Over-the-phone interpreting – often referred to as OPI – is a convenient, cost-effective way to overcome language barriers in many situations. This is especially true when an interpreter is needed at short notice.

Some of these situations might include things like medical appointments or legal interviews. For example, hospital patients whose doctors speak the same language have been shown to receive a far higher overall standard of care and preventative care. They are also much more likely to stay in the hospital when told to and stick to their treatment regimes when given them.

But it’s far from just hospitals where OPI is regularly used. Government agencies, not-for-profits, and global corporations alike know how important it is to be able to communicate clearly across language barriers.

For many businesses, over-the-phone interpreting is the solution. It provides the on-call ability to communicate with clients and potential clients and provide excellent customer services in multiple languages to markets all over the world.

What is over-the-phone interpreting?

Much as it sounds, over-the-phone interpreting is delivered between two parties who do not speak the same language and a third party – the interpreter, positioned off-site – who listens to both sides of the conversation on the phone and verbally translates where appropriate.

Sometimes, all three parties are in different locations communicating on a group call. Other times, the two people speaking are in one location and the linguist is in another. For this reason, OPI falls into the interpreting mode known as Remote Interpreting (RI) – these are interpreting services delivered at a remove, as opposed to those delivered on-site.

Miscommunication in medical situations can be dangerous. In legal situations, it can lead to serious consequences. In business, it can make or break a deal. Over-the-phone interpreters, thanks to being available essentially on-demand, help to ensure clear communication is always possible no matter where you happen to be.

What are the advantages of over-the-phone interpreting?

1) Convenience

OPI can be delivered on-demand. Often, a single phone call is all it takes to set up a service.

Of course, if you want the best results from your interpreting service – specialist knowledge in your industry or field or coverage of an unusual language pair – it is best to plan in advance. This gives your Language Service Provider (LSP) the chance to source the best possible linguist for the job.

When it comes to something like customer support for the call centre of a global brand or a medical centre that frequently deals with non-native-speaking patients, an over-the-phone interpreting service is sometimes arranged on an “on standby” basis.

This ensures that customers around the world can make enquiries about products, services, or bookings – or patients can get the support they need when entering Accident and Emergency wards – even if the exact situation was not planned for.

2) Cost-effectiveness

An on-site interpreter is almost always going to be much more expensive than a remote option. On-site linguists may be better in some cases – to provide language support during a conference or long-planned major business meeting or site visit, for example. But their prices often need to cover travel costs. This is a problem in situations where the linguist may end up not being needed despite being paid for.

On the other hand, an over-the-phone interpreter can often be reserved for particular times or particular coverage without or with minimal cost, meaning the support is there even if you don’t end up using it. They also don’t need to travel or have equipment provided, further minimising costs.

One phone call is then usually all it needs to set up the service or to tie in the ideal interpreter for any situation.

3) Available globally at the push of a button

OPI can be set up to occur almost instantly. Conversely, an on-site interpreter requires travel time to get into position. This time might only be a matter of days. Asian Absolute, for example, has managed to source on-site interpreters for high-profile, industry-specific events in very short periods of time.

Yet that still can’t compare with the “dial and be connected” speed of OPI.

4) Inclusive and flexible

People and communities living in remote locations with limited or zero access to professional interpreters can be easily reached through OPI. This is an important use of these services, connecting people who might otherwise be completely cut off from the outside world.

Communities like this may need language support between unusual pairs of languages. Another advantage of OPI is that you can instantly draw on the entire world of interpreters – or, better, your chosen LSP’s carefully selected and quality pre-screened network of global specialists – meaning that getting support for almost any language should be relatively simple.

5) Establish trust with global consumers

Businesses around the world know how important it is to speak the language of their clients if they want to sell to them as well as create meaningful conversations. Speaking the same language promotes trust as well as boosting your brand’s reputation with international audiences.

For all the reasons above, OPI empowers companies to be able to achieve this end even on limited budgets.

6) More reliable and affordable than in-house options

When a company starts doing business in different parts of the world, it soon becomes apparent to their customer service, sales, and marketing teams that they need to be able to communicate in the preferred languages of the people in the regions who use their services or buy their products.

This is even more the case in today’s globalised world, where even small companies can find themselves with a worldwide client base thanks to the internet and the existence of global transportation and supply chains.

The common initial solution for many of these companies is to try to internally source bilingual staff who might be some sort of help. Then comes trying to hire others from outside. Unfortunately, this approach:

  • Often ends up robbing other departments of talent.
  • Leads to poor quality support or sales results from staff who are trying their best but simply aren’t professional interpreters.
  • Much more expensive and less flexible than OPI can be.
  • Has more opportunities to be interrupted by absences or other demands made on the personnel involved than simply having OPI services on call when they’re needed.

Over-the-phone interpreting vs onsite interpreting services

Every language support situation is different. In some circumstances, over-the-phone interpreting will be the logical choice. In others, there may be no substitute for having a linguist – or a whole team of linguists – onsite.

Over-the-phone interpreting

An over-the-phone interpreter might be the best choice for you if:

  • You want to save time and money
  • You need to communicate out of hours, or at another unusual time
  • You need to establish communications between people in far distant places
  • You don’t have any preparation time (though having some is advantageous)

One disadvantage of OPI is that a great deal of human communication comes in the form of facial expressions and body language. Unfortunately, a phone call provides no visual information.

Video Remote Interpreting services (VRI) can be a solution here. Delivered using video conferencing software, VRI offers many of the benefits of OPI with the added advantage of the linguist being able to see the people who are speaking.

A downside of VRI compared with OPI is that video conferencing equipment – at minimum, a laptop or modern mobile device – are needed and are not always available, whereas a phone line more often is.

On-site interpreting

An on-site interpreter might be the best choice for you if:

  • You need the interpreter to be able to see the body language of the people in the conversation. To spot signs of confusion in following instructions, for example.
  • You need to maximise compassion and understanding in a situation, such as immediately following trauma or loss.
  • One party has difficulty hearing or seeing.
  • The conversation or event will involve multiple people, especially if they have different language needs.
  • Sometimes when you need to communicate with the elderly or children.
  • You feel the support of a local expert might be useful in a particular situation.

How to book over-the-phone interpreting

Booking over-the-phone interpreting services is simple. You can choose whether to plan ahead – some facilities that need OPI services regularly have a set phone number to call and a permanent ID setup with their chosen Language Service Provider. You can also book on an ad hoc basis.

When booking ad hoc, one call is still usually all it takes. Some LSPs will have an automated response system. But the better, operator-led services should work like full language services in miniature. For instance, Asian Absolute will still assign you a personal account manager to help ensure you get what you need even from the smallest-scale service.

The only other requirement when booking over-the-phone interpreting services is to make sure you have the right equipment. This is pretty minimal for OPI, but you still need to be sure you either have a landline phone, mobile phone, or a suitable app.

How to get the best from OPI

1) Choose your LSP with care

There are many Language Service Providers out there who provide the kind of over-the-phone interpreting where you call a number, have to struggle through an automated system and then get a linguist who you’re not sure has the qualifications and experience to handle the situation at hand.

When choosing the translation company you will use, it’s always best to check for things like:

  • ISO 9001 and ISO 17100 accreditation
  • The ability to provide subject matter specialists who will understand the terminology you use
  • Personal customer service rather than an automated system

2) Plan ahead (if possible)

If you want to get the absolute best results from any interpreting service – including telephonic – it’s best to call ahead.

Of course, this isn’t always possible. But if you can call ahead, or set up an ongoing provision because you know you will need this kind of language support regularly – or even irregularly – you will give your LSP the chance to source a linguist who is an expert in the subject you need them to discuss.

Because any professional linguist who is a master of both the languages involved can probably get the job done. But only someone with specialist knowledge can avoid the kind of often dangerous misunderstandings possible in medical or legal environments and elsewhere when complicated technical jargon and terminology can end up being the difference between life and death.

3) Create the right environment for your interpreting call

The room you make your call from should ideally be free from distractions and background noise. These will limit your ability to be understood and understand what is being said to you.

Secondly, it’s a smart idea to check the quality of your phone connection beforehand. A landline will almost always be better than a mobile.

4) Aim for clarity when speaking

There are a few things you can bear in mind when using an interpreter to ensure your message is being transmitted as clearly and succinctly as possible in your target language:

  • Try to speak relatively slowly and clearly.
  • Be as concise and straightforward as possible (a good interpreter will be able to verbally translate anything you say. But, for clarity, saying things simply is often best).
  • Ask for clarifications and check that everything is understood whenever you feel the need to.
  • Don’t be surprised or offended if your interpreter asks you questions in turn, just to be sure they have understood you correctly.

5) Give the interpreter time to work

The reason why it’s often best practice to ensure that your LSP selects an interpreter who is a native speaker of the language in question is that there can be as many cultural barriers to understanding as linguistic ones.

Working with a native linguist ensures that those barriers can be overcome too. Though there may be situations where having a linguist who is a native of your own culture but an expert in another can also help bridge the gap.

Whichever seems best to you and your LSP, this process can take a little time. Be patient with your interpreter and give them time to facilitate the clear communication that you’re looking for.

Always have an over-the-phone interpreter standing by

Try to plan in advance to be sure that you always have the kind of language you support you need. Whether that’s for detailed medical appointment or customer service in a new region you are targeting.

Over-the-phone interpreting offers many advantages compared with other types of interpreting, though there are some times when it’s not the most appropriate. If you ever need any advice as to what the best interpreting solution for your particular situation will be, your go-to Language Service Provider will be the place to turn.

Looking to find the most suitable interpreting service for your situation?

Asian Absolute provides subject matter specialist interpreters to organisations around the world often on very short notice.

Contact us and let us know your requirements today. We can talk you through setting up the service that’s just right for you.