Portable Interpretation Equipment: What to Get and Why


Portable interpretation systems get a bad rap, and the names used to designate them leave no doubt: tour-guide system; bidule (the thingy); valisette (the briefcase).

Yet there are settings where they are the only practical solution available, which explains their increasing popularity with many international organisations for use on field missions and in meeting rooms that would not accommodate a large booth.  And for the convenience and affordability these devices provide, private market clients are getting hooked on them, too.

True, in the old days a standard portable equipment could subject the interpreter to long hours of standing and poor sound quality. With the typical tour-guide system, the interpreter, having no direct audio feed, had to rely on natural hearing, which meant moving about the room to ensure everyone taking the floor was well within earshot. The interpreter also needed to speak extra softly, so that his voice would not override that of the speaker by whom he stood. Not the best working conditions.

Well, those days are gone. A new generation of portable equipment has solved these issues.  The latest systems allow the interpreter to listen to crystal clear incoming audio and deliver his or her interpretation from a seat at the back of the room.

And should there be more speakers around the table — like in a small boardroom fitted with conference microphones or a lecture hall with a few handheld mics — a dock station or a fixed transmitter can be added that captures any audio feed going through the PA and channels it wirelessly to the interpreter.

So, no more leaning onto speakers and walking about disruptively in order to hear. No more whispering (or chuchotage) either. As for the participants, they can elect to listen to the speaker or the interpreter, choosing the corresponding channel on their battery-operated, compact receivers.

These new systems are affordable and will give you good service for many years. They are also a buy that will pay itself fast. It will increase your employability as more clients will be drawn to you if they know you have the right hardware. You can also capitalize on your portable set by leasing it out to other colleagues.

portableSo, if you are an interpreter and you don’t yet have a portable equipment, I would strongly advise that you invest in one. Williams Sound has a neat bi-directional system that you may consider, if your budget is not too tight. I have distributed the brand for many years, and it is very reliable.

A more affordable option I really like is the new system by Media-Vision. Receivers are very compact, sound quality is amazing and you can accommodate everything in a light-weight briefcase with built-in battery charger that is easy to carry on and off flights.

There are other decent brands out there, so be sure to do a search online. If you don’t know where to look or don’t have the time, let me know and I will try to steer you in the right direction.

Two final considerations, by way of disclaimer, before I go:

  1. a portable equipment is neither suitable for all circumstances, nor meant to replace high-end conference equipment required for large conferences. It is not supposed to question the value of good consecutive interpretation at high-level diplomatic or commercial bilateral meetings.
  2. As a conscientious interpreter you must continue to enforce the fine working conditions our profession has fought so hard to establish, especially with regard to manning strength and workload. No equipment in the world should replace that.

That said, a good portable equipment can be a life saver during field missions or if you are called to handle small meetings or presentations. It did save mine, on more than one occasion.

Ever worked with portable equipment? What was your experience?

What brands have you tried?

Need help choosing? Let me know

9 thoughts on “Portable Interpretation Equipment: What to Get and Why

  1. Well said! Completely in agreement with you Ewandro: it’s a tool that can help us in some instances, but it’s not the magic wand and it will hot help in all circumstances.
    One of these days I’d love to chat about which model we prefer in which situation.

  2. Hi Ewandro,

    Your article described exactly what I am looking for in a portable system. Many systems don’t have the bi-directional feature that makes the interpreter’s life so much easier. I am looking to buy one and have already contacted two suppliers and I am curious what you would recommend.


  3. Thank you for the article. It’s awesome. Can you please provide me with more details on the bi-directional system? I’m about to buy my very first bodypack and I’d love to invest in this system you’re talking about. Thank you!

  4. Spot on Ewandro! I have been using the new generation of portable equipment for small meetings and it is awesome! Thank you!

  5. Hi Edwandro,
    thanks for the information. What brand do you use and where can I get it? is there a company that provides better prices for professional interpreters? In Chile, bi-directional use is fundamental, however, with the equipment I´ve used (Listen) we´re not able to work with more than 30 attendees.
    On the other hand, what is your opinion of the Linguali software or Interprefy? have you used it? the prices they charge per attendee are far too high for this market.

    1. Hi, Andrea,

      Thank you for reading and leaving a comment. My recommendations will vary according to your needs. Let us discuss this off-line.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *