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New interpreting booths help students master skills, simulate real-world practice


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Several on-campus students in the Program in Translation & Interpreting Studies at the University of Illinois practice their interpreting exercises at tables in their classroom in the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics Building, while two classmates practice in new interpreting booths at the back of the room. The booths were designed by TIS Senior Lecturer Reynaldo Pagura and custom-built by Facilities & Services on campus.

On-campus students in the Program in Translation & Interpreting Studies (TIS) at the University of Illinois have a new resource to help them master their interpreting skills.

TIS staff had two interpreting booths installed in a classroom in the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics Building on the Urbana-Champaign campus at the start of Spring 2024. Students started using them in mid-February.

“We’ve been practicing in the booths now for a couple of months, and I think it’s great,” said Elisa Fiorini, M.A., 2025. “You feel like you’re in a different room. You’re not bothered by the sounds around you, and it makes you really focus on what you’re saying.”

The new equipment is the result of a collaboration between TIS and Facilities & Services (F&S). While various models are available online, TIS Senior Lecturer Reynaldo Pagura suggested having them built in-house. Pagura also designed the booths to replicate the dimensions and features of high-quality interpreting booths like those he has used as a professional conference interpreter.

TIS Program Director and Professor Joyce L. Tolliver said she and Pagura had several meetings with Nathan Payne, facilities operations coordinator at SLCS, to decide where to place the booths and start planning technical details such as installing new electrical outlets. Payne then put them in touch with Andrew Burnett, foreman of the campus mill workers at F&S. Burnett helped them plan the booths' design components like the choice of wood and window placement, among other things, down to the smallest detail.

“This collaboration was a beautiful example of Illinois innovation, expertise, and teamwork, all in service of an outstanding student experience,” said Tolliver, who couldn’t be more pleased with the result.

Each booth seats one person and comes equipped with a laptop and headphones. While students work using a web-based program on the laptops, the booths have large front- and side-facing windows like those in professional settings that allow the interpreter to observe the speaker’s facial expressions, gestures, and other non-verbal communication in real-time—all important to the overall interpretation.

While well-ventilated, the booths are completely soundproof. Students are insulated from any outside noise, which allows them to fully concentrate on their work.

Pagura said TIS students used to practice in a two-person booth in the conference center at the Fire Service Institute on campus. While two-person booths are standard in auditoriums, conference centers and event spaces, he pointed out they aren’t ideal for classroom situations when students have different language pairs.

“She’s listening to Chinese. He’s listening to French, so they couldn’t be in the same booth … listening to different languages and speaking at the same time,” Pagura said, referring to two of his students. “One would interfere with the other.

These work perfectly for a classroom situation,” he continued.

TIS student Willy Labrador, M.A. 2025, is specializing in Spanish>English interpreting. He called the new booths “revolutionary.” He went on to say they give students “an idea of what real-world interpreting would be like” as well as an optimal environment for sharpening their skills.

Inside the other booth, Fiorini was interpreting a TED Talk given in Italian into English.

“When I was listening to the video, I felt like I was part of the video,” said Fiorini, whose other language pair is German. “I (felt like I) was in the audience listening to the speaker live.”

Fiorini said from her experience, interpreting booths seem to be more common in language programs in Europe, where she’s from. She thinks they could attract more students to Illinois.

Learn more about the Program in Translation & Interpreting Studies at Illinois and the M.A. in Translation & Interpreting.