Sound clarity is very important when helping people communicate, so I tested a few different setups. My husband (who is very particular about sound quality) was my test audience, and a colleague played the role of the person on Zoom.
We troubleshot systems for both in-person interpreting, when we need to wear masks inside public buildings, and for remote simultaneous interpreting, when the limited-English person (LEP) can’t access the interpreting platform or there is not interpreting channel. Here are our results.
Remote Simultaneous Interpreting
First, we tried using my cell phone with the earbud in my ear. It was a mess! The microphone did not produce clear sound unless I held it near my mouth.
Next was my cell phone on speaker. That had excellent sound! The person on the official platform could also hear the LEP when I did not speak, when I put my phone close to the microphone. The only downside was that I needed to use a hand to hold the phone close to the microphone, which meant I couldn’t take notes at those times.
Whether I put a phone on speaker or not, I always need to make sure I do not let my battery go too low. I can either charge the wireless phone during the call or just use a corded phone.
The third setup was Google Voice with the microphone incorporated into my webcam. Losing battery was not a problem, but I traded that for fuzzy sound.
Last, we tried Google Voice with the boom microphone from my Bose headset. That had the best sound of all! The only problem was that the LEP and the people on the official platform could not access each other directly.
Best option: Cell phone on speaker. This allows top-level sound, and it allows the person’s voice to be heard by the person on the other line. It also did not feel disruptive to my interpreting skills in a brief test.
Weaknesses: The person on the phone can’t hear the person on the teleconference platform. The Bose headset had the best sound, but Google Voice eliminated the ability for participants to hear each other directly.
Since I am also interpreting in person, I tested masks. I read a page of a book with each mask to see what muffled the sound less.
The KN-95 mask had the best sound, followed by the cloth mask, the surgical mask, and finally the cloth mask with a clear window. One big weakness of masks is that they remove lip reading ability.The mask with a clear window was supposed to help with this, but it produced the most muffled sound.
Best Option: For clear communication, masks that provide space between our mouth and the mask are best. KN-95s are more effective regarding small particles the size of a virus, and they also provide the best clarity for communication.
Weaknesses: People rely on reading lips more than they think, and they can’t do that when the person they’re speaking to is wearing a mask. The masks with clear windows are supposed to help that, but they provide a muffled sound.
As an interpreter, I can’t afford to not be understood by the people who don’t have a common language. This is why I test these systems before taking the show on the road.