This page was last edited on 16 April 2021, at 08:24.

Zoom is a live conferencing service.

Language Interpretation

Zoom supports arranging multiple audio channels so that people speaking different languages may be able to join a single, unified call but hear the conversation in their own language.[주 1] Below are instructions and considerations specifically for running a meeting in English and Spanish. These instructions provide a more thorough scenario-specific walk-through than Zoom’s documentation.[주 2]

In a Zoom call with two languages enabled, there are three audio channels, or "audio rooms" - the Default Channel, English Channel, and Spanish Channel. Default is the audio channel participants join at first, before choosing a language.

Account Setup

The Zoom account hosting the call must be a paid Zoom Business, Education, Enterprise level account; or a Pro level account with the optional Webinar add-on. [주 3]


Before the meeting, the host must turn on language interpretation specifically for the meeting in the meeting scheduling option through Zoom’s website. This must be done every time a meeting with interpretation is run. This first activation cannot be done from within the Zoom program.

When turning on interpretation on the website, it is required to assign at least one interpreter. Assign, for example, your own email as a English-Spanish interpreter - it doesn’t matter who is pre-assigned, as this can be configured later, live during the meeting. If settings seem unclear, see Zoom’s instructions on how to enable interpretation.

There is a second activation. Once the meeting starts and the interpreter has joined the call, select Interpretation in the Zoom program and start typing up the interpreter's Zoom name - Zoom will show a drop-down choice of the user's full Zoom name which can be clicked. Assign them a language, click Start, and the interpretation function will be activated. This second activation can only be done by the host (the main host). Co-hosts do not have access to this function.

Once the second activation is done, if removing or adding interpreters, pull up the same menu again, and after making changes, be sure to press the "Update" button on the bottom left. Closing the window will simply cancel any changes without any warning.


If assigned while scheduling, the interpreter will automatically receive an email from Zoom with the invite link. However, there is nothing special about this link - the interpreter enters as a regular participant (not in their role as interpreter), and they must be manually assigned their role as an interpreter by the host.

Once the host assigns the interpreter within the Zoom program, the interpreter sees a popup window in their computer to accept the assignment.

Unlike participants, interpreters cannot speak into the Default Channel.

The host can assign themselves as an interpreter, and everything works normally as expected.


Everyone's Zoom client should be updated to the latest version to ensure the interpretation function is working smoothly.

Participants must take two additional steps upon joining the Zoom call - in the buttons bar, click “Interpretation” and select one language. They must also check the “Mute Original Audio” option in the same languages menu.

At any point, participants can hop into any of the three audio channels. (The "Off" option is the Default channel)

Flow of Audio

Arrows indicate direction of audio flow. Colors indicate source of audio.

Once the meeting is set up following the above instructions (especially with the "Mute Original Audio" option), these are the audio sources that users in each role can hear. For purposes of accessing audio, hosts have no special role - they access audio in the same way as regular participants. Refer to the illustration to the right for a graphical overview.


  • Interpreters cannot hear other interpreters.
  • Interpreters hear audio from all audio channels.
  • Interpreters can choose which channel to speak into - English or Spanish. (But not both)

Participants in English Channel

  • They hear others in the channel (including the presenter, who must also be in the English channel)
  • They hear any interpreter(s) speaking into the English channel.

Participants in the Spanish Channel

  • They hear others in the channel.
  • They hear any interpreter(s) speaking into the Spanish channel.

Participants in the Default Channel

  • They hear Default, English and Spanish channels, but not any interpreters.

Interactive, Bilingual Questions & Answers Section

If participants uncheck the "Mute Original Audio" option, they will hear all three audio channels, but not the interpreters who are talking into a channel that they are not in. So a participant in the Spanish channel without the mute option will hear English, Spanish, Default, and Spanish interpreter, but not the English interpreter. Therefore, during presentation, it is best that the "Mute Original Audio" option be turned on.

During a bilingual questions & answers portion, it will be best to turn interpretation off altogether. This is the only option that allows everyone to hear each other, including interpreters. During this portion, interpretation will need to be consecutive - wait for the speaker to finish talking before interpreting.

A second choice for the questions and answers section is to have everyone turn off the Mute Original Audio option. This allows participants in both language groups to be aware of when others are asking questions - even when they are in another audio room. However, a Spanish speaking person asking questions will not be able to hear the interpreter, who will be talking into the English room - so it will be a bit harder for the Spanish speaker to know whether the gap in silence is due to an interpretation that is lagging behind, or because the presenter is thinking of the answer, etc.

A third choice is to have Spanish speakers join the English channel. This also allows everyone to hear each other. The difference between the first and third choice is that turning interpretation off is something that can be done by the host once and will be applied to everyone, whereas the third (and second as well) require each participant to take an action.[주 4]

All three choices change the interpretation from simultaneous to consecutive - it means it will take much longer to conduct the conversation, given that everyone will be hearing the conversation twice. How will things work out if the Q&A portion is conducted using the same setup as the presentation? This is not impossible. It means that we would need interpretation in two directions. One interpreter could, in theory, do it, but it would be best to bring two interpreters, one for each language. Also, the fact that interpreters cannot hear each other is a problem in this situation. The flow of the conversation would be:

  1. Question asked in English (Spanish interpretation happening at the same time)
  2. Response made in English (Spanish interpretation)
  3. Question asked in Spanish (English interpretation)
  4. Response made in English (Spanish interpretation)

Compared to presentations, interpretation of questions will need a greater gap of time because when a presentation is done, the direction and intent of the presentation is pre-established and the interpretation can think ahead. With questions, it's harder to know what will be coming next, so the interpreter is sometimes waiting for the sentence structure to be completed to contextualize the meaning properly.

Other considerations

Unfortunately, there is nothing that allows people to see who is in which audio channel, or force people into audio channels from the host's end. Only individual participants can see their own audio channel - if they know where to look. The audio experience between the Default Channel and English Channel is very similar during presentation - both will hear only English audio, because the Spanish channel will be quiet. Since most things will seem to be working normally, even without selecting a language, depending on how a call is structured, this can cause confusion at some junctures within the call.


  1. Calling it an interpretation "functionality" may lead people to mistakenly think that a computer program does the interpretation. This is not the case -the actual interpretation work must be done by people. The interpretation "functionality" merely consists of providing multiple audio channels so that each channel can be separately used for each language.
  2. These instructions are current as of version 5.5.2(12494.0204; Feb 2021). Details may change over time with upgrades as interpretation is a relatively new function.
  3. If you have multiple users in your Zoom team, assign the Webinar add-on to the user in the Users list.
  4. Depending on the crowd, people may not always be actively following instructions - especially if a) past Zoom calls didn't require them to do anything beyond joining the call at first, and they got used to that, and b) if things seem to be working fine without making the change - in fact, even if participants don't do anything, they will still hear most things - so nothing will signal to them that they are missing out on a portion of the audio.