Over the Phone Interpreting vs. Onsite: Which is Better?

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There are many different situations you might find yourself in where you decide that you need a professional interpreter. Nowadays you have the option of choosing to have an interpreter onsite, in person, or over the phone. Which one should you choose?

Well, let’s look at possible scenarios and weigh out the pros and cons of both options.

What’s the Difference?

A professional interpreter is someone who is hired to help facilitate a conversation, being the bridge between two parties with a language barrier. An interpreter can be hired to be onsite (in person) for an exchange, or could be hired and worked with over the phone. An over the phone interpreter (or OPI) will not be there in person to help facilitate a conversation, but rather will conduct their services over the phone.

The healthcare and legal industries often use interpreters, as well as international businesses. However, these are just examples of many instances where an interpreter could be hired. Nowadays you can hire an interpreter for a personal job as well as professional.

Flexibility and Time

Perhaps the greatest advantage of an OPI is that it is typically an on-demand service that operates 24/7/365. With the touch of a button on your smartphone, you can be instantly connected to a professional in the language pair you need, whenever or wherever you need the service. An onsite interpreter requires planning and scheduling for all parties involved in the conversation.

If the situation calls for an immediate assist, then an OPI has the advantage. However, if time is on your side, then an onsite interpreter is a strong option for events such as lectures, conferences, delegations, tour groups, etc. For a long event where it is best for an interpreter to be present and actively involved in the setting as opposed to a bit more passive on the other side of a phone call, an onsite interpreter is definitely more advantageous.

Number of Participants

How many are participating in the conversation? For smaller groups, an OPI is an adequate choice. They are less likely to become confused by the introduction of other voices in the phone call and can stay on top of the conversation. For larger groups it is better to have someone onsite, perhaps even more depending on the number, so that they can actively see who is participating and speaking in the conversation so as to better interpret.

Length of Conversation

An OPI is definitely more cost efficient than an onsite interpreter. But again, you have to keep other factors in mind. Do you need an interpreter for a conversation of 10 minutes, or for a daylong conference? The longer the time span, the more likely you’re going to want someone in person. Not only is it less stressful to have them around all day and not worry about the call’s connection, you are more likely to work out a deal for a day rate.

An OPI is also a great choice if you just need to make small reminders and check ups, billing notifications or scheduling. Any sort of “short conversations” is ideal for an OPI.

Distance of the Conversation Partners

Are you talking to someone in the same room or to someone in another time zone? The greater the distance, the more likely you are to choose the ease and flexibility of an OPI. Yes, you could have an onsite interpreter on either end of the phone call doing their job, but again, that requires scheduling and planning. If you don’t have one on retainer, then that might be too pricey or difficult. An OPI on the other hand is always available and easy to connect with.

Body Language

A disadvantage of an OPI is the lack of direct human contact. There isn’t the opportunity to read the body language and pick up on physical cues from the speakers. This could lead to slightly less perfect interpretations and perhaps even a mistranslated cultural quirk. An onsite interpreter however should be very well versed in these things and able to incorporate them into a seamless interpretation.

An onsite interpreter also has the advantage of providing that physical proof of interpretation at work so as to put parties at ease. There is definitely a sense of comfort having this done right in front of you rather than over the phone – a surety of the job getting done.

Reversely, having a voice on the other end of a phone call doing the interpretation might make someone feel more at ease, rather than having a stranger cue in on them like an x-ray and then interpret what they’re saying in another language. This can be a disconcerting process for some. The lack of an interpreter in person could make someone (like introverts) feel more confident having to face less people.

Another situation where an onsite interpreter is preferable is if one of the parties has a speaking and/or hearing difficulty. This would naturally make it difficult to use an OPI.

Also, if children or the elderly are involved in the conversation. This could also be a bit difficult to use an OPI, so it would be better to have an interpreter onsite.

With this in mind, maybe it is easier now for you to choose which kind of service you are looking for in an interpreter – OPI or onsite? Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but hopefully this post helps you to consider your options with more confidence.

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