Live Spanish Translation via Captions

Aberdeen Broadcasting Services was recently contacted to present a solution for a unique challenge: providing English to Spanish translations at a live event in which a pro-football player would be interviewed in front of both an English and Spanish speaking audience. Our solution? Translation through captions.

At first glance, this might not seem like a big deal, but other more conventional translating solutions wouldn’t cut it this time. A standing translator was not an option since more than half of the audience would still be English speakers. This would have also thrown off the flow of the informal interview-style producers desired. On the other hand, the logistical challenges of getting radios for the several hundred Spanish speakers in the audience meant radio translation wasn’t a feasible option either.

In order to make this a success, we had to make it over several hurdles. First: human resources and talent. This time we used in an in-house translator for the English to Spanish oral interpreting and we secured one of our most skilled Spanish live writers.

The second set of challenges were technical: the event would be held at a sports arena in San Diego, the translator would work out of Aberdeen’s offices in Orange County, and the writer worked out of Columbia. To solve this, the translator connected to the event through a phone line and audio coupler; the translator connected with the writer through Skype; and the writer dialed into the encoder at the sports arena.

The third set of challenges belonged to the linguistic realm. The guest speaker was a pro football quarterback talking about his experiences as a Christian in the pro college football and the NFL; this meant his speaking would be filled with a mix of Christian and football terminology. Also, the translator was Puerto Rican, the writer Colombian, and most of the audience was Mexican. This required the translator to use words and terminology that kept the accuracy, integrity, and feeling of what was being said in English, including football terminology, but that at the same time would be understood by both the writer and the audience.

The last challenge was practical and related to the audience’s experience: keeping the delay to a minimum. The goal was to keep the final Spanish captions limited to a 4 to 5-second delay from the time they were originally spoken. This only gave 2-3 seconds for both translation and writing, plus the 2 to 3-second delay that is unavoidable when doing live captions.

In the end, the event was a success. All these challenges were met with unprecedented coordination and communication. And most importantly, the Spanish speaking audience’s need was met with a timely and accurate translation.

What do you think of Aberdeen’s solution to this event? Would you have done things differently? We would love to hear your feedback.

This blog was written by Rolando Betancourt