Certified Spanish Translator and Interpreter  

The Interpretator

10 things anyone who works with an over-the-phone interpreter should know

Posted by rpospina on January 25, 2015 at 4:35 PM

Using the services of a professional over-the-phone interpreter (OPI) has numerous advantages: flexibility to pay for the services as needed, privacy that allows you to have an interpreter while doing a physical examination for a patient, availability 24/7 and on short notice, etc.


Unfortunately, there are many professionals who rely on OPI's to communicate with their limited English proficient clients (LEP) and do not take full advantage of the experience simply because they don't know how to do it. So, here are my two cents about this, from my experiences as an OPI so far:


1. Address the LEP directly. Instead of asking “Interpreter, please ask her for her date of birth” you should simply ask “Ma’am, what is your date of birth?”; professional interpreters are trained to speak in the first person. 


2. You have control of the conversation.  The interpreter's responsibility is to convert what is being said from one language into another exactly as it is being said, not to be the moderator of the conversation. 


3. It is the interpreter's duty to interpret everything that is being said, exactly as it is being said. By everything, I mean E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G, literarily. If you use very technical language and the LEP doesn't seem to be understanding your statements, you should take this into consideration and adjust your register (the degree of formality of your vocabulary). This also goes for any side comments (good or bad). 


4. Use acronyms and abbreviations wisely or don't use them at all.  While they can be very useful to communicate industry-specific jargon among colleagues, they can be an interpreter's nightmare; please be considerate and if you will use an [uncommon] acronym or abbreviation make sure that at least the first time you use this term, you indicate what it stands for.


5. Be mindful of your pronunciation and the speed of your speech. Communication over the phone does not come without challenges and it can be even more difficult if you are not mindful of your pronunciation and the overall tone and speed of your messages. If  you have a strong accent, please be mindful of that and articulate as best as you can, keeping in mind that the slower the better.


6. Avoid talking over the interpreter. Let's face it, it's simply rude and most importantly, it can result in omissions of important information and miscommunications.


7. You can request a female or male interpreter and sometimes, you should. This is specially important to handle certain medical calls (gynecology, urology) or calls of a somewhat delicate nature (reports of abuse, psychiatric calls, police intake, etc.) Most companies give you the flexibility to request a female or male interpreter for the comfort of your LEP, so make use of this option when appropriate.


8. If you need to transfer the call, please warm transfer. If you have an OPI and you need to transfer your LEP to another extension, please be considerate and explain to your colleague that you have an LEP with an interpreter on the phone to ensure that the transfer goes smoothly.


9. Take your setting into consideration for sound quality purposes. Make sure that you speak loud enough to be heard through a speaker phone if that's your set-up and inform the interpreter when you will be stepping away from the phone or leaving the room; stop speaking if there are crying babies in the room, if your phone is right by your computer you should know that when you type on a loud keyboard, that's pretty much all the interpreter can hear.


10. A few helpful tips. I'd like to share a few tips that might make a difference and improve your communication with your LEP's through an OPI:


  • When listing numbers, state them digit by digit: “50” as “five, zero” = Good. “50” as “fifty” = Not good.
  • When you are providing a spelling, please try to provide a phonetic spelling for consonants.
  • Keep in mind that OPI's are in remote locations and not familiar with your local street names or facilities. Be considerate and pay special attention when pronouncing these names.


And remember... you should speak THROUGH the interpreter, NOT TO the interpreter.

Categories: Over-the-Phone Interpreting, Interpreting, Tips

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