Telephonic Interpretation: Everything You Need to Know

Telephonic Interpretation: Everything You Need to Know

What is Telephonic Interpreting? How’s Telephonic aka Over-the-Phone Interpretation (OPI) different from On-Site Interpretation? What industries use OPI, and when should you?

We live in a world where communicating across languages has become an increasingly vital component of facilitating accessibility of services and business around the world. 

But with roughly 7,000 unique languages and dialects globally, meeting the needs of your customers, business partners, team members, patients, and deponents can be tricky.

While On-Site Interpretation must be scheduled in advance, Telephonic Interpretation offers a helpful avenue for short-notice and on-demand interpretation, meeting your language needs as they arise. Telephonic Interpretation’s short-notice nature makes it a fan favorite for business, medical, and emergency services that often require interpreters at a moment’s notice.

What is Telephonic Interpreting?

Telephonic Interpreting – also known as Over-the-Phone Interpreting (OPI) or Telephone Interpretation – is interpreting conducted over the phone.

Over-the-Phone Interpreting companies often produce interpreters on-demand upon receiving your call. Often, you’ll be asked to specify if you’re looking for simultaneous or consecutive interpretation. Depending on your language needs, you might find yourself speaking with an interpreter in under 30 seconds! 

Over-the-Phone Interpreters often work through agencies that function similarly to call centers. You call in with your request for a language provider, and the agency matches you with a qualified interpreter.

You’ll then continue your meeting as usual, speaking your language while the interpreter communicates in your desired language to the listener.

When is Over-the-Phone and Telephonic Interpretation Used?

Telephonic Interpretation can help with vital emergency services like paramedics and firefighters

When the decision rests between On-Site and Telephonic or Over-the-Phone Interpretation, how do you make your choice? What industries use Over-the-Phone Interpreting?

Over-the-Phone Interpreting is often used by emergency services like 9-1-1 call centers, police, the fire department, and medical services. Speed and accuracy of information are critical for emergency services, and OPI’s on-demand nature makes it a smart choice for these industries.

Emergency medical situations often require interpretation at a moment’s notice. When no interpreter is available on-site, an Over-the-Phone Interpreter is vital to get as much accurate and potentially life-saving information as possible. An OPI might be used with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) patients during overnight stays to help communicate medication information.

You’ll also find OPI used in many business settings, where needs can range from a quick communication of a few sentences over the phone for team members in another country, to directions in the airport at a foreign city. 

Customer service centers also tend to use Over-the-Phone Interpreters, meeting the needs of their global customer base.

You won’t see Over-the-Phone Interpreting used in situations requiring nuance in tone and communication.

When is On-Site Interpreting Used?

OPI falls short compared to On-Site Interpreting when dealing with vulnerable populations and more technical situations. Because they do their work in person, On-Site Interpreters are often more personable and able to bridge communication gaps through body language. On-Site Interpreters also can reinforce their tone with body language to diminish stress and make the experience more comfortable for the listener.

As Over-the-Phone Interpreters often aren’t court-certified, it’s rare to find Over-the-Phone Interpreters in a legal setting. Additionally, legal interpreting necessitates more awareness of tone and body language which interpreters can’t gather over the phone.

Similarly, medical consults dealing with sensitive information benefit from On-Site Interpreters. On-Site Interpreters can build rapport with patients and often provide a sense of comfort by eliminating yet another source of stress – a language barrier. On-Site Interpreters can better match their tone to the circumstance, delivering bad or good news with sensitivity.

In medical situations, it’s also best to use On-Site Interpreters for:

  • The hard of hearing or deaf
  • The elderly or children
  • A patient requiring mental counseling
  • There are multiple speakers or excess background noise
  • family or group discussions between multiple parties is involved
  • When a patient’s been traumatized
  • Settings that involve visual cues (e.g., a physical exam to identify current sources of pain and injuries, etc.)
  • Physical therapy (when the patient must understand rehabilitation instructions)

Learn more about your state’s requirements for certified translation here.

Which Do You Choose: On-Site Interpreting or Over-the-Phone Interpreting?

Ultimately, your choice depends on a few variables.

1. Subject Matter.

Are you dealing with vulnerable populations or sensitive information where it’s critical to pick up on body language and tone? Are you dealing with situations where it’s crucial to see the other individual’s body language and facial cues to make sure information is understood and relayed accurately? Choose On-Site Interpretation.

If you’re working with more informational services, like billing, appointment confirmations, or providing instructions – an OPI might be the better choice.

2. Urgency Level.

Need an interpreter immediately for emergency services? If time’s of the essence, an Over-the-Phone Interpreter’s a must.

On-Site Interpreters can book weeks in advance, so if you know you’re going to need an in-person interpreter, your best move is to plan in advance.  

Ready to book your interpreter? Send us a message.

3. Cost.

On-Site Interpreters often charge by the hour and can include travel and accommodation as fees. Sometimes there may not be any interpreters located nearby, and you’ll carry the costs of transporting another interpreter to your location.

By comparison, Over-the-Phone Interpretation removes transit and hotel stays from the equation, making it much more cost-effective.

4. Certification.

If you’re working in a legal setting, your interpreters must be certified if you need their translations and interpretations to be admissible in court. For high stakes and stylized communications, it’s highly beneficial to work in-person to determine the most accurate interpretation. Finding niche-experienced, certified interpreters who work over the phone can be very difficult.

Similarly, many medical situations benefit from working with a medically certified interpreter to ensure communication accuracy between patient and practitioner.

In summary, neither OPI nor On-Site Interpretation is better than the other. They each have their time and place, depending entirely on your project parameters.

Looking for an On-Site or Over-the-Phone Interpreter?

We’ve got you covered. 

With over 5,000 translators and interpreters in our network qualified in 200+ unique languages and dialects, we at Arriva Translations pride ourselves in offering bespoke, top-of-the-line, white-glove translation and interpretation services to clients in the legal, financial, and medical industries.

Reach out to schedule your interpreter today – We’re excited to meet you!


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