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The Future of Interpretation: A Q&A with the Lionbridge Over-the-Phone Interpretation Team

How to choose the right interpretation service for your business needs 

Connect with your Customers in Any Language, On Demand

As the world becomes increasingly more digital, interpretation services ensure you can connect with your customers no matter where they are or what language they speak. Which interpretation service you choose will depend on how many customers you want to reach and the type of conversation you’re going to have. You might embrace Over-the-Phone Interpretation (OPI), for communicating with a non-English-speaking customer calling a support line. Or you could choose Remote Simultaneous Interpretation (RSI) to provide instantaneous interpretation in multiple languages for a virtual event or for a hybrid conference involving both onsite and remote participants.

What does the future of interpretation look like? We asked Susan Gryder, Director of Sales for Over-the-Phone Interpretation, and Jerry Wish, Global Head of Alliances for Lionbridge.

What’s the difference between Consecutive Interpretation, Simultaneous Interpretation and Over-the-Phone Interpretation?

Susan Gryder (SG): Interpretation is verbal, and it can be delivered in a consecutive way or a simultaneous way.

Consecutive Interpretation: In Consecutive Interpretation, speakers pause every two or three sentences, to allow the interpreter to interpret what has been said. The interpreter typically goes both into the target language and the source language.

Simultaneous Interpretation: Simultaneous Interpretation allows a speaker to speak continuously, without pausing for the interpreter. A simultaneous interpreter has had specialized training and interprets a few words or a phrase or sentence behind what the speaker is saying. They’re simultaneously interpreting what is being said by the speaker.

These two modes can be delivered in a variety of ways. Consecutive Interpretation is delivered in person face to face, in a conversation or a small group, as well as over the phone via Over-the-Phone Interpretation (OPI) or via video. Simultaneous Interpretation is more typically used for a large or formal meeting. Often there is a speaker and a large group of people listening. Because multiple languages are being spoken at once, Simultaneous Interpretation is done with the aid of equipment or online software that separates the languages and allows listeners to choose the one they want to hear.

Jerry Wish (JW): Simultaneous Interpretation for virtual events has been getting a lot of traction in the industry. Although corporate events historically took place largely in person, COVID has created the need for this type of interpretation to be remote. This Remote Simultaneous Interpretation (RSI) capability is quite important as wholly virtual events or hybrid events are here to stay.

Which situations are best suited to Over-the-Phone Interpretation?

SG: Over-the-Phone Interpretation is frequently used to bring language support into a call center environment when people are already speaking over the phone. It’s also used in situations where it’s not practical to schedule an in-person interpreter. It might be an emergency situation that you didn’t know was going to happen. It might be a hospital situation or some sort of medical environment, where it’s not pre-scheduled. Any time you have an interaction with a person who is more comfortable speaking in a language other than English, you can use Over-the-Phone Interpretation.

Over-the-Phone Interpretation is dependent on the quality of the system and its telephony supports. Users are only going to be happy with it if the technology supports it well and creates an environment where the interpreters can do their job well.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of Remote Simultaneous Interpretation?

SG: RSI allows you to accomplish multilingual interpretation when people aren’t in the same place, while retaining the technology that allows language channels to be separated and, therefore, enabling Simultaneous Interpretation. This technology will also allow meetings to be held as a combination of in-person and remote, as we move back into a post-COVID world. The crucial thing for interpreters remains the same whether a meeting is in person or done through RSI: The interpreters have to be able to hear clearly and ideally see the speakers well. One of the secrets to Simultaneous Interpretation is that there’s a highly visual component to it. Because you have to go so fast, your visual access to the speaker is really helpful in getting a smooth and accurate interpretation.

JW: Many business and governmental services are set up under the assumption that people speak the same language. These services might include a customer service helpdesk, a governmental support line or a conference or a big trade show. In actuality, many people don’t speak the same language. Businesses are seeing more and more that you can get information to a very broad range of people extremely efficiently through virtual technologies. RSI providers are now supporting thousands of significant virtual events per month. With those capabilities, the provider typically enables a conversation in the same language, and they need our support to ensure that it’s multilingual.

