By Lefteris Kafatos
Since its founding by Thomas Jefferson, the Office of Language Services (LS/I) has acted as America’s foreign mouthpiece to all non-Anglophone interlocutors. In the realms of both public diplomacy and government-to-government relations, LS/I interpreters have stood by America’s leaders for almost two-and-a-half centuries while conveying their message in foreign languages. Then came the year 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the globe and made in-person meetings impossible. LS/I was once again called upon to stand by America’s diplomats, but this time, it had to be remote. Considering this, LS/I Division Chief Yun-hyang Lee spearheaded the creation of the Hub.
The Hub is a room in the Department of State’s SA-1 Building offering six interpreting booths resembling those used by simultaneous interpreters at the United Nations. The difference is, in addition to the hardware used for testing and training simultaneous interpreters, the Hub can now support remote meetings worldwide via web-based video conferencing applications such as WebEx, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams, as well as private market platforms specifically designed for interpretation. Now, thanks to this setup, vetted and cleared LS/I interpreters can support multilingual events in both simultaneous and consecutive modes.
Further, when an interpreter is needed for a particular language not found in Washington, Hub technicians can connect to one of the hundreds of LS/I-vetted and tested interpreters based in other parts of the country and the world. In this way, LS/I can support all types of events, from small bilateral meetings with just one foreign language to big multilateral summits in many languages.
“The Hub is a game-changer because it allows LS/I to provide the highest quality of interpretation in a professionally equipped work environment, which includes devices to protect interpreters’ hearing,” said Hub technician and Russian interpreter Cyril Flerov.
Of course, challenges remain. Interpreters strain more during remote meetings because they cannot read body language and facial cues easily, and participants’ poor sound connections are an issue. Still, LS/I continues to rise to the occasion as it brings 21st century technology to its age-old mission. For questions regarding interpreting, both remote and in-person, please contact LS/I by email.
Lefteris Kafatos is a diplomatic interpreter in the Office of Language Services in the Bureau of Administration.