Best Practices for Working With a Telephonic Interpreter

Telephonic interpretation is simply the oral translation of a conversation that takes place over the telephone. This can be a very powerful service when conducting business internationally and in cases where direct human contact may not be an option. Following are some considerations and best practices when working with a telephonic interpreter that should help ensure a smooth, quality interaction.

Environment – Choose a location that will have minimal background noise and interruptions, free of distractions. Environment is the one thing you can control, so make sure it is quiet and comfortable.

Sound quality – Whenever possible, use a landline instead of a cell phone. It is more stable and you won’t need to rely on cell reception. If you are using Skype or an internet phone service, make sure you have a stable internet connection. Also minimize the use of speaker phones as they can negatively impact sound quality, which can affect the interpreter’s accuracy.

First person – Greet the interpreter, but then speak directly to the patient/client, not the interpreter. If you need the speaker to repeat or rephrase something, then ask in third person.

Tone and cultural sensitivity – Be aware of potential cultural misunderstandings and ask your interpreter about them ahead of time if applicable. A good telephonic interpreter will know the nuances of the language and be able to mimic and convey the appropriate tone.

Consecutive interpretation – Phone interpretations happen consecutively, meaning the interpreter pauses after a complete thought to translate what was said into the target language. Recognize that the interpreter is translating exactly what is said by both parties. To ensure the quality and accuracy of the interpretation, avoid slang and technical terms that are unfamiliar to the patient/client. Make an effort to break up long segments of text into shorter segments, speak slowly and at an even pace (pausing often), and avoid using complicated sentence structure. Try not to change ideas in the middle of a sentence and ask questions at one time.

Assumptions – If you are unsure as to whether or not every said has been interpreted, request clarification. Understand that the interpreter may have to use descriptive language for certain terms, which may take longer than your original speech. Avoid making assumptions about your patient/client’s educational level. Remember: an inability to speak English does not mean a lack of education.


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