A woman speaking on a headset

How does real-time captioning work, and which situations are best suited to it?

JW: Captioning is used to help people understand who don’t speak the language that the original content is created in, or if they’re hard of hearing. What’s interesting is that in today’s marketplace, you have captioning providers and RSI providers running separate businesses. One of the things that we expect to see is a merging of those solutions, particularly as these events are being set up to be re-broadcast after the initial translation of the event. Being able to have captions there for people who are viewing after the fact is quite important.

SG: With all these new technologies and new approaches, it’s important to talk to your language provider and have an in-depth discussion about who you’re addressing and what the ultimate outcome will be. You need to make sure that they’re helping you identify exactly the right type of interpretation for that particular use case.

How do you see machine translation and AI playing a role in interpretation?

SG: It will play an increasingly important role, but my feeling is it’s largely just a different use case. In some cases it can be faster and more comprehensive than Simultaneous Interpretation, depending on what kind of thing you’re interpreting, but there’s always the human element to really excellent Simultaneous Interpretation that adds to the experience for both the speaker and the listener. Machine translation is part of an ever-expanding toolkit that people will have for their meetings as these technologies develop. It’s not like one thing is going to replace this other thing, but your choices will be broader and you’re going to be able to pick what is best for your particular use case a little bit more accurately.

What trends are you currently seeing in the interpretation industry? What challenges are you seeing?

SG: Both a trend and a challenge is the fact that interpretation is being used for a wider and wider variety of languages. It used to be that there was a primary set of languages that were interpreted and everything else was a hit or a miss. Clients are now expecting the same kind of quality and training and expertise, no matter what the language is. That’s a real challenge for language service providers and also a challenge to interpreters, particularly those for the less common languages. They need to be thoroughly trained because the expectations are going to be as high for them as they are for the more common languages.

JW: Think of voice or interpretation as just another key building block in an omnichannel customer experience strategy. In the past, everything has been siloed. You had interpretation solutions that were separate from translation solutions, like machine translation or GeoFluent. Over-the-Phone Interpretation is becoming something that can be integrated into a customer experience stack. We want to make Over-the-Phone Interpretation accessible, particularly to these companies who are investing in digital transformation, which is a huge trend going on today. These companies want to have omnichannel touch strategies, including text-based chat, chatbots, knowledge bases, email, messaging and voice. The integration of voice into this will be a major part of the future.

SG: Behind the omnichannel strategy is a common knowledge base. You’re going to want to have customized and branded machine translation to get the message of the company across. For Over-the-Phone Interpretation or Remote Simultaneous Interpretation, the interpreters must be able to speak in the language of the brand. The knowledge of a company and its brand, priorities and terminology should be common and should be leveraged around all those different types of delivery of language services.

A man speaking on a headset

What do you see as the future of interpretation?

SG: I used to get phone calls where people would call and ask if we had one of those universal translators like they’d see in Star Trek. And at the time we always laughed, but now we are moving in that direction! At the same time, interpretation and translation has a real human element to it. I don’t see interpreters and translators going away. I see them more becoming experts and leveraging the technology that exists to provide that really customized and accurate language experience.

JW: There will always be a growing market for pure Over-the-Phone Interpretation, particularly in traditional industries and government, where they just want the core service. Conversely, voice also has to be put in context for an omnichannel approach to effectively support companies and governments pursuing digital transformation. Voice has to be put in combination with these other channels as a part of the strategy, not the only piece.

How does Lionbridge meet customers’ interpretation needs?

SG: The story of Lionbridge is the story of meeting customers where they are in the process, and providing that language expertise no matter where they are. Some people need Over-the-Phone Interpretation, some people need a combination of Over-the-Phone Interpretation and real time text translation. Some need to elevate to Remote Simultaneous Interpretation for a big meeting and we are there to support them all along the way. As the technology grows and changes, our technology and our supports will grow and change with it. We want to provide a high-quality language experience no matter what the delivery method.

The Bottom Line

With over 30 years of experience, Lionbridge offers Over-the-Phone Interpretation services in over 380 languages. Contact us today to incorporate interpretation into your digital transformation plan and learn more about our offerings.

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Christy Kuesel
Christy Kuesel