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Report : Symposium against isolation (Amsterdam, Jan. 2014)

(Date: 9 February 2014)



Planning the event

This is the first time that Babels has been involved in interpreting for this event, which brings together various groups that work with political prisoners, the right to legal defence, and freedom of expression. Questions were raised on the Babels list about whether this event should be supported, but no formal objections were made.
Babels encouraged the organisers to include Arabic as a working language for an event dealing largely with the Middle East, and this advice was followed. Up to 300 participants were expected, according to the organisers. However, in the end there were around 100


Mehdi B. did the on-site the coordination work in advance, with remote assistance from Joel L.-F. and Gregoire S., who arrived later. Communication with the organisers was sometimes difficult via email, and it was at times very hard to persuade them of the need for some things that are common practice for interpreting at such events. Fortunately, face-to-face communication went a lot more smoothly.


Initial selection of interpreters from the 150 volunteers was carried out by Mehdi. Two interpreters were chosen for each biactive booth, using English as a pivot language (French, Spanish, German, Turkish, Arabic). The organisers said that they themselves would find Turkish-English interpreters from their network. There was also an extra interpreter in the FR booth (who could also work with AR), and Joel was able to back up the DE and ES booths, making a total of 10 interpreters selected by Babels (listed below). Sinan E. was brought by the event organisers for the TR booth.

Selection criteria included biactive ability, proximity to Amsterdam (or cheap ticket), experience.

Venue / accommodation / travel

The event was held at the IIRE in Amsterdam, and the interpreting coordinators pushed for on-site accommodation for the interpreters. As the working days were long, this turned out to be a good idea. Food was provided on-site.

Tickets were bought for interpreters in advance by the organisers of the event. Minor additional expenses were refunded in cash during the event.

The venue itself would have struggled to house more than 120-150 people.


The IIRE has 3 interpreting booths, unfortunately only set up to handle 3 channels. There were 52 receivers for the permanent booths (which could be shared by using splitters to double up to 104 listeners. Two permanent booths were used for DE to/from EN and TR to/from EN, and Greg brought along bidule equipment for the other three languages.

The event

Once the team was there, the event generally went smoothly. Two FR booth interpreters had to leave on the final evening, but fortunately it was possible to stop broadcasting the FR booth at that time. One slight complication was the need to find support for the main TR to/from EN interpreter (Sinan)- a particularly important combination as a considerable proportion of the audience was made up of TR speakers. One TR to/from EN volunteer was able to help on the second day, after some coaching from Sinan, and a TR to/from DE interpreter was also able to assist.


Overall the event went well in the end, despite some concerns about communication in the run-up.

For future non-forum events of this type, with organisations we have not worked with before, it will be worth having a short document explaining how we work, what conditions are expected (accommodation, type of transport etc.), to avoid conflict and misunderstandings.

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