Over the phone interpretation (OPI), which is also often referred to as telephone interpreting, is a service that helps people speaking different languages understand each other. It is popular in different industries but is mainly used for interactions that happen over the phone, such as a call center employee with a customer. 

over-the-phone interpretation

Some of the most common users of OPI are healthcare and governmental institutions, courts, businesses, emergency call centers, such as 911 and others. The service has a long history and has undergone various improvements throughout the years thanks both to technological advancement and greater demand. Here are a few interesting facts about this type of interpreting along with several tips on how to improve the service you offer.  

History of Over the Phone Interpretation  

The first remote interpreting service was offered in Australia back in 1973. The government in the face of the Department of Immigration established a 24-hour Emergency Telephone Interpreting Service. The service was offered fee-free and the initial interpretation was in eight languages. As a result of the demand soon the number of the languages increased and the service continued evolving.  

It took some time for the other countries to introduce remote interpreting services. The USA welcomed OPI in 1981, while Japan launched the service in 1986. The UK introduced its pilot telephone interpreting project in 1990 at the Royal London Hospital in London. 

In the period between 1981 and 1990 OPI became quite popular and was adopted by different industries such as healthcare, public safety, financial and telecommunication services. At present, there are various organizations that offer the service – for-profit, governmental and non-profit organizations, and some health institutions even managed to establish their own in-house remote interpreting services.  

With the development of the technology, the reduced call cost, better dialing speed and improved interpreting quality, the service becomes even more popular and is quite often sought after.  

Improving Quality of OPI

As OPI is no longer an exotic and rare service offered by language service providers, each company strives to provide higher quality so that they can gain and retain their customers. The best way to improve the service that you offer is to employ only highly trained interpreters. Providing a remote service is different than interpreting in person and hence it is good to provide telephone interpreters with some tips on how to excel in the job they do.  

Being an interpreter means to be able to render not only the simple text from one language to another but also the emotions and cultural nuances that go with it. Facial expressions and body language are quite helpful in such cases, however with OPI the professional is deprived of this advantage. Therefore, it takes a lot of skills to learn how to listen effectively to both parties and catch the feelings behind the words. In order to provide an excellent service, the telephone interpreter needs to have command of both languages used in the conversation along with great cognitive and sensory skills that allow them to pick the nuances of the speech.  

Here are some of the most useful insights a professional can use to enhance the quality of their service when it comes to telephone interpreting: 

  • Listen carefully and pay attention to the feelings and emotions behind the words 
  • Always speak in 1st person 
  • Speak clearly 
  • Do not speak too fast 
  • Remain unbiased and always convey the same message regardless of whether you agree with the concept or not 
  • Make sure to eliminate distractions and ensure a proper working environment 
  • Know how to interrupt the speaker if necessary 
  • Do not be afraid to ask for clarifications if need be 
  • Be prepared for additional questions and clarifications by both sides 

It is good to note that all the parties involved in the telephone interpretation should follow the tips above, if possible. Your job as the interpreter is to help the clients feel comfortable with you. If they have never used such services before, it is a good idea to briefly tell them what they shall expect and why not even share a few tips, as those above, that can guarantee a better quality of the service. 

It is also important to keep in mind that some of the most common users of OPI services are hospitals. So be prepared to deal with terminology and patients who are not aware of its meaning. Be open and polite and willing to offer some explanation if it is requested. Often the issues discussed might be sensitive, so it is of paramount importance to win the trust of your clients and prove that you are there to facilitate finding the solution they need. Speaking in a polite voice, clearly and at an even pace is an important advice to keep in mind when preparing for your next assignment. 

OPI can be beneficial in many situations and is used by different industries to secure understanding between parties who speak different languages. It has its historical roots and is already established as an efficient tool provided by language service providers to facilitate businesses, healthcare organizations and even governmental institutions. Remote interpreting, such as over the phone services, is now a fact of life and is quite a useful service, especially when provided by knowledgeable specialists and with the proper equipment. 

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