typing your own messages (you can configure new pre-set messages or just type whatever you want)
- Send a handover cue with one click
- Adjust your boothmate’s output volume on Cymo Booth, which means that you can listen to both the meeting audio and your boothmate’s audio at your desired relative volume (instead of being stuck with the preset relative volume in Zoom or using a separate audio mixer tool)
- Do all of the above in the background; your use of Cymo Booth will be invisible to the client and the other meeting participants.
So, while we were interpreting in Zoom, Amélie and I could hear each other and message each other in Cymo Booth. We didn’t use video while interpreting, but turned our cameras on to chat with each other during breaks in the event we were interpreting for.
Cymo Booth’s advantages
Here’s what I love about Cymo Booth:
- It’s a very lightweight, non-invasive program; it didn’t interfere with the sound settings for any of my other software (as has happened with other back-channel solutions)
- All of the features worked on the first try – no bugs
- Using Cymo Booth helps you avoid last-minute channel-switching in Zoom. This is something that makes more sense if you’ve interpreted in Zoom, and it’s one of those small thing/big thing issues (details below, skip this part if you already understand the concept of channel-switching!).
In Zoom, if you want to listen to your partner, you have to set your outgoing channel to the opposite language from theirs; so for example if your partner is interpreting into French, you have to set your outgoing channel to English in order to set your incoming channel to French (the incoming and outgoing channels can’t be the same). You definitely want to do this at least once during your partner’s turn, to make sure that their sound is good. But if you stay on the “wrong” channel for your partner’s entire shift, you risk forgetting to switch to the correct outgoing channel when it’s your turn. This sounds like a stupid, easy-to-avoid mistake, and it is, but (believe me), RSI involves so many cognitive tasks that basically every interpreter who does RSI has ended up interpreting on the wrong channel at one point or another. Using Cymo Booth gives you the option of quickly checking your partner’s sound in Zoom, then switching your Zoom settings back to the ones you want for your interpreting shift, while continuing to listen to your partner in Cymo Booth. You can also keep an eye (visually) on Zoom to make sure that your partner is not muted and is on the correct channel.
- You can mute and un-mute your partner in Cymo Booth. Again, this seems like a small thing, but it’s really helpful to not disturb your boothmate to ask them to mute or unmute. Just mute or un-mute them by right-clicking on their video panel (whether or not their video is on)
- I found Cymo Booth’s messaging interface really well-designed. The font is very easy to read, your and your partner’s messages appear in different colors, and if you close down the chat panel in Cymo Booth, the messages appear as pop-ups in front of your Zoom window, which is really helpful if your partner is messaging you something critical, like “She said 10 thousand, not 10 million.”
In short, I found that Cymo Booth resolves a lot of the nagging issues with other common back-channels. It’s “donationware” (don’t worry, I donated!), which means that there’s no obligatory cost, but you make a donation of your choice after you use the software. Personally, I prefer the simplest tool that gets the job done: communication between interpreters doesn’t require a million features. I found that for my tastes, Cymo Booth is that least-complicated yet interpreter-comprehensive option, and I’m looking forward to using it again!
Corinne McKay (email@example.com) is the founder of Training for Translators, and has been a full-time freelancer since 2002. She holds a Master of Conference Interpreting from Glendon College, is an ATA-certified French to English translator, and is Colorado court-certified for French interpreting. If you enjoy her posts, consider joining the Training for Translators mailing list!
Larissa Kaneza says
I would like to request how to be trained on this app.
Corinne McKay says
Larissa, I would just create an account and play around with it; it’s very user-friendly!
Kelly Musick says
Thank you for sharing your (very positive) experience with Cymo Booth, Corinne! What a fantastic advancement for our profession. As you mention, many little things can quickly turn into big things during the heat of a micro-second in RSI. I really appreciate your assessment of the new tool and will try it out as well. Bonne chance a tous!!
Corinne McKay says
Very cool, thanks Kelly!