3 Tips for Making the Transition to Remote Interpreting

Woman using a headset to interpret over the phone

The COVID-19 pandemic has moved many American workers out of their offices. In early March, an estimated 16 million U.S workers switched to working remotely. Many experts suggest that remote work will remain long after the pandemic is over. Tech companies like Facebook, Square, and Twitter have announced that a portion of their workforce will remain working-from-home permanently.

The interpreting industry has seen a similar shift. CSA Research, a company that researches the language industry found that interpreters saw a 40 percent decrease in revenue from in-person interpretation due to COVID-19. Additionally, throughout the pandemic, many hospitals have quickly shifted their in-person interpreters to work as remote interpreters. This follows a decade-long trend to implement remote interpretation services in healthcare. It is uncertain what interpretation work will look like post-pandemic, but remote interpretation will likely have a larger share of the interpretation business.

If you are an interpreter interested in shifting to remote interpretation, certain variations and challenges come with the transition. Here are a couple of tips for interpreters thinking about transitioning to remote interpretation work. For a more comprehensive guide to making the switch, including suggestions for finding work and what kind of changes to expect, see our free Webinar.

Be Prepared for Unpredictability

Remote interpretation comes with a larger variation in population and content. When I began working as a remote interpreter, I was accustomed to interpreting for the pool of Spanish-speakers in my area. Once I began interpreting remotely, I was exposed to accents, slangs, and idioms that I was unfamiliar with. Interpreting for a larger population exposes you to more variation within your language. Preparing yourself for this unpredictability is important as you’re shifting to remote interpretation work.

Besides the variation in the population, remote interpreters work in several different environments. Remote interpretation companies have a large variety of clients. As a remote interpreter, you may encounter 911 calls, home insurance claims, parent-teacher meetings, and many other types of encounters all in the same day. This variability will expose you to words and terms that you may be unfamiliar with. Remote interpretation work requires the ability to think quickly and manage conversations that may be outside of your interpretation expertise.

One way to remedy this is to use the resources that you have at your disposal. Use your favorite online dictionary to look up terms, use glossaries provided by the remote interpretation company you’re working with, or ask the speaker to clarify a term. Another tip is to keep a journal of unfamiliar terms. This will help build your vocabulary over time and help you become a more well-rounded interpreter.

Learn How to Manage a Conversation Remotely

One of the biggest challenges as an interpreter is to manage the flow of the conversation. To do this successfully, you must allow the speaker to get their message across fluidly and completely and still be able to interpret with accuracy. This challenge is intensified when working remotely. End-users may be unfamiliar with working with interpreters or there may be multiple people speaking at the same time.

A tip to overcome this challenge is giving a proper pre-session. A pre-session introduces you as the interpreter and sets the ground rules for the conversation. During your pre-session, you can ask end-users to speak one at a time and to only speak a few sentences at once. Setting the ground rules at the beginning of the encounter will lead to more successful interpretation sessions.

Another tool that remote interpreters can use is notetaking. Notetaking is a tool that interpreters rely on to fill in memory gaps. In remote interpretation, relying on notetaking becomes critical. Notetaking allows end-users to speak a complete thought and allows conversations to flow naturally. If you are interested in building up your notetaking skills, try a coaching session with one of our experienced interpreters.

Be Vigilant of Interpreter Fatigue

Interpreter fatigue occurs when interpreters work continuously for an extensive period. Research on interpreter fatigue has found that fatigue can occur after only 20 minutes of simultaneous interpreting. When interpreter fatigue occurs, interpretation quality drastically decreases and continues to decrease for the remainder of the encounter. Interpreter fatigue is exacerbated when other environmental, physical, or psychological stresses are present.

To help alleviate interpreter fatigue you should practice good self-care. Take short breaks during your shift, especially after stressful or emotional encounters. Take advantage of your downtime to stretch, do short workouts, or meditate to give your brain a well-deserved break. Practicing healthy habits like eating healthy, exercising, and sleeping well will also prepare you to limit the negative consequences of interpreter fatigue.

To learn more about shifting to remote interpreting, check out our free webinar: Transitioning to Remote Interpreting: A Practical Guide.

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