Translation headsets in two languages available for graduation

Photo by Megan MacQuarrie ’19 The College will be providing translation headsets in Spanish and Mandarin this year for commencement.

Photo by Megan MacQuarrie ’19
The College will be providing translation headsets in Spanish and Mandarin this year for commencement.


For the class of 2017’s commencement ceremony in May, Mount Holyoke will be offering translation headsets in Mandarin and Spanish for attendees. This is the first time the college will be using translation headsets for commencement.

MHC will be using interpreters from a professional service, Boston-based Interpreters Associates Inc., explained special assistant to the president’s office Susan Martin.

“The translators will provide live translations of the remarks and speeches. They do not repeat the graduate names,” said Martin. “Guests will pick up their headsets at a designated area before the ceremony begins and return them when the event has concluded.”

Smith College used the same translation service for their commencement ceremony last year.
According to Martin, those interested in acquiring a headset must fill out a request form located on the MHC 2017 Commencement page on the college’s website. This way, the number of headsets needed can be noted, as well as the names of the guests that will be using the headsets. Then the language preference, either Mandarin or Spanish, can be chosen.

While many colleges and universities offer sign language interpreters and real-time captioning for those hard of hearing, foreign language translations are often uncommon. Translation headsets seem to be a fairly new service used at commencement ceremonies. Swarthmore College, one of the first colleges to use the devices, began offering them in 2011 in Spanish, and later added a Mandarin option.

Pomona College offers translation services in Korean, Mandarin and Spanish. While Martin was unsure of how commonly the headsets are used at college and university commencement ceremonies, she did know of their usage in the Five College system. Within the Pioneer Valley, the translation devices are also fairly new, Martin said.

“Smith College began offering the headsets in Mandarin and Spanish for their 2015 commencement ceremony, so this is the third year they’ve been using them,” explained Martin. “I believe that this year is the first year that Amherst College will be using the headsets for their commencement ceremony.”

The University of Massachusetts, Amherst offers them upon request. It is unknown whether Hampshire College offers the devices.

According to Martin, Mandarin and Spanish were picked as the two languages that would be used for the translation headsets after the 2017 class board polled the class of 2017 to see which languages they would most like to see — Mandarin and Spanish were the two most highly demanded.

“In a perfect world, we would offer as many languages as needed,” Martin said. “But there’s a cost for the services and unfortunately there isn’t an endless budget for Commencement. The translation headsets are being worked into the budget for Commencement — it’s worth it to give them a try.”

Martin remains optimistic about the headsets after hearing about Smith College’s great successes with them. “This is a great new service for Commencement and we’re very excited to be trying them out this year.”

Martin also explained that this year’s Commencement will function as a trial run for the headsets at MHC’s commencements.

“We will reassess when the event is over and decide how it went,” she said. “Factors determining success may be things like the number of people who used the service or the number of headsets lost or not returned (as the College will receive a bill for missing equipment). As to which languages we may offer in the future, that would depend on the survey of the graduating class each year.”