Over the phone interpreting has been around in one form or another now for over 40 years. The technology has changed of course and is considerably more sophisticated and efficient than it was back in the 1970s when the Australian federal government first introduced it.
There is no indication that the need for over the phone interpreting is diminishing any time soon as the demand for interpreting and translation services of all types continues to grow.
What is over the phone interpreting?
Over the phone interpreting is basically an on demand service linking two people together who cannot easily communicate with each other in the same language via an interpreter.
Over the phone interpreting may be provided by government departments and agencies, especially where migrant and refugee numbers are high, as well as by a multitude of private interpreting services.
Over the phone interpreting may be a free service, usually when it is made available by government and volunteer agencies as well as a fee service by mainly private operators.
Government phone interpreting services tend to be limited to a smaller number of commonly used languages within the country of use, whereas some private agencies are capable of providing telephone interpreting in many dozens of different languages, sometimes on a 24/7 basis.
What is over the phone interpreting used for?
Over the phone interpreting is particularly useful for legal purposes, health care, commercial and emergency services. Many hospitals, for instance, provide telephone interpreting to ensure patients receive post operative treatment and to link patients with health care professionals who are trying to determine a diagnosis of a particular condition.
The telephone interpreting services are normally used wherever the phone would have been the primary method of contact anyway. Customers who are deaf or hard of hearing would normally use a video link so that sign language can be used by an interpreter as the medium.
In some cases, two people may be in physical proximity and use a dual handset phone, which links to an interpreter remotely. The dual handset removes the need for the same handset to be passed alternately from one person to the other who wishes to communicate through the interpreting service.
Using an over the phone interpreting service has become much more sophisticated than it once was and some regular users may use a language code which links to an automatic interpreting service.
Telephone interpreting technology
Unlike ordinary face to face interpreting, which naturally needs no technology at all, telephone interpreting does need a certain level of technology. The main stumbling block is the internet signal strength. As telephone interpreting uses VoIP, i.e. using the internet to make a connection, the audio quality is very much influenced by the quality of the internet signal itself.
As anyone who has ever used Skype, Facebook Messenger, or WhatsApp for an audio conversation will know, it can get very scratchy if it is over a weak connection. If video is needed as well, i.e. if the person interviewed is deaf, then the need for a strong signal is even more important.
Basically, the technology, such as it is, consists of the internet connection via a computer linked to a telephone handset. As has been mentioned above, a dual handset phone, linked remotely to the interpreter, can be used whenever a conversation needs to go on between two people in the same place.
This is a typical situation in a doctor’s surgery or hospital when the medical professional cannot understand the needs of the patient because of a language barrier, so resorts to using the telephone interpreting service.
Financial benefits of a telephone interpreting service
Employing a real human interpreter in the place where the interpreting service is needed could be very expensive if the location is remote or the language is unusual. Take a typical hospital, for example, or a courtroom.
There may be a small number of languages that are commonly heard and there may be a need for an interpreter from time to time. Is it economically viable to retain the services of a full time interpreter for every one of these languages, or is it cheaper to call up an interpreter to come to the location when needed?
The economic advantages of telephone interpreting are obvious. Theoretically, the number of languages that can be ‘dialled up’ is huge and there is no need to have every one of these interpreters permanently on the payroll or pay for expensive transport and accommodation expenses. It is likely that the demand for telephone interpreting services around the world will only increase.