Kickstarting the Conversation on Interpreting, Technology and Disruption



By Barry S. Olsen

Published: 20 June 2013


An open conversation between interpreters and technology providers about disruptive technologies has been long overdue.


Last week I had an unprecedented opportunity to sit down with three digital disruptors who have their eyes trained on making multilingual communication, in particular interpreting, more accessible than ever before. Remote interpreting veterans, Mayel deBorniol, co-founder of BabelverseDan Gatti, VP of Sales at Stratus Video and, Jakob Rohn, CEO ofCapiche.pro, a newcomer to the remote interpreting space, traveled to Reston, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC, to share their visions of what remote interpreting can be.


These three were joined by Linda Golley, who manages the interpreter service program at the University of Washington Medical Center. Linda is a technological visionary when it comes to language access and how it will fit in the healthcare paradigm of the future, where patient and caregiver will often not even be in the same room and where pill bottles may well talk to us to tell us to take our medication.


An open conversation between interpreters and technology providers about disruptive technologies has been long overdue. As is the case with any initial conversation, the participants have to get to know one another and share their ideas. So we started with Linda giving her vision of the radical changes in the offing for interpreters in healthcare settings. Then the three remaining panelists gave their vision of where they want to take interpreting, focusing on what makes each of their various offerings unique.


Here are three topics that generated significant interest among our attendees during the panel discussion and ensuing Q&A:


Scheduled vs. On-demand Interpreting – As more interpreted interactions move online, there is increased pressure from end users to have interpreting services available on demand. Some remote interpreting providers have built their platforms with this in mind, while others have chosen to focus on scheduled interactions and matching interpreters with the requisite expertise to specific jobs for which they are qualified. While the need for on-demand interpreting is undeniable, particularly in healthcare and emergency settings, this service model will not fit all situations, as subject matter expertise and interpreter preparation time will still be an important part of interpreted meetings and events, whether online or off.


Interpreter Well Being and Work/Life Balance – Remote interpreting changes the equation for many practicing interpreters. The travel, variety of settings and direct interaction with end users are all aspects that originally attracted many to the field. However, in many settings where interpreting is needed there is a push for increased productivity, reduced travel and downtime and lowered cost. As these pressures increase, interpreters will need to make their voices heard loud and clear, recognizing that there is a need for increased productivity and efficiency but firmly insisting upon the conditions we need to do our job and to keep wanting to do our job.


Interpreter Compensation – This topic was one of several “elephants in the room” at InterpretAmerica 4. Given the downward pressure on per-word rates that we have seen in written translation over the last five years, interpreters, particularly conference interpreters, are leery of any changes to traditional compensation models, and with good reason. No one wants to see compensation for the same work reduced. Mayel tackled this subject head on by unveiling Babelverse’s philosophy and process for determining interpreter compensation. This is a topic that will undoubtedly be the object of discussion for some time to come, but one thing is clear—change is on the horizon.


This was an initial conversation, a beginning, a “nice to meet you.” It would be an understatement to say that the panel only scratched the surface of a topic whose depths need to be fully explored. How this conversation will develop will depend on those participating in it, which is why I encourage you to join in. Technology developers have shown they are willing to share their ideas and to listen. Interpreters now need to do the same to keep the conversation going.


What are your biggest hopes and fears as remote interpreting develops and expands?

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