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Reassessing Remote Interpreting

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: October 25, 2019

“Remote interpreting is here and it works.”

Those weren’t the words of the owner of a video remote interpreting business but of Sarah Hickey, Chief Interpreting Researcher at Nimdzi Insights, when she spoke during the town hall session of the Conf1nt100 conference in Geneva.

And she’s right. Remote interpreting, without or without video, with or without studios, with or without safeguards, is used all over the world, from emergency medicine to high-level webinars. And yes, it does work.

Not long ago, I said that I would not consult on remote interpreting, due to some of the severe issues found with that kind of work. At that point, I saw the picture in much simpler terms than I do now.

As the ITI Position Paper on Remote Interpreting shows, those issues haven’t gone away. Even the most recent research (check the details in the footnotes) shows problems with interpreters feeling disconnected from the event, with them being unable to interrupt when they need to and with possible physical and mental health issues.

Something else covered in that same paper, however, is that remote interpreting fills important gaps. When it is too dangerous to have an interpreter there in person, when you can’t afford to wait for the interpreter to arrive, when there are no good interpreters with those languages locally, when the meeting is happening entirely online anyway, remote interpreting has a place.

Remote interpreting has a place. That’s my new thinking in a nutshell.

Personally, due to my own personal circumstances, it’s not a service I will be offering myself but, in the right contexts, I would now offer consulting on it. Most likely, that would involve working closely with people like Ewandro Magalhaes and Prof Barry Olsen, who have dedicated large parts of their career to being specialists in remote interpreting.

Yes, we still need to do more about the negative effects of remote but it turns out that there are many interpreters who offer remote interpreting as an additional service, not as their entire careers. Yes, we still need good standards for remote, but it turns out that the good providers care about that stuff already.

So I was wrong. I painted too bleak a picture and missed crucial details. That’s why I am learning to slow down, ask more questions, listen harder and accept it when people I respect point out that I have tripped up.

That’s how we learn.