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Wednesday / August 12.

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Tongues in Check: Running a Multi-Lingual Event

There are close to 7 billion people in the world and these amount to more than 6900 spoken languages. With technology the way it is in our contemporary globalized age, it is a near certainty that in your professional career you will have to communicate with someone who does not share your first language. As an event professional, the odds are that you will one day need to organize a multi-lingual event of your own. Here are a few things that you should take note of.

 Rely On Expertise

In spite of your obvious superhuman intelligence, you still can’t know everything there is to know about life. But don’t be too hard on yourself – no one can. And that’s why we need teamwork.

Planning for a multi-lingual conference entails a whole host of technical and technological details that may or may not be within your range of knowledge. These include audio transmission devices, table-top or much bigger soundproof cubicles or booths, multi-channel headsets and communication equipment, and of course a central system to control all of these things. That, is not only a whole system that necessarily needs to function well, but also a wholly vital network that absolutely cannot, and must not, fail. With this in mind, it is essential that you ensure someone of that technical caliber is on your team or specially hired for this event. There are many details for you and your team to worry about in the course of event planning, so set your mind at ease with this one and get the best people in charge of it.



Since you are organizing a multi-lingual event, I’ll take the liberty of assuming it will be on a big scale. This is where your homework must be done to make sure everything runs smoothly. Firstly, ensure that every delegate or attendee that is not conversant or functional in the pre-determined floor language (more on that later) is accounted for. There is nothing more humiliating or exclusionary than to arrive at a conference like this and discover yours is the only language unaccounted for so don’t subject any of your attendees to this. This isn’t always a straightforward thing. Many of your delegates will come from large, multicultural countries where the language landscape is diverse. Be aware of these nuances and don’t make rash assumptions that someone from a particular country is comfortable in what is ostensibly the “official language” of said country. Pay attention to detail when it comes to this to not only make your guests feel welcome but to avoid offending any political or racial sensitivities.

Floor Language

Now that you’ve put together your myriad of interpreters, it is important to establish “floor language”. This will be the language with which all proceedings will be governed. That is to say, for mass conferences, seminars, or dialogue sessions, the floor language will be the one through which things will be conducted. As with any such choice, it has the potential to be a sensitive issue so make sure your choice isn’t a contentious one.

Have A Hold On Things

Your conference resembles a post-Tower of Babel free-for-all so it is up to you to make sure that everything is well-organized and orderly. This, needless to say really, makes your event hassle-free and easy for your guests to navigate. This means that signage should be clearly marked and prominent. For obvious reasons, use internationally-recognizable symbols as much as possible as this will help you transcend the language barriers. Make the event venue as easy to get around as possible and assign guides if possible. If not, have a general briefing at the start of the event with everyone, delegates and interpreters, present so that everyone knows the fundamentals of the event. Sign.jpg

Brief Interpreters

Interpreters are going to be the lifeblood of your event and in more or less sole control of what delegates take away from it. If the recruitment of interpreters falls under your responsibility, then make sure you get the best possible for the job. It is all too easy to imagine a mistranslation leading to a diplomatic incident. Don’t let that happen to your event. Regardless of the origin of the interpreters, make sure that they are well briefed about the programs, speakers, topics and agendas so that you can be assured that the right message is being taken home.

That’s It

A multi-linguistic event is a massive operation and there are many nitty-gritty details that this article hasn’t even begun to cover. However, I believe that the essentials to running such a show have been discussed here, albeit briefly, and it should be a useful guide to charting your own course for such a momentous undertaking.

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