Services | 19.08.2009

Telephone interpreting

Telephone interpreting is a 24/7 service involving a “conference call” between an interpreter and two individuals who do not speak the same language. The interpreter works on a consecutive level to ensure clear communication between the parties. This service is generally required when short but important pieces of information need to be communicated immediately. It is a relatively new service but technology is already moving forward to facilitate the process. For example, in the recent past when two of the parties were in the same location, conversations would be carried out via speakerphone but dual handsets are now available.

Bodies such as the Police, Primary Care Trusts, the Health & Safety Executive and the Immigration Service are the types of organisation which benefit from telephone interpreting.

The prospect of making a telephone call can be nerve-wracking for a non-native speaker and the experience can be equally difficult for the telephone operator on the receiving end. The first obstacle to overcome is identification of the language required by the caller and for this help sheets are available to assist with language recognition. Additionally, phonetic translations in the relevant language for “Please hold the line while I locate an interpreter” can also be found to let the caller know what is happening.

Telephone interpreting can bring substantial savings both in terms of cost and time when compared to those required for traditional interpreting (where the two parties are brought to the same physical location). Interpreters can carry out several assignments in one day so their rates are often lower and can be broken down into shorter “chunks” than the usual half- or full-day. The charges are normally based on the time spent on the call. Also, in the case of sensitive discussions, some individuals would rather that the third person (i.e. the interpreter) were not physically present (this may particularly be the case for individuals from particular religious or cultural backgrounds). Finally, telephone interpreters can be called upon almost instantaneously to help with urgent discussions.

However, telephone interpreting has its drawbacks. Some individuals may only feel confident about the interpreting process if the interpreter is physically present and experts estimate that anything up to 70% of meaning is conveyed by body language which is inherently missing from telephone conversations.

As a basic rule, the more complex the communication, the more likely the need for face-to-face interpreting. Likewise, if the interview is going to be long, if the caller is vulnerable or if sensitive information or bad news is going to be disclosed.

Effective communication can be made difficult for a telephone interpreter particularly if the line is bad, or if a speaker’s non verbal cues help to further convey the intended meaning of their speech. However, a qualified telephone interpreter is trained to pick up on non verbal language such as voice intonation, emphasis, breathing and tone. For this reason, it is essential to use qualified telephone interpreters which The Translation People can provide.

Telephone interpreting should certainly be avoided if children or individuals with hearing difficulties are involved in the conversation. The Translation People would recommend that face to face interpreting be given preference in such situations.


Need help with a translation?
Get in touch with us

Whether you have a specific project you want to discuss, need a translation quote or simply want to discuss your requirements, do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

Get in Touch

We would like to reassure all our clients that we are continuing to support you with your multilingual projects and we are processing translation requests as normal in these difficult times through robust remote working processes.