More tools and toys for interpreters

While the past 15 years have seen the boom of computer-aided tools in translation, not much advance has been made in interpretation technology until recently. Phone interpretation, remote interpretation, video remote interpretation and webcast interpretation have changed and continue to change the playing field. Being the eternal romantic that I am, I keep thinking that more improvement is just around the corner, and I continue to look for hope in unusual places. One of my favorite places is the Apple Store.

The ongoing computer-aided tool boom that translators have experienced has, as far as interpreters are concerned, mostly left them curious and thirsty for technology — possibly even envious. As we enter uncharted technological waters, encounters with technology are, more often than not, imposed by clients, projects or a market need. Interpretation business models are themselves changing, emerging partly from a push toward less travel time from all parties involved and bandwidth becoming more stable. In the current market, there is room for technology designed by interpreters for interpreters. In the meantime, my search for interpretation technology continues to be erratic but fruitful. As a parent of three generation Y teenagers, I am constantly reminded that “there is an app for everything,” so the App Store has become sort of an intellectual playground.

I recently gave brief overviews in the September 2015 ATA Chronicle of five apps that can be beneficial for interpreters. The apps I covered were Voice-O-Meter, for help with vocal volume; vBookz PDF Voice Reader, which reads PDF files aloud; Be On Air, for broadcasting over a Wi-Fi network; and Interplex Lite, used to view the Interplex glossary on an iPhone or iPod Touch. I would like to share my experiences with a couple of additional apps that are available from the App Store that could strengthen our practice as interpreters or prove useful in the interpretation classroom.


This app transforms your phone or iPad into a teleprompter reader that scrolls text in different speeds for you to read in front of your phone camera, producing a high resolution video of you reading a given text. The speech needs to be written on any app on your phone, which you can copy and paste into Speaker’s Coach. You can increase or decrease the speed, but, at the moment, the app does not inform the user at which speed the text is being read. Using other apps such as vBookz PDF Voice Reader, it would not be too difficult to measure the number of words per minute a certain text is being rendered.

An important feature of this app for interpreters who are serious about numbers is the fact that it is possible to measure characters, words, lines, paragraphs and reading time. The video itself, as a .mov file, can be emailed, sent as a text or posted on social media, such as Facebook, sent via Dropbox or saved on an iPhone or iPad. One point of improvement would be to customize the text in different colors, because if you also have a white background or a white shirt, it could be difficult to read. My favorite features are that the app allows the speaker to know how long the speech is and the handy 1-2-3 countdown feature at the beginning.

Great interpreters are known for their public speaking abilities, which is all the more important when speeches are rendered in consecutive mode. As a matter of fact, giving speeches and identifying speech types is a building block in many interpretation programs. This app has potential for students to record themselves and then exchange speeches for critiques, or for seasoned interpreters to take a much-needed critical look at their diction, intonation, pitch, volume and so on in their working languages.


OperaVOX is for the serious linguist, willing to get educated in the phonetics and phonology of our wonderful voices and sounds. The app accurately measures how one’s voice changes throughout the day, week or month and could even be used to track minor changes in voice quality, by matching colorful graphs with a sound file.

Don’t let the fact that OperaVOX has so many advanced voice quality analysis features discourage you. With iPhone and iPad interfaces, this app delivers a professional voice analysis without having to step into a doctor’s office or a sound engineer booth, using state-of-the-art voice analysis algorithms to measure voice quality straight from a device, without the use of specialist equipment.

My analysis showed that my speaking fundamental frequency (SFO) can vary between 197.1-220.7 Hz, which is right on target for women, who generally have SFOs of around 225 Hz. As I continue to study the numbers for jitter (irregularities in the frequency at which the vocal cords vibrate) and shimmer (measuring the change in loudness, or amplitude, over several sound waves generated by the vocal cords vibrating), I hope not only to keep on singing in the shower, but making sure my voice lasts in the three-week assignment I will be undertaking soon.