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  • Writer's pictureNadine Hegmanns


Updated: Mar 11

There comes a day when, after weighing up the pros and cons, the local conditions and the interpreting requirements, you will be working with a wireless tour guide system (aka "whispering equipment" or, much to the interpreters‘ regret as it is quite misleading, "audio guide"). As the name suggests, it was designed for guided tours, and not simultaneous interpreting. So, working with a portable tour guide system is rather unfortunate for conference interpreters, because instead of sitting in a soundproof booth, equipped with headphones, we will be in the midst of things (quite literally, in the middle of the group of people we are interpreting for). But there are indeed times when such systems can be extremely practical. For a plant tour, for example.

So, what do you do when your client asks for portable whispering equipment? Well, first of all, you should be able to tick off everything on your list: for guided tours over hill and dale, you will need (slip-resistant) footwear to balance over single trails and moss-covered wooden bridges, a mackintosh (the raincoat, not the computer!), a backpack (or cross-body bag) to keep your arms free for a notepad and pen (in case names and numbers come up) and, most importantly, your handheld microphone. For plant tours, personal protective equipment (safety shoes, hard hat, safety goggles, etc.) is generally provided by the client.


Enter: the tour guide system

Ask your trusted sound engineer to provide you with a portable tour guide system. And then there it is: a shockproof case half a meter tall and wide (for those who’ve never met me in person: that's pretty much a third of my height!). A case with 20 receivers weighs about 15 kg (the relation to my body weight is best left unmentioned). Suddenly your start to question the word "portable" and wonder what it will be like to translate "on the go". I will just say it: I’m never particularly thrilled when I heave the enormous case into my trunk. Surely there must be another way? There is.

The solution

Before my last interpreting assignment I had a little time to spare, so I gave it a try and made the effort to pull out my dusty scales from the bathroom. "Wireless" may sound light as air, but the case alone, without receivers and headphones, tips the scales at a hefty 9.5 kg. Surely, this is due to the built-in charging station. Receivers, headphones, and handheld mic weigh just a mere 4 kg. "I can carry that," I thought to myself, looking at my tiny biceps. The receivers were already charged, and my sound engineer told me that the batteries would easily last for a 2-hour tour. So, I decided to leave the charging case at home. And then I opted for a backpack, and lo and behold: the tour guide system is manageable, even comfortable on my shoulders. Plus, the backpack allows me to keep my hands free for my notepad, the handheld mic, and the occasional handshake with participants and organisers.Now, before any sound engineers among the readership will scream blue murder: I admit that a common backpack is not ideal to transport receivers and headphones. My backpack, however, does have compartments to separate the gear and to avoid damage. I did a little research, though, and I found out that people have used a padded photo backpack to transport the tour guide systems. So, instead of extremely sensitive lenses and filters you can stow the receivers and headphones in different padded compartments. The handheld microphone already comes in a protective case, so that’s a plus. With a purchase price of 30 EUR to 120 EUR incl. laptop compartment, this is perhaps a true alternative (note the massive hint to technology companies).

So it may be a good investment if you plan to use the audio guide more often. A black photo bag would certainly look great with your company logo or that of the conference interpreters’ professional association! Oh, I can just see it: a Laura Ashley floral pattern for a guided tour in the great outdoors, a discreet and classic leather shoulder bag for the tour through a production line, a robust Swiss made bag made from recycled truck tarps for the visit to the welding shop, or a practical hydration backpack for the next bus tour ... The sky truly is the limit here, folks!

Tips for organisers

If you offer wireless interpretation at your event, you should definitely hand out the receivers in exchange for a deposit. It is easy to forget to return borrowed equipment, and a replacement is expensive at around 150 € per device. It is also advisable to have somebody hand out or return the equipment, because neither the organiser nor the interpreters have the time to take care of guests coming late to the event. My extra tip: international participants often do not know about the extra service you’re offering to them. So put up a sign next to the registration desk saying "Translation available".

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