How can an interpretation system prove useful for our church?
For churches to grow nowadays it has become almost imperative to transcend language barriers. When people travel or move to a country where they do not speak their language, they will still seek a way to attend religious services and practice their faith, no matter how insurmountable the obstacles may seem at first. And these people will naturally flock to houses of worship nearby their abodes. They will not travel large distances to churches where their language is the main one being spoken. So, local churches will find a significant growth opportunity if only they can bridge this language gap, which is precisely what interpretation systems are meant to do.
How do they work?
Most of these systems use FM technology and consist of a transmitter and multiple receivers. An interpreter, who is fluent in both languages facilitates communication between the pastor and the foreign speaking congregants. The interpreter, who can be a professional or a member of the congregation, sits next to the transmitter connected to a microphone and interprets in real time what the pastor is saying into the foreign language. Congregants, in turn, listen to the interpreter’s voice through wireless FM receivers with headphones, which only require to be turned on and have the volume adjusted to their desired level.
How can I know which system we need to purchase?
This will be mainly determined by the number of your non-English speakers in your congregation requiring interpretation and the physical characteristics and layout of your church. Usually, interpretation systems are sold in bundles that include a transmitter and microphone for the interpreter and a specific number of receivers with headphones for the foreign speaking congregants. Preferably you would want to slightly overestimate your accommodation and get a few more than what you currently need, for example if you have around 18 to 20 members who require interpretation, you might be well going with a system for 25 people, thus anticipating eventual growth (based on the mere presence of the system) and you will have spares just in case.
Regarding layout and physical characteristics while it is true that most transmitters’ range will be sufficient to cover the ground of most churches, you should consider where the interpreter is going to be located. Sometimes there is no choice but to place him or her among the audience or right next to them. However, this can prove to be distracting to the people nearby since they will not only be listening to the pastor but also to the interpreter, and it will be difficult for the interpreter as well since they would need to listen to what the pastor is saying among a crowded and usually noisy background. Therefore, whenever possible you should place the interpreter away from the audience such as in the back or side of the sanctuary, or in a separate room or inside a soundproof interpretation booth. But for this setup to work you need to make sure that your chosen system includes an interpreter monitor feature such as Enersound T-500 transmitter so it can be connected to the mixer or PA system to send direct audio to the interpreter’s headphones. The Enersound TSB bundles are a good example of this. (link).
Do these systems require a professional installation?
No, they are “plug and play.” Once you know where you are going to place the transmitter, it is only a matter of plugging it to a wall outlet and connecting it with a cable to the PA system (if it allows that function). Once connected and plugged in the interpreter needs to choose the appropriate channel to transmit in and that’s it. Afterwards they only need to listen and speak the interpretation to the microphone. The headset and microphone are connected to the transmitter. The transmitter may be connected to the PA system with a cable. This process is quite simple and always facilitated by the included manuals. On the side of the audience there’s very little set up involved: receivers run on batteries, so you need to make sure these are charged and properly placed. Except that there are an ON/OFF button, a volume button, and a channel selector (which in most cases won’t be used.) Usually, receivers are handed to the audience already on, tuned to the right channel and with the headphones plugged in.
If these systems use FM will there be any interference with commercial radios?
No, professional interpretation systems use special frequencies set aside by the FCC for this activity. These frequencies lay outside the regular bandwidth of commercial radios and won’t cause any interference, the receivers included with these systems are incapable of picking up regular commercial radio signals, and the transmitter neither can’t transmit in one.
Do we need a license to use them?
No, you don’t but the manufacturer does need an FCC ID to be granted to the transmitter model for it to be of legal use in the US. Therefore, it is very important to make sure that the system that you purchase has a transmitter with an FCC ID or IC ID (for Canada) clearly identified. Most US brands will have it, but some overseas vendors sell devices which are illegal for use in the USA and Canada due to the lack of official registration with the proper organizations that govern this activity.
How long do these devices last?
It depends on several factors, besides the build quality and the proper handling by the end user, one feature that you should pay attention to is the kind of batteries that the portable devices employ. Built-in, non-removable lithium batteries might seem like the modern option since you see them on every cell phone. But if you have owned a modern cellphone for more than a couple of years you’d probably noticed how as time goes by you need to recharge them more frequently. This is because this kind of battery degrades quickly, and it’s non-removable making them useless after ca couple of years.
Taking this into account you should always gravitate to interpretation devices that use regular AA or AAA batteries that can be removed and replaced for fresh ones just by unlocking the plastic cover.