The ATA Chronicle - July/August 2020 - 33

INTERPRETERS FORUM

BY MAHA EL-METWALLY

Acoustic Shock: What Interpreters Need to Know
SAFETY IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY

(The following was originally published
on the blog of ATA's Interpreters Division,
www.ata-divisions.org/ID/blog.)

When we do in-person interpreting, we
often rely on others to ensure that the
equipment functions properly. However,
under the current circumstances when
we're all working from home, that
responsibility falls on us. Properly
functioning equipment will go a long way
toward ensuring our safety and peace of
mind in troubling times.

A

coustic shock can have very serious
implications for interpreters but
we're not paying enough attention to
it. This issue has gained more awareness in
the context of remote interpreting during
the pandemic, but also in the context of
colleagues who experienced acoustic shock
while working in Canada, Paris, and other
places. As interpreters, we need to educate
ourselves about this condition.
Let's start with a definition. There are
several definitions out there, including:
exposure to sudden, loud, shocking, or
startling noises, usually in one ear, which
may subsequently develop into painful
symptoms.1 Acoustic shock can have many
symptoms. It could manifest as physical
symptoms like headaches, tinnitus, nausea,
hyperacusis (a collapsed tolerance to usual
environmental sounds), muffled hearing,
and vertigo. Other symptoms include
numbness or burning sensations around
the ear. If the symptoms persist, acoustic
shock could even lead to psychological
symptoms such as post-traumatic stress
disorder, anxiety, and even depression.

PROTECTING YOURSELF
So, what can you do to protect
yourself against acoustic shock and
its consequences? You could start by
purchasing a limiter. Limiters are not
widely used in the world of interpreting,
but they are in the world of television and
the music industry. These small pieces of
equipment act as a middleman between
your headphones and the interpreter
console or computer. They inhibit any
sudden surges2 in sound from reaching
dangerous levels. The manufacturers
calibrate the limiters to suit the make and
model of your own headphones. You may
want to check out brands like AdaptEar
(www.adaptear.com) or LimitEar (www.
limitear.com). You'll also find headphones
with built-in limiters. They may not offer
100% protection against acoustic shock,
but they're better than nothing. Links
for more information on the brands and
www.atanet.org

specifications can be found at the end of
this article.
There are also interpreter consoles with
built-in limiters. So, when you get back
to onsite meeting assignments, make
sure you know what equipment will be
provided. Remember, it's good practice to
ask questions about the equipment you'll
be using in the booth. The conference
technicians will be able to provide the
information you need to minimize the risk
of injury. After all, being knowledgeable
about the tools of your trade is always a
good idea.
Some colleagues who have suffered
acoustic shock had to undergo lengthy
medical treatments, during which
they were unable to work. At the risk
of stating the obvious, our hearing is
essential to our livelihood as interpreters.
With this in mind, you might want to
look into purchasing an occupational
accident insurance policy. These policies
are designed to cover any periods of
unemployment that may arise as a result
of an occupational accident, but make
sure to check if acoustic shock qualifies.
Having this type of coverage in place will
minimize the financial impact if you do
suffer an injury.
Something else for conference
interpreters to keep in mind when we do
start traveling again is that certain types
of planes can be very noisy. Using noisecanceling headphones when traveling can
help protect your ears. It's also a good idea
to have regular hearing checkups as you
may not be aware that your hearing
is deteriorating.

NOTES
1.	
Milhinch, Janice. "Acoustic Shock
Injury: Real or Imaginary?"
https://bit.ly/Milhinch-shock.
2.	

You can learn more about surges in an
article on decibels by Cyril Flerov, a Russian
conference interpreter and executive
director of the American Association of
Language Specialists. See: Flerov, Cyril.
"What Every Interpreter Must Know about
Decibels," https://bit.ly/Flerov-decibels.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
Bowman, Naomi. "How to Choose a Headset
for Remote Simultaneous Interpreting,"
https://bit.ly/Bowman-headsets.
Flerov, Cyril. "How to Use Audio Equalization
and Compression to Partially Mitigate Effects
of Toxic Sound in Remote Interpretation,"
https://bit.ly/Flerov-toxic-sound.
The International Association of Conference
Interpreters put together a listing of headsets that
are compliant with the International Organization
for Standardization: https://bit.ly/AIIC-headsets.

Maha El-Metwally is a
conference interpreter who works
for a wide range of international
organizations, including the
European Institutions and the
United Nations. In addition
to ATA, she is a member of the International
Association of Conference Interpreters and the
Chartered Institute of Linguists. She serves on
the Board of the Institute of Translation and
Interpreting, where she is also a member of the
Admissions Committee. She is associated with
a number of universities in the U.K. and abroad
where she contributes to the curricula. Having
obtained an MA in interpreter training from the
University of Geneva, she offers training on
technology for interpreters and remote interpreting.
Contact: maha@culturalbridges.co.uk.
American Translators Association

33


http://www.ata-divisions.org/ID/blog https://www.bit.ly/Milhinch-shock https://www.bit.ly/Flerov-decibels https://www.bit.ly/Bowman-headsets https://www.bit.ly/Flerov-toxic-sound https://www.bit.ly/AIIC-headsets http://www.limitear.com http://www.adaptear.com http://www.limitear.com http://www.atanet.org

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