Published: 13 January 2014
Few people think of the same thing when they hear or use the term “remote interpreting,” and with good reason.
I’ve spent much of my time and energy over the last two years speaking about technology’s growing influence on interpreting. As I have conversed with interpreters, educators and clients all over the world, one thing has become painfully apparent: few people think of the same thing when they hear or use the term “remote interpreting,” and with good reason. The term is bandied about to refer to a multitude of different scenarios that are as different from one another as apples and oranges.
So, what to do? First off, the meetings or interactions that make use of remote interpreting should be divided into two broad categories: face-to-face meetings and virtual meetings.
In face-to-face meetings with remote interpreting, the interlocutors (delegates to a conference, a physician and patient, or participants in a courtroom) are all physically in the same place, only the interpreters are remote. These types of interpreted encounters are on the rise in conference, legal and healthcare interpreting. The most notorious example of this kind of remote interpreting is probably the meeting of European heads of state and government at Hampton Court in the UK in 2005. The historic castle had neither the space nor the technology to accommodate the army of interpreters, interpreting booths and equipment needed to provide interpretation into 22 languages simultaneously so a temporary structure was built nearby to house the operation (see photo below). Remote interpreting? Yes, but just a hop, skip and a jump from the meeting room.
Over-the-phone and video remote interpreting operate under the same principle, the interpreter is the only "remote" participant of the meeting, but instead of being in a booth or across the hallway, they may be across town or across the globe from the interlocutors. The technologies employed tend to be less complex and the interactions interpreted are often shorter in duration.
Remote interpreting for face-to-face meetings is one of the main sources of concern for interpreters today, as it removes them from a venue where they were once physically present to do their job. Although I don’t believe this trend will physically remove interpreters from all interpreted interactions, this drive for efficiency will continue.