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White Paper on Remote Interpreting: A Teaser

InterpretAmerica workgroup participants
InterpretAmerica 6 workgroup participants working on best practices for remote interpreting.

Publications tend to take on a life of their own. At this point in our career we have participated in many writing adventures, from professional articles and white papers to blogging to co-authoring textbooks. One truth we have learned: publications resist any attempt at imposing timelines or deadlines.

Many of you have been asking for an update on the promised white paper on remote interpreting from the InterpretAmerica 6 Summit held in Washington, D.C., last October. The good news: We have a solid draft of workgroup results. The slow news: We are still a ways from final publication.

So, to thank you for your patience, we wanted to give you some resources to enjoy while you wait. Read on for a teaser of three key findings that will be highlighted in the report.

Then keep scrolling to watch the opening and closing plenary sessions from the Summit, published here publicly for the first time.

Highlighting the highlights

Who knew that a single day's work could turn into such a wealth of insight and material?

At the Summit, twelve workgroups representing players from across our profession of 8-10 participants each met to tackle two main questions:

  • What threats and opportunities does remote interpreting pose for our profession?

  • What best practice recommendations can you suggest to address those threats and opportunities?

The workgroups were divided by area of interpreting: healthcare, legal, conference and profession-wide. Participants were a mix of practitioners, agency owners, professional association leadership, tech developers and other stakeholders. The result was a rich diversity of experience and perspective that has taken our intrepid white paper author Tracy Young weeks to sort and categorize.

As we work to complete the paper, we want to share some of the main highlights from the paper.

1. “We have moved from fear to value”

When we first proposed tackling remote interpreting at the Summit, our profession was in an uproar over the disruption caused by these new delivery platforms. As we planned the sessions, we expected to face anger, frustration and fear. Daily blogs, articles and social media posts seemed to point to an overwhelming condemnation of remote interpreting.

Yet, by the time the Summit rolled around in October, it sold out and attendees came ready to proactively tackle the topic. We sensed that something had shifted and perhaps even tipped. The workgroup sessions proved us right. Participants identified plenty of threats to our profession posed by remote interpreting, but they came up with even more opportunities and benefits. That was a surprise! We felt the collective tide changing from push-back to acceptance.

This is a tremendously important development. Only by engaging with the change remote interpreting represents can we hope to harness it as a positive force instead of a tidal wave that rolls us and leaves us dog-paddling in its wake.

2. Adoption is farther along than we thought

We knew going in that different areas of interpreting have different experiences with remote interpreting platforms. It was no surprise that healthcare emerged as the area with the broadest and deepest use of remote interpreting. But the nuanced and detailed knowledge that emerged from those in healthcare, especially the interpreting services coordinators, was a revelation. They are far down the road in understanding best use cases, identifying protocols and best practices to protect interpreter and end-user interests and understanding the financial and technological models that work best.

Another surprise was the level of experience offered by conference interpreting participants. This area of interpreting has many loud and articulate voices sounding the alarm against remote interpreting. Less visible, it is now clear, is the slow and steady work many organizations, companies and tech providers have put into piloting and implementing remote solutions in the conference interpreting space. These groups also came up with specific, detailed observations and recommendations for eventual best practices.

Less far along is legal interpreting. This was not a surprise. Legal interpreters are often (justifiably) reluctant to adopt remote solutions in what are already difficult settings with challenging work conditions. Remote interpreting platforms can be harder to integrate effectively in courtroom settings. The interpreter needs both broad visual and auditory access to the courtroom, as well as targeted channels for private communication between lawyers and defendants.

3. Best practice recommendation areas

As hinted at, our twelve workgroups proved prolific in their output. As we've catalogued the many comments and recommendations, we've identified six categories for best practices.

  1. Pay / rates

  2. Business models

  3. Working conditions

  4. Interpreter practices (ethics, protocols, conduct)

  5. Technology standards

  6. Training / education

The white paper will include the threats, opportunities and recommendations for best practices for each of these categories.

One call to action that was repeated across groups was the need for best practices informed by quantitative research. Many pointed to the reality that current interpreting "best practices" often become embedded into our profession through anecdotal experience and repetition. A hunger was expressed for observation and fact-based recommendations as the field moves forward.

In the end, this quote sums up the Summit's work:

"Remote interpreting is a tremendous opportunity, as long as things are being done correctly, and the end user and the interpreter are being served in the best manner."

It is our intent to bring you a white paper full of insights and recommendations that take us one, or several, steps further down the road of serving our profession in "the best manner" possible.


InterpretAmerica 6: Labor. Management. Technology - A Call to Action, 2017

InterpretAmerica 6 Opening Plenary Session

The opening plenary at InterpretAmerica sets the broad framework for where remote interpreting stands in the profession.

InterpretAmerica 6 Closing Plenary Session

The closing plenary at InterpretAmerica provides a first look at the initial best practice recommendations the legal, medical, conference and profession-wide work groups produced.


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