Heidelberg University hosts one of the most venerable M.A. conference interpreting training and research programs. Interpreters are trained in eight working languages for EU institutions and federal ministries in Germany. COVID lockdowns, however, have forced a large share of the more than 60 classes and conferences per week online, prompting researchers, trainers and administrators to investigate the current platforms and options.
I watched with great interest from my home here in Heidelberg your discussions that took place in the committee on Tuesday night. Yes, it was late evening, but I found the discussion really fascinating. However, there seemed to be some divergence of the testimony offered concerning matters related to technology and the platform that is used for your virtual meetings at the House of Commons and Parliament and the interpretation of your discussions. I hope to provide some clarity this afternoon.
I want to start with the testimony that you heard from the House of Commons administration officials. I believe it was Mr. Aubé who said that Zoom is not the interpreting system for the House of Commons. He also acknowledged that what interpreters are hearing comes from the ISO-compliant House of Commons system, unless it's from a remote participant.
From my understanding of the way you're meeting, pretty much everyone is connected online and therefore connected through Zoom. Looking at the first chart, you will see that there are ISO-compliant systems. However, the platform as was presented on the occasion of the study, which was commented on during the last meeting, is not compliant. Zoom, both the advanced and basic versions, is not ISO-compliant.
I'll try to explain why that is such a problem for us conference interpreters, which has been proven by research.
Sound information that is lost in one of the links connecting the speaker with the interpreters cannot be reconstituted. It cannot be added later on. What platforms do to sound—this concerns Zoom, Kudo and many of the other tested platforms—could well be a key reason why so many interpreters are being injured.
The spectrogram from the study shows how much of the original sound across the spectrum is lost through the Zoom platform that we're currently conversing over. The speech intelligibility was rated at 0.49 and 0.7 respectively for the two platforms. Those were among the lowest of all measured systems.
When interpreters speak, their voice overlaps the original. Unfortunately, the platforms reviewed have not been designed to allow people to hear and speak at the same time. Because of the missing audio frequencies, interpreters tend to increase the volume, which tires the stapedius and tensor tympani muscles, which mechanically soften sound's impact on the cochlea and the cilia of the inner ear. I'm sorry for mentioning this, but it will be a hinging argument later on. Audiologists are able to explain quite clearly why it is causing the fatigue and hearing impact observed.
There are currently no platforms that are ISO-compliant. There are set-ups, but they require sound engineers in attendance. This is why you probably continue working with Zoom.
My advice would be to ensure that your interpreters are exposed to a limited amount of sound from these platforms wherever that is possible, increasing team strengths and reducing the hours that they have to spend on mike on a daily basis, because this exposure can be detrimental to their hearing.
I listened also to the testimony at your last meeting and heard that ISO-compliant headsets have been provided. Looking around, I see that you are using the Plantronics 310. This cuts off the frequency—I've also provided a chart—at 6.8 kilohertz. That's about half of the frequency that interpreters need to be able to speak at the same time and hear what we are saying at the moment.
Many of the professional organizations have collated lists of compliant hardware. When that is connected correctly, it should also work for simultaneous interpreting, but I would recommend continuing to pursue the precautionary principle.
I have to stress that Canada has become quite famous for doing the right thing in this difficult situation and is in the limelight of attention of researchers and conference interpreters worldwide. We've been very impressed by the good path pursued here.
I've now tried to present these sometimes complex issues as clearly as I can, and of course, I'll be happy to take any questions and to try to answer them the best I can.