Co-working for interpreters: what, why, how?

Last Friday, I experimented with something new. I set up an online co-working session on Zoom, emailed my subscribers to let them know about it, and waited to see who would turn up and what they would get out of it.

It was clear from some of the questions at the start of the session that some participants were expecting a class or guided session (‘How will you organise us, by language combination, or by technique?’, or ‘Could you put me in a breakout room?’ – well, yes, but who with, and what for?).

Perhaps the co-working concept isn’t that familiar to interpreters, so I thought it would be worth exploring briefly in this post. Above all, I’d like to address another question which a colleague asked me (and, I confess, I asked myself!): what’s the point?

What is co-working?

[For the sake of avoiding ambiguity, I should perhaps explain that I’m not talking about ‘coworking’ in the sense of ‘team interpreting’, where two or more interpreters provide communication to and from the participants in a meeting.]

Co-working spaces are places where freelancers can get their work done, without feeling isolated because they’re working alone at home and without breaking the bank by renting an office full-time.

There are co-working spaces to rent by the hour or day, or you can get together with fellow professionals in a location of your choice, and work alongside each other.

Here are some of the benefits to co-working:

  • feeling less isolated. If you work from home, you can end up feeling as if you never talk to another human being.
  • better focus & fewer distractions. If you’re sitting next to someone who’s engrossed in their work, it’s harder to justify spending ages on Facebook.
  • networking
  • synergies. Sometimes another freelancer can offer you a helping hand (for example, with a technical problem that’s causing you difficulty, or a recommendation).
  • extra services. Some co-working spaces offer facilities such as a cafe, a relaxation area, conference rooms, and even happy hour, ‘lunch & learn’ events, and more.

So far, so reasonable. I think it’s relatively easy to understand the advantages of a physical co-working space for freelancers: cheaper than a full time rented office, possibly more conducive to focused work than the home environment (no chores, no noise, no other distractions), more convivial, etc.

However, there are two important questions here:

  1. isn’t this much more relevant for, say, translators, who have written projects to complete, rather than interpreters? After all, when you’re busy with an assignment and interpreting at a meeting (whether in person or remotely), that obviously doesn’t fit the co-working model at all.
  2. how does online co-working compare to co-working in a physical space?

Online co-working

Online co-working attempts to replicate the ethos of a physical co-working space.

There are many ways to organise an online co-working session: via Skype, WhatsApp, Zoom, etc.

Clearly it isn’t always possible to provide the same services and facilities as in a physical workspace, but the motivation, positive energy, and conviviality are all there. Synergies and networking are also possible, depending on how the co-working is organised.

What happens during an online co-working session

Well, that depends on the organiser and the participants.

There are several co-working platforms and apps for freelancers to choose from, and they all have their own way of doing things.

For example, lets you join a 1 hour session, with a ‘check-in’ at the start to state what you want to work on, and a brief wrap-up at the end. On the other hand, it’s a phone app, which means you might easily be distracted by social media… is another option that allows you to join a session with up to 8 participants. These sessions are hosted, and the host chooses a playlist of music, which you may find motivational or…distracting.

For the co-working session I ran on Friday, I chose a format with a brief ‘check-in’ in the chat box for participants to tell each other what they wanted to work on. Then I set a 50 minute timer, and everyone got on with their own work. Two people chose to go to a breakout room together. At the end, we had a quick chat and shared progress and impressions.

Does it work for interpreters?

The most interesting part of the exercise for me was finding out what each participant was working on.

One person wrote the ‘about’ section for their website, and completed the ‘simultaneous interpreting’ section.

Another participant listened back to a recording of their performance during a recent interpreting assignment – something they dislike doing, and had been putting off.

Some people were preparing meeting documents. One did some shadowing to improve French pronunciation.

I designed an exercise for members of my English retour membership site.

In short: when you’re an interpreter, there are plenty of tasks to be getting on with, other than interpreting itself: meeting prep, working on one of your languages, invoices, posting on social media, translation or other work, preparing classes if you also teach, etc. etc. Or perhaps even some of your ‘home’ admin: making appointments, filing your tax return. The list is endless!

To answer my original question, ‘does it work for interpreters?’, I would say yes, definitely. Although co-working may seem more suited to professionals like translators, copy writers, graphic designers, etc., there are plenty of tasks an interpreter can do during a co-working session.

In fact, these are often the tasks that get pushed to the bottom of the pile after finding clients, preparing for meetings, and actually interpreting. Yet some of them are critical to running your business efficiently (e.g. invoicing), and others are important for keeping your skills up to date (e.g. maintaining your languages, going to CPD events, analysing your interpreting performance). So it’s useful to have an extra motivational boost!

But is it for everyone?

Now that’s a whole other question.

Some people wouldn’t dream of going to an exercise class or the gym without a gym buddy. They’re just not motivated to go alone, and they don’t find it enjoyable.

For these people, a co-working session may be just the ticket. Some of the participants last Friday, for example, said they found it motivating seeing the faces of their colleagues hard at work (camera on). The accountability of the co-working session helped them get much more done, and gave them a sense of satisfaction.

For others, this is a completely pointless exercise. If you’re self-motivated and not prone to distraction or procrastination, you could get just as much (or perhaps more) done by yourself!

Funnily enough, I would have classed myself in this latter category, because I prefer ploughing my own furrow. However, on Friday, when I got halfway through my task and it was becoming rather boring and difficult, instead of stopping and flicking over to emails or LinkedIn, I looked around at the others working so assiduously on their projects, and decided if they could do it, so could I. So I knuckled down and finished my task, which was very satisfying.

Perhaps co-working works for me, too!

What are the options for online co-working?

In conclusion

Co-working isn’t for everyone: it may not suit your personality.

If you do decide to join a co-working session or platform, think about how it matches your needs and the way you do things.

One of the great things about the session I set up on Friday is that we’re free, as a group, to make or change the ‘rules’. We decided that we’d check at the beginning of each session, and if anyone wanted to do some interpreting practice with a partner, I would open a breakout room for them. I’m also open to other ideas, for example if participants want to spend some of their time networking.

These free sessions are for you, and you can help shape them!

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section below. Have you tried online co-working? Did you find it useful, or was it not your cup of tea?

Fill in the blanks exercise – Islamic art

Here is something a bit different for you – a cloze, or gap, test.

The idea is to listen to the speech and fill in the gaps with one or more words that are grammatically correct and match the content and style of the piece.

This is a good exercise for many reasons:

  • it helps you with anticipation. You won’t be able to fill in every gap before hearing the following few words, but some of them can be guessed immediately because they’re part of a collocation, set phrase, or idiom, or because they make sense in context.
  • it helps you work on reformulation: some of the gaps have many possible solutions. How many can you think of?
  • it’s a good listening exercise. You need to concentrate really hard to follow the speech’s thread, so that you can fill in the blanks.
  • it’s a good reminder that we work at the level of ideas, not words. Imagine if you were interpreting the speech from English into your A language: you could make a good guess at the missing words; so if they were unknown words, you would still be able to follow the meaning in most cases.

Audio file – Islamic art

This is quite a challenging text. You will need to draw on your background knowledge and logic, as well as your English skills, to fill in the blanks successfully.

You can find the recording here.


I won’t go through every blank, but I thought it might be useful to discuss a few of the blanks where there were several possible solutions.

  • depictions of the prophet Muhammad are……. in Islam: you could say forbidden, or banned, prohibited.
  • The prohibition of images of the prophet, no matter how …….., is widely …….. today . There are many ways to complete this sentence, especially as it is ambiguous: does the adjective following ‘no matter how’ refer to ‘images of the prophet’, or to ‘prohibition’? Depending on what you think, you could say ‘the prohibition of images of the prophet, no matter how innocuous, is widely accepted’, or ‘the prohibition of images of the prophet, no matter how harmless, is widely criticised today’, or ‘the prohibition of images of the prophet, no matter how dangerous, is widely accepted today’. You need to think carefully about what has been said so far, and your background knowledge about this issue.
  • there is no such …….. in the Qur’an: this could be instruction, or prohibition, ban, or edict.
  • Islam was the only common …..: could be religion, factor, or denominator.
  • ruling elites ……. Islam as a binding agent: there are several solutions, depending on meaning. You could say used or exploited; or fastened on tolatched on to; or saw, perceived.
  • decade of economic pain and social …..: this could be decline, problems, tensions, or fracture.

Speech transcript

Here’s the transcript of the speech. I have highlighted the missing words in bold.

Though we often hear that depictions of the prophet Muhammad are forbidden in Islam, artworks bearing his image can be found in museums in Europe and the United States. And he is in many carefully curated private collections of Islamic art, appearing from time to time in the catalogues of prestigious auction houses when these artworks change hands.

The prohibition of images of the prophet, no matter how anodyne, is widely accepted today – but, as these examples show, it is a distinctly modern edict. The religious justification for the ban is far less clear than its proponents believe: there is no such instruction in the Qur’an. There is, of course, a pre-Islamic aversion to idol worship shared by all the monotheistic religions, and over the centuries this aversion gradually wore away depictions of Muhammad in Islamic art. But this was only a prelude to the modern charge of blasphemy – which arrived only in the 20th century, after the Muslim world had fractured into nation-states.

The modern majority-Muslim nation-state is a weak and unwieldy creature. Across Africa and south Asia, colonial forces lumped together disparate tribes and languages, drew boundary lines around them, and then abruptly decamped to Europe. For many citizens of these new nations, Islam was the only common denominator. In the absence of any coherent political programme beyond the maintenance of their own power, ruling elites fastened on to Islam as a binding agent. From there it was an easy step to pick out some sacred icons, such as the image of the prophet, and to draw arbitrary theological red lines, useful for dispensing with political opponents. The story of blasphemy in contemporary Islam isn’t about doctrine. It is about decline and dictatorship.

There is a lesson in this tale for all of us: the more that a society is preoccupied with its symbols, the more insecure it has become. In the UK, the Conservative government and its court press have seized upon the veneration of national symbols as a consolation for a decade of economic pain and social fracture.

And then, of course, there is the flag, the latest icon to be invested with a sanctity that demands it be flown longer and larger. The government has decreed that after the summer the flag should fly over official buildings every day rather than 20 days a year. No longer is it just jolly bunting on special occasions. This is the endpoint of a journey that began when Nigel Farage took a small union flag and placed it in front of him at the European parliament. In all its absurdity, that moment comes closest to representing what the flag has come to symbolise today – a false but potent claim of liberation from fictional oppressive forces.

Over the past few months, Tory MPs have tried to burnish their political credentials by posturing more and more aggressively about the flag, demanding that it be compulsory in all schools (and that anyone who has concerns can be “educated” into compliance). It is an even shorter distance between that public, official intimidation and private citizens taking matters into their own hands. Earlier this year, one mayor in Cornwall received death threats for removing flags that had been put up without the council’s permission.

“You can’t eat a flag,” said John Hume, one of the architects of the Northern Ireland peace process. When Muslim countries erupt with rage over images of Muhammad, I see governments who cannot feed their people, or provide them with dignity or democratic rights, so they feed them false pride instead. The images we see on the news from Cairo or Khartoum of protests against cartoons or authors, are pictures of astroturfed anger, whipped up and bussed into town squares in government vehicles. Some of that anger seeps into corners that then become impossible to scrub. The worship of icons, whether flags or statues, may seem like a harmless performance on the part of a government that has little else to offer. But behind it lurks the threat of something much more sinister.

I hope you enjoyed this exercise!

Fill in the blanks exercise – education for girls

Here is something a bit different for you – a cloze, or gap, test.

The idea is to listen to the speech and fill in the gaps with one or more words that are grammatically correct and match the content and style of the piece.

This is a good exercise for many reasons:

  • it helps you with anticipation. You won’t be able to fill in every gap before hearing the following few words, but some of them can be guessed immediately because they’re part of a collocation, set phrase, or idiom, or because they make sense in context.
  • it helps you work on reformulation: some of the gaps have many possible solutions. How many can you think of?
  • it’s a good listening exercise. You need to concentrate really hard to follow the speech’s thread, so that you can fill in the blanks.
  • it’s a good reminder that we work at the level of ideas, not words. Imagine if you were interpreting the speech from English into your A language: you could make a good guess at the missing words; so if they were unknown words, you would still be able to follow the meaning in most cases.

Audio file of the speech

You can find the file here.


I won’t go through the whole text; you can check the missing words in the transcript below if you like.

I thought it would be useful to go through just a few of the missing words, when there were several possible solutions.

  • the near-insurmountable …….. facing school-age girls in the world’s poorest regions: this could be challenges, but also obstacles, hurdles, difficulties, or even problems, if you couldn’t think of anything better.
  • Her story ……. that of millions of girls around the world: this could be mirrors, or perhaps echoes, or simply is similar to.
  • There is a need to ……stronger policies to ……. progress: the first gap could be devise, or develop, propose, plan, implement, push through, support. The second gap could be stimulate, boost, speed up.

Transcript of the speech

I’ve highlighted the missing words in bold.

Bright-eyed and clever, a young girl from a small village in Malawi shares her wish for a better life. From her confines, up early in the morning, cleaning and cooking, eating last, marrying young, she has little chance for school, much less a future with a career.

“Give me a chance,” she says disarmingly, “and I’ll take it from there.” The three-minute video, produced by Plan International, a UK-based global advocacy group on children, tells the story of the near-insurmountable challenges facing school-age girls in the world’s poorest regions, including many parts of sub-Saharan Africa.  Her story mirrors that of millions of girls around the world whose prospects are severely limited because they cannot finish school.

According to the 2014 Millennium Development Goals Report, a United Nations annual report that tracks progress towards achieving the MDGs, some 33 million children in sub-Saharan Africa were out of school in 2012.  While the situation varies from country to country and between rural and urban areas, overall 56% of the out-of-school children are girls

There is no doubt that a concerted global push for universal education has narrowed the gender gap in primary school enrolment between 2001 and 2008, says UNESCO, the UN agency on education and culture. Over the past seven years, however, the gap appears to have remained the same, according to the report. Pervasive poverty and persistent cultural attitudes, including forced early marriages and child labour, continue to be the main obstacles to girls’ education in sub-Saharan Africa. 

 “Poverty lies at the heart of many of the challenges that hinder girls’ access to education. The pressures of poverty mean that parents must constantly make decisions about how to utilize extremely limited resources and how best to provide a secure future for their family,”

Poor families, mostly in rural areas, are forced to send boys to school while keeping the girls at home helping with chores in the belief that chores are sufficient lessons for girls to learn how to keep a family. Even as more girls are enrolled in primary schools, their chances of dropping out continue to be greater than boys’. Girls may be withdrawn from school by parents for reasons linked not only to costs but to unwanted pregnancy.

There is a need to devise stronger policies to revive progress. UNESCO and UNICEF are recommending that countries focus on “broad investment to strengthen and expand education systems, a sharp focus on improving the quality of education on offer and targeted interventions for the children who are the very hardest to reach.” 

In a joint report, the two agencies said the priority should be to ensure that even the most vulnerable and disadvantaged girl has access to a school close to home—a school that meets her most basic needs for safety, privacy and cleanliness. 

I hope you enjoyed the exercise!

Interested in more material like this to help you boost your retour? Why not join my monthly membership site, Rock your Retour, with tailor-made written materials and weekly live group classes (online)?

Interpreting Coach logo with strapline

Sophie Llewellyn Smith, writing as The Interpreting Coach, is a coach, interpreter trainer, conference interpreter, designer of online teaching materials, and creator of Speechpool. Follow the blog to pick up tips on how to improve your interpreting skills.

If you’re interested in personal coaching, why not book a free discovery call?

An improvisation exercise to help you talk about time pressure

In this exercise, you will produce a short speech (5-10 minutes) using several idioms or phrases related to time.

I am providing you with a scenario to use for inspiration, but you are of course free to adapt it, expand it, alter it, or whatever you like!

Ban on single use plastics in the UK

Background reading:

article in the Guardian

article from the Independent

Article about time (see below).

Scene-setting for your speech:

You are a campaigner for a ban on plastic items such as drinks stirrers, straws, and cotton buds. You welcome the UK’s announcement that it plans to ban these items, but you believe we need to go much further and look at legislation to tackle all forms of plastic packaging.

Prepare an introduction to your speech, giving your background, the current legal situation, and any other background you think is relevant.

Choose Option 1 OR Option 2.

Option 1: time is short, and time has been wasted

Explain why it is urgent that this ban come about soon. Use several idioms and phrases to indicate the urgency of the situation, and back up your points with some facts and figures (e.g. about plastic waste in the sea).

Point out that the UK could have acted much faster in proposing legislation on this matter, and will now have to make up for lost time. See if you can come up with some reasons for the delay.

Option 2: this proposal comes just in time; the EU legislation will be too late

Explain why this proposal comes just in time – because the EU is about to legislate, but the EU legislation will be too late for Brexit-related transposition into UK law. At least if the UK legislates now, it will keep in step with EU environmental legislation.

Use several idioms and phrases related to time, and some facts and figures to back up the urgency of the situation (e.g. about plastic waste in the sea).


Conclude your speech with a call to action about future, broader, legislation on plastics in general.

Vocabulary assistance: how to talk about…time

Here are some tips to help you talk about time: time passing, time being short, getting things done in time, etc. etc.

The time is ripe

Here is a collection of phrases to express the idea that it’s the right time, or perhaps past time, to get something done:

It’s about time… Curiously, this can mean either that something needs to happen immediately, or that it is now happening, but should have been done sooner.

It’s about time the government provided more funding for mental health services.

It’s about time they tied the knot – they’ve been together for 17 years!

It’s high time…. This phrase is synonymous with ‘about time’ (see above), but a little more emphatic.

There’s no time like the present! The meaning of this phrase is ‘now’, ‘immediately’.

‘When would you like me to start working on the project?’ ‘There’s no time like the present!’

The time is ripe for… means the time is right, the timing is good.

The time is ripe for a remake of this classic film.

Being short of time

Let’s imagine you’re interpreting at a meeting, and the agenda is very long. The Chairman might say one or all of the following:

  • I’m just keeping one eye on the clock, because we have a lot to get through this morning.
  • Time flies! It’s already 11 o’clock, so we need to wrap up this point.
  • Time is marching on, and we need to move on to the next agenda item.
  • We’re short of time today, so we’ll have to come back to this proposal next week.
  • We’re a little pressed for time, I’m afraid. Perhaps we could discuss this bilaterally.
  • In the interests of saving time, I won’t read out the whole document.

What if there is a sense of urgency about a proposal/piece of legislation/action on the part of the authorities? Try:

  • Time is of the essence with this proposal: it will be discussed at the Plenary in a fortnight, so we need your written comments by Monday evening.
  • There’s no time to lose. We need to act immediately.
  • We’re in a race against time. Our competitors are ready to move on this, so we need to make our offer immediately.
  • The emergency services are working against the clock to reach earthquake survivors under the rubble.
  • It’s crunch time! Something needs to be done urgently.
  • Desperate times call for desperate measures.

If time has been lost for some reason (delays, illness of the project leader, documents lost in the post…), you might say:

  • We’re working around the clock now, to make up for lost time.

If there is no great urgency, you might say:

  • All in good time. We don’t want to be too hasty.
  • We have all the time in the world, as there’s no deadline.

Just in time

If something was done/adopted/achieved at the last possible moment, you can use the following phrases:

  • at the eleventh hour: The Parliament was still proposing changes to the Bill at the eleventh hour.
  • in the nick of time: We arrived at the airport in the nick of time; the flight was just about to start boarding.

If it’s too late, you might say:

  • Better late than never!


    • in no time means ‘very quickly’: the revised proposal was ready in no time.
    • to make good time refers to a journey, and means it took less time than expected. We’ve made good time, so we can afford to stop for lunch before hitting the motorway.
    • ahead of its time means radical, innovative (for the time): The play explored ideas about prejudice and tolerance in a way that was ahead of its time. The company was ahead of its time in its employment practices.
    • before my time means before I was born, or before I was old enough to understand. Margaret Thatcher and the poll tax? That was all before my time.
    • to buy time means to delay an event so as to improve your own position in the meantime. I bought some time by telling my supervisor I was ill. He postponed the essay deadline by two days. 
    • to call it a day means to stop for the day, even if you haven’t finished what you’re doing. OK, we still haven’t covered Item 5 on the agenda, but it’s 6 o’clock and we’re all tired. Let’s call it a day and reconvene tomorrow morning.
    • in time vs on time. What’s the difference? ‘On time’ means at the pre-arranged time, e.g. The meeting began on time, at 9 o’clock. ‘In time’ means before a deadline, before something begins: he arrived in time for the beginning of the meeting. He turned up just in time for the beginning of the speech. Imagine a meeting that begins at 9 with a presentation by an invited speaker, but the speaker starts a few minutes late. You could say: I didn’t arrive on time, but I was in time for the presentation.

Last few…

To stand the test of time means to remain popular or in force for a long time.

  • The US Constitution has stood the test of time.
  • Few pop songs of the 2000s will stand the test of time.

Time will tell is an incredibly useful phrase. Will a proposal be adopted following a round the amendments? Will the public support a groundbreaking idea? Will Donald Trump be booted out? Will the UK really leave the EU? Time will tell.

I haven’t mentioned it so far, but the adjective timely can prove useful. It means ‘happening at the best possible moment’ and can be a good translation for words like ‘opportun’ in French, for example.

  • The protests in London at the weekend were a timely reminder that this is still a controversial issue.
  • The change in the exchange rate provided a timely boost to the company’s falling profits.
  • Your comments on the proposal are very timely. We’ll amend the text as soon as possible, since the deadline is next week.

Finally, don’t forget a week is a long time in politics.

Behind the scenes at TerpSummit

behind the scenes at terpsummit

Wondering what it took to organise an international online summit for interpreters, with interpretation into 9 languages?

Keen to know more about what it was like working with Green Terp?

Curious about what it was like to manage all those amazing speakers?

[hint: it was like herding cats…]

Read on…

TerpSummit 2022 in figures

  • registrations: over 3,400 (this includes people who attended the live event, as well as those who registered in order to watch on replay).
  • Hopin registrations: 1,643 (i.e. people who registered for the live event).
  • Peak attendance: 517 – this stayed relatively steady across the 3 days, but may have been affected by the AIIC General Assembly and various other meetings taking place during the same week.
  • Average time spent by attendees at the live event: 8 h 15 minutes (!).
  • Number of speakers: more than 50, in fact. But that wasn’t entirely deliberate 😊. Some of the more last-minute additions to the programme wanted to have a panel-style discussion, which bumped up the speaker numbers.
  • Number of urgent phone calls during the summit from speakers who had technical problems or couldn’t find or enter their Session: 3.
  • Sponsors: 9, who contributed in kind with prizes for the draw; some of them also gave presentations about RSI platforms.
  • Room hosts: 4. They helped introduce the speakers, run through the interpreting arrangements at the beginning of each session, and answer technical questions, so I owe a big thank you to Roxane Hugues, Camelia Oana, Silvana Vulcan, and Clara Campero. A truly international team based in the UK, Romania, and Argentina.
  • Interpreters: 80 interpreters including standbys, dropouts and those who actually interpreted. Plus a 7 person tech team.
  • Booths: 8 (French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian).
  • Number of Zoom meetings with Laura Holcomb (interpreting coordinator): at least 7, of which one was a meeting with a tech guy from Hopin. I also attended 4 GreenTerp/Hopin rehearsals for the interpreters. And we talked on WhatsApp and emailed a lot!

Here are some insights from Hopin:

The tech

I kept this pretty simple.

  • The live summit was hosted on Hopin. I chose this platform last year for the first TerpSummit because of its powerful networking features, as well as the ability to run parallel sessions, which I would not have been able to do on my Zoom account. Since then, Hopin has had very significant investment, and I found it more stable and a touch more user-friendly this time around.
  • The two websites, hosting the TerpSummit pages (registration, schedule, ‘meet the speakers’, etc.) and the Interpreters’ Toolkit for Success (recordings, bonuses), are WordPress sites.
  • I used Airtable extensively to keep track of what needed doing, collect material from speakers, gather feedback etc.
  • I held quite a few meetings on Zoom to co-ordinate with the room hosts, Laura (the interpreting coordinator), or speakers.
  • I used Vimeo to host and record videos, and Screencast-o-Matic for captioning.
  • Once or twice I used Dropbox to transfer large files.
  • I hosted some materials (slides, PDFs) on Google Drive.
  • My CRM (i.e. the mailing system that communicates with people who’ve registered) is Drip.
  • I used Acuity as a scheduling tool.
  • How could I forget WhatsApp? I had 3 main lines of communication going: with Laura, with the interpreting Tech Support group (so I could keep an eye on potential issues), and with the Room Hosts – this was the busiest group, with quick-fire questions, technical help, words of encouragement, and the occasional venting about impatient attendees. Oh, and a few pet photos. 😉

As you can see, I didn’t go overboard with complicated tech (although I’ve spared you the details of the plugins I’ve used in WordPress, etc.).

The interpreting

When I decided to run a summit in 2021, there was a lot to think about: finding the right speakers, building the websites, working out how to charge (or not!), researching live event platforms, deciding what I could afford…There was no way I could add interpretation into the mix, even though it galled me, as an interpreter, to organise a monolingual event.

For TerpSummit 2022, I wanted to at least look into the possibility of offering interpretation. I did this for several reasons: accessibility for those who can’t follow some of the speakers in their mother tongue; trying to move away from a Eurocentric, anglocentric event; offering the whole interpreting community an opportunity to try out one of the remote interpreting tools; and just because I felt it was the right thing to do!

I was talking to Laura Holcomb on Zoom sometime in November about giving a talk on consecutive note-taking in healthcare settings, and we got on to the subject of offering interpretation at the summit. I feel very fortunate that she was enthusiastic about the idea; more, she offered to co-ordinate the interpreting arrangements.

We’ve had some time to think about the outcome since then, and overall I think we’re very happy that we went ahead with this very ambitious enterprise. Laura reached out to Dr Bernard Song from Green Terp because the idea of a system designed by interpreters for interpreters appealed to us, and I’m very grateful that Bernard came on board and worked incredibly hard (from a difficult time zone!) to make sure that the GT Booth system was ready for an event involving 9 languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian) – the GT extension for Chrome and Firefox was released just before the Summit.

I’ve asked Laura and Bernard, as well as some of the volunteer interpreters, to share their experiences – both highs and lows, because there were definitely some lows! – with us. You will find their replies to my questions below.

Debrief with the interpreters

We held a public Zoom session to ask the interpreters what it was like using Green Terp.

Here are the questions we asked:

1. How long did it take you to prepare for TerpSummit? (Including familiarising yourself with the tool (GTB) and materials such as slides/videos). Anything particularly interesting or different that you noticed during the process?

2. Many of you have worked on other RSI platforms. What was different about working on GT Booth compared with other RSI platforms, in terms of functionalities, training, technical support or tool friendliness?

3. What are the potential improvements you would like to see interpreter team make-up and organisation, training, tech support or tool functionality? 

4. What was a challenge you overcame successfully or your favourite part of the experience in general? 

Working with Laura Holcomb and Dr Bernard Song

What made you want to participate in TerpSummit?

Bernard: I participated the first TerpSummit last year, and I thought it was a brilliant idea. We interpreters as a community tend to work in small groups and socialise within the region of our domicile, but never had such a chance to meet up on a global scale prior to the pandemic (that’s a blessing of this pandemic!). It is a brilliant opportunity when Laura mentioned to me that you two were considering adding interpretation to this summit, to get involved and contribute to such an occasion. As an interpreters’ event, why can’t we have it interpreted? 

Laura: I had seen a bit of your work and respected you, and it, very much as a colleague. That’s a good starting point for wanting to be involved—admiration and attraction to a certain type of leadership. That was further bolstered by your willingness to put on a free summit. I loved the initiative and am always looking for meaningful ways to contribute that might expand my horizons at the same time. In this case specifically, I would be involved in cross-ocean work, would be given a chance to hop out of my silos, and would be working to steady interpreters with a new tech tool, a tool that was not only new to me, but also in the final stages of beta development. 

Finally, I thought it odd that interpreting conferences didn’t actually have interpreting. Sometimes presenters would be speaking their third or fourth language. Some can manage this quite easily but I was not raised bilingually and so have accepted that I will probably forever be more dynamic as a presenter in my mother tongue. I imagined there were others in my shoes with something to say, as well as interpreters who might not have English in their combination. 

Furthermore, at first blush, it actually didn’t seem like it would be a big deal. I have, by now, a solid base and a bit of a fondness for organizing interpreters and working with them in unfamiliar tech environments. So starting with “oh, this will be no big deal” gave me the courage to stretch. And stretch I did!

[Sophie: I think Laura and I both had moments when we thought we had bitten off more than we could chew…but I had gone with a ‘go big or go home’ idea, and I thought it was worth seeing it through, even if the result on the day wasn’t optimal. After all, this is the reality of working with RSI].

How did you go about planning what needed to be done?

Bernard: Together with Laura, we planned for the training/orientation of the interpreters, and I helped recruit and train part of the Chinese booths. Laura did most of the work in planning and organising the team really, and I tried to support with technical resources. It is definitely an overwhelming job to organise such a large team, with last min dropouts and signups, interpreters with different tech levels. 

Laura: The steps in general are by now quite automated in my head: see who is interested (whatsapp groups, ask around), collect basic info from volunteers, as well as tech info (headset, connection, mac vs pc, etc.) and understand the volunteers’ motivations. This last bit helps me better tailor my communication and support (for all this I used a google form which is great for anything informal and the answers then feed to a google sheet that I can easily organize, sort and tinker with). 

Then, the next step was to demo the platform to ease in gently (I used calendly to set up different time slots. This was a bit of a guessing game at first due to the different time zones and work demands of the varied group. I ended up having to do a few extra demos to accommodate latecomers or tight schedules). 

I knew I wanted to follow this up with a full rehearsal to give myself, interpreters and techs a bit of actual hands-on practice as a group, and test relay, in particular. So I created a couple more rehearsal slots for this. 

While time marched forward, a circular scheduling management process hummed along in the background (another google sheet). I had at least had a good primer on this with all the scheduling management I have done for co>lab and Lab7 Healthcare—two fairly complex peer practice based intensives, the latter involving 150 medical students coming in and out of the doors of a virtual meeting space. 

From there, the booth schedule morphed into an interpreter dashboard where I organized essential links, posted the most up-to-date speaking schedule for each day and shared interpreter contact information. Without the dashboard, an easily updatable, centralized repository, I would have been lost. 

We also created a WhatsApp support chat that I knew would be essential for off-platform, quick communication. Some of our China-based colleagues don’t have access to WhatsApp and depend on WeChat. But I couldn’t access WeChat from Guatemala so we had to have some intermediaries!

Alongside this was the task of organizing the tech work. I called in some friends and colleagues and tried to do some organizing, but this part was tough—all busy, in-demand professionals. But it all worked out because this group was very happy to and capable of practicing on their own.

Those were the basic nuts and bolts. 

[Sophie: the dashboard was a fantastic tool, which kept all the relevant information in one place, so the interpreters could see the booth schedule, important links (Hopin, speaker bios), and materials (slides, PDFs) very easily, and everyone else (techs, Laura, Bernard, and me) had contact information to hand.]

What did it take to pull this off?

Bernard: Regarding the GT technical side, we did two major upgrades on the interpreter end (Auto-Relay) and audience end (GreenTerp Extension) under time pressure. We had a server issue identified in the first formal rehearsal and quickly resolved that. So in the end, we had a stable server running that is able to support up to 10k audience and 10 booths. 

I under-estimated the time commitment, to be honest, but I never regretted it. If you ask me to choose again, I would say yes for sure. I didn’t use any time trackers, but I did work late every day to make sure that GT Booth is as smooth and easy to an interpreter, as an iPhone to a consumer. Working at odd hours is unavoidable when we need to train and collaborate with colleagues from different time zones, but it was an unforgettable and worthwhile experience. 

Laura: This work was pretty much my full time job beginning Dec 6th and running through the Summit. I was able to work in some other professional commitments as needed, and decently able to take two weeks off at Christmas while traveling to see family, which was wonderful and quite important, but the bulk of my time went to getting everything and everyone situated, as best I could.

[Sophie: I reached out to a few speakers in July 2021, and started planning in earnest in September. From mid-November onwards, the Summit takes up all my available ‘spare’ (ha!) time and more. It displaces some other professional activities such as coaching or working on e-courses, runs on into the evenings, and continues for around 4 weeks after the summit. What seems like 3 intensive days to outsiders is actually nearly 3 months of work for me.]

Biggest challenge?

Bernard: The server failure in the first rehearsal, but that was a good stress test, so we were fully prepared afterwards. There were other challenges behind the scenes, with our superb technicians team (Laura, Ernest, Tamber, Amy, Yang), we pulled it off. 


Time zones are a challenge, such a concrete challenge, so not much to be done. You overcome it with teamwork and compromise. For demos and rehearsals, I tried to offer varied slots that would have a good chance of being accessible in at least two time zones per slot. Mic checks had to happen an hour before start time which meant a very early wake-up for me here in Guatemala. This challenge was overcome by asking for some extra help from my awesome partner Byron to take over the family duties. Plus, others such as Ernest and Dr. Bernard were making the same effort, so it was nice not to be alone on that front. In the future, this could be better overcome by getting tech coverage in a more amenable time zone. Even then, it is what it is. I would want to be there come start time in any case.

Working with a developing platform and different levels of tech comfort. An inclusive environment was important to me on the tech front. Because I work with so many interpreters on this, I know tech can be a challenge, but I also know we are all capable of learning—and learning was one of the points of picking a newer platform. We overcame this by titrating out the intro to the platform: watch and absorb the videos, let’s demo now and just walk through it, okay, now on to the rehearsal. Normally any tech barriers can be overcome by just spending some extra one-on-one time with folks, but here the problem was that I truly didn’t have that time. However, by and large, the interpreters who signed up for this charge were steady on their feet and tech amenable. And I was grateful for that. In the future it might be useful to make it clearer to myself that this is not the environment best suited for learning or even practicing basic tech skills in themselves (a good tech course would be a much better set-up for success!), but see it more as a good chance for those who already have solid tech footing to expand their reach.

Turnover. We had dropouts for a variety of reasons; people we had been investing in since December. This was overcome by a bit of sweat equity, teamwork and some agile folks stepping in at the last minute. Some interpreters pitched in with extra shifts to reduce the number of last minute GT trainings we would have to do. Ernest went above and beyond to help me do some of the last minute fly-by-the seat intros to GT for new interpreters filling in. For next time I am thinking this might have been better mitigated by staffing three-person booths from the outset, instead of the two-person booth that I am more accustomed to.

What did you get out of the experience?

Bernard: Laura and Sophie, you two had faith in me and in Green Terp with our new product, and supported this ambitious plan to take shape step by step. I also learned a lot from you guys on organising such a large event, with so many interpreters, and the amazing technicians team that is comprised of interpreters too! These are the most valuable part of the experience involving in this event. I really believe in the mantra that the more you give, the more you will get.


I was privileged to work with a whole bunch of really kind, highly competent colleagues. Many of which I did not know ahead of this experience. 

I learned more tech skills, because this is inevitable when working with a new tool and a new set of people.

And, I will be honest, I am a, let’s say, small deal, and do not typically manage 8-language events, over multiple days, with this many interpreters. So being part of something of this scope will certainly make me more efficient and better prepared the next time around, for large and small events alike.

And quite importantly, I learned what it’s like to put your everything into something and still not quite know if it will turn out okay at all. To really not know. And to give that up to the world of things that are out of my hands.

I got to be a part of some pretty selfless giving on all fronts – a free summit (incredible!) organized by Sophie entirely on her own “time dime”, plus a volunteer platform, techs, interpreters and speakers. A lot of people coming together to share. Just because. That’s special.

[Sophie: I can relate relate to Laura’s point about putting your all into something and not knowing if it will work. Hosting a live event like this is seat-of-your-pants stuff: it’s really exciting, the energy is phenomenal; but it could go horribly wrong at any time…Definitely not my natural comfort zone! But as Chris Guichot de Fortis would say, if you want to walk on water, get out of the boat!]

Attendees’ impressions

I sent out a feedback form after the Summit to ask attendees about various things: their favourite presentations, suggested topics, etc.

One of the points I was most interested in was attendees’ views on the interpreting arrangements: was it worth doing? Did they actually use interpretation?

I won’t give you a detailed breakdown of the replies. Instead, I’ll summarise.

Around half of respondents found GT Booth convenient, with only minor issues (the most problematic part was when we had multilingual sessions with relay. The audio quality suffered in booths working on relay.)

Around half of respondents didn’t need or didn’t use interpretation.

However, the interesting thing, as far as I’m concerned, is that over 3/4 of respondents felt that offering interpretation at the summit was worthwhile (even if they didn’t use it!).

The reasons are neatly summed up in this response:

“Yes, it’s worth it to expand the range of speakers, to avoid a Western-centric view of the world, to offer practice opportunities and makes us be users of interpretation for once, which can be very enlightening.”

Will there be a next time?


When the live event is taking place, TerpSummit is very exciting! It’s fantastic for me to see interpreters learning from one another, coming together from all around the globe, being supportive, having an opportunity to make new contacts.

I can’t say enough how grateful I am to everyone who made the summit what it was: Bernard and Laura, the techs, Room Hosts, interpreters, speakers…and the audience!

As you will hopefully have realised from this blog post, it’s also a big task in terms of organisation.

This year, I again have to digest the outcome and decide if running the event is worthwhile for me, personally, professionally, and financially.

Some of the issues for me to consider are:

  • am I confident that I can gather the best speakers, who have a really useful contribution to make on relevant topics?
  • am I satisfied with the pricing model – does it cover my costs (a live event platform like Hopin costs in the thousands of euros, just sayin’); is it too much work offering the Interpreters’ Toolkit with all the bonuses? This is something I’ve explored through the feedback form, and the responses haven’t necessarily matched my expectations!
  • would I offer interpretation again (for some sessions? All sessions?)

There are many more, which I will spare you. Thank you for reading, and do comment below!

Sophie signature transparent

p.s. for anyone who’s disappointed that the title ‘BTS TerpSummit and GreenTerp’ on the video above didn’t actually mean that BTS were involved in any way 😉, here they are being smooth like butter:


Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.