eTranslation Services

What Is an Over-the-Phone Interpreter?

Over-the-phone interpreting (OPI) is a service that falls under the Remote Interpreting Services that some translation and interpretation companies offer to different organizations. Instead of interpreting face-to-face, a phone interpreter, as the term implies, is available to provide language services over the phone. The interpreter may be in another room in the same building or any location. Most over-the-phone interpretation services handle more than 200 languages. Experts even recommend that companies providing OPI services should have interpreters that can handle all the languages that residents of the United States speak.

Many over-the-phone interpreters are experts in different subject matters.

Several industry sectors deal with people with limited English proficiency (LEP), particularly in the medical and legal industries. The government mandates that medical and healthcare facilities receiving funding from the federal government should provide language access to the LEP patients they serve. One of the services they should provide is over-the-phone interpretation or on-demand interpretation.

Over-the-phone interpreters help many sectors, as they are:

  • Available 24/7
  • Expert linguists and native speakers
  • Cost-effective
  • Trusted translation partners
  • Certified for specific requirements
  • Available worldwide

What can an over-the-phone interpreter do for you?

One of the basic requirements of LEP patients is to understand what the other person is saying in his language, which is why many legal firms, as well as healthcare and medical facilities, use interpreters to help their clients. Miscommunication can quickly occur when people talking to one another do not share a common language.

Phone interpreting has many applications. Clients can employ the service in different settings.

As a language access service provider, a phone interpreter has several primary responsibilities:

  1. Understanding the ideas that they hear for the first time and translate them instantly into the target language, completely and accurately. They follow the intent and style of the speaker.
  2. They provide cultural frameworks to promote understanding between the two parties belonging to different cultures.
  3. Depending on the contract and requirements, they may travel to different locations.
  4. They maintain the confidentiality of healthcare or personal issues or any other information they encounter on the job.
  5. Phone interpreters record and compile daily interpreting services, and prepare timecards or vouchers, depending on client requests.
  6. They are professional linguists. Most of them are certified and experts in different subject matters and terminology that allow them to work in the healthcare and medical field, in law and legal firms, business, finance, and other sectors.
  7. They are cultural experts as well, and capable of communicating with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Over-the-phone interpreters work with very little supervision. They are flexible, adept at customer/client service, and have excellent interpersonal skills.
  8. Over-the-phone interpreters have excellent communication skills and exceptional listening skills.
  9. People with LEP need assistance in many ways, therefore an OPI service is effective in scheduling appointments, registrations, reminders, and billing, and collection. OPI helps in emergencies, short contacts with people who do not speak English, and for short meetings between two parties.
  10. When a live interpreter is not present, an over-the-phone interpreter is one of the better alternatives.

Can a translator become an over-the-phone interpreter?

Translators and interpreters both work in converting words into different languages. However, the execution of their responsibility is different. Translators work with the written words while interpreters work with the spoken words. However, there are rare cases where a translator can also work as an interpreter. Today, however, a translator can also convert audio and video files into text.

Interpreting applies to different situations, but the core service remains the same – converting spoken words into the target languages.

Language processing occurs in the brain. Reading and listening comprehension are both processed in the cerebrum. However, the processing of the specific activity is in different parts of the cerebrum. This means that a translator uses a different part of the brain, compared to an interpreter.

Technically and practically, there is a big difference between interpreting a person’s speech simultaneously and translating written text, where the translator has the time to think about phrasing, selecting the right words, and using references to come up with the best translation. Translation and interpretation require different skill sets from linguists.

Given the requirements, it is going to be difficult for a translator to become an over-the-phone interpreter. If you are interested in a career in language services, it is essential to know your strengths. If you like writing more than speaking, choose to train as a translator. If you are good at listening and speaking, then an interpreting job may be the right choice.

How do you use a phone interpreter?

One of the most practical applications of over-the-phone interpreting services is in the healthcare setting. First, the law mandates it, particularly those facilities that receive funding from the federal government. Second, because these facilities regularly attend to patients from different cultures, most of which are not proficient in the English language.

OPI services are accessible through apps, mobile phones, and landlines, which are more widely used than onsite interpreters and video remote interpretation devices. Medical facilities that provide OPI services have a dedicated phone number and client ID from the interpreting service provider.

A user who wishes to access an OPI needs to call the specific number and give the client ID. The user is either prompted to indicate the language they prefer or to key-in a language code. Afterward, the caller can connect to the qualified phone interpreter who speaks the patient’s and the doctor’s languages.

Most interpreters are trained to pick up visual cues from the speaker and the audience. In phone interpreting, this feature is not present. A phone interpreter has extensive training in mental note-taking and critical listening. They are similar to consecutive interpreters who start conveying the message in the preferred language once the speaker pauses. Over-the-phone interpreters do their interpreting flawlessly, considering that they may have to interpret using specific terminology.

Facilities offering phone-interpreting services have two options to access the service. One is operator-led, and the other is automated.

An automated service uses an interactive voice response (IVR) application that converts a keyed or spoken dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) data into a pre-determined request to connect to a phone interpreter in a target language. In this setting, the facility has the language codes.

In an operator-led service, staff from customer service answers the call. The crew gathers the caller’s required information and connects the caller to the interpreter that speaks the target language. The operator-led service fits emergency services, where the caller does not know the language codes.

Some facilities offer a hybrid system, which combines the two modes of service. The caller keys in the account code through the IVR that connects to a call center agent. The person gathers more information about the caller and connects them to the translator who speaks their language.

If you need over-the-phone interpreters, call us at eTS

The healthcare crisis the world experiences today pushes the importance of interpreting services forward. In the healthcare and legal settings, we provide language access to people with no or limited proficiency in the English language to understand what is going on. eTranslation Services has a vast network of native-speaking interpreters trained in over-the-phone interpreting to serve your needs. Most of our OPIs are experts in different subjects so that we can help your specific organization’s requirements. Do not hesitate to get in touch with us for your over-the-phone interpreting needs. You can quickly get in touch with us through email at [email protected] or call us at (800) 882-6058 for a quick quote.


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