9 Easy Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Telephone Interpreting Experience

Woman on a cellphone call a telephone interpreting service.

For anyone who uses telephone interpreters, you’ve probably had at least one experience where you felt like something was “lost in translation.” And it’s not only because you and your customer are communicating in different languages. Using a telephone interpreter isn’t difficult, but it’s something you have to get used to. If you’re a native English speaker, you may never have thought about the ins and outs of using an interpreter, let alone over the telephone!

The first step is to make sure you’re using a trusted telephone interpreting company. This will prevent a huge percentage of possible issues from the start. After that, it’s in the little things. 

Here are 9 simple ways to get the most from your telephone interpreting session.

Related: A Snapshot of the Top Telephone and Video Interpretation Companies in the U.S.

1. Know what you need to access the service

There’s nothing worse than showing up unprepared. Or in this case, calling into your telephone interpretation company and not knowing how to actually access the service. 

Most organizations have unique access codes and/or information they need to provide to their interpretation company to connect to an interpreter. Some even have proprietary phone numbers. 

However your organization chooses to set up their account, it will be important for you to have that information on hand before you call. 

If you’re a language services manager, make sure to pass these details onto your staff! And know that most language service companies can help train you and your staff on best practices for using remote phone interpreters. 

2. Know your conference call options

If your limited English proficient (LEP) customer isn’t with you, you’re going to need to know the best way to conference them into a call. Conference calls can be done several ways, and differ from interpreting company to interpreting company. Your organization may even have a policy on what to do (i.e., calling your customer before calling in for an interpreter).  

At CLI, if your LEP customer isn’t already on the line with you, let the agents know first thing. They handle this process, and will connect you with an interpreter before dialing out to your LEP customer.  

3. Be ready for a voicemail 

If you’re calling the LEP individual with an interpreter already on the line, there’s a chance you’ll need to leave a voicemail if the individual doesn’t answer. To ensure this process goes smoothly, have the message prepared ahead of time. That way, you can brief the interpreter on what you’d like them to say, prior to placing the call to your LEP customer. 

This will cut down on cost and help avoid any confusion between you and the interpreter should you hear that beep.

4. Speak clearly

Since the interaction is over the phone, the interpreter doesn’t have the benefit of picking up any non-verbal cues. And while telephony technology has improved over the years, it can’t fix mumbling, fumbling, or grumbling. 

This isn’t limited to your conversation with your LEP customer and the interpreter. When you’re talking with a live customer service agent, speak clearly. We’re all in a hurry, but it will make the transaction go quicker and smoother. 

5. Smile

A smiling older woman standing by a bush with orange flowers

We’re talking about the ol’ “smile and dial”— the act of smiling through a phone call. 

It’s been noted that smiling is not only a visual cue but an auditory one, too. People can hear when you’re smiling. According to Dummies, smiling can make your voice sound more pleasant:

“When you smile, the soft palate at the back of your mouth raises and makes the sound waves more fluid. For those of you who sing in a choir (or in the shower), you know that the wider you open your mouth and the more teeth you show, the better tone you get. The same applies on the telephone. Smiling helps your voice to sound friendly, warm, and receptive.”

A warmer tone makes a difference, especially when you’re communicating with someone who speaks a different language. 

Remember: Interpreters have to interpret everything they hear, including the tone of the speaker. So your LEP customers will know from your voice, or the interpreter’s, if you’re not happy.

Related: See How Easy It Is to Get a Telephone Interpreter

6. Speak one at a time

If multiple people are in the room or on the phone, speak one at a time. Multiple people speaking at the same time can tax even the most experienced interpreter. 

The interpreter should manage the flow of conversation, including politely and transparently interjecting if more than one person is speaking, but don’t hesitate to speak up before the interpreter does if voices start to overlap.

7. Speak freely

Interpreters must treat any and all information they hear as confidential. It’s a basic tenet of their code of ethics. In addition, interpreters sign a separate confidentiality agreement with the telephone interpreting company they choose to work with. So speak freely knowing that whatever you and your LEP customer say will be kept private.

8. Remember: Interpreters are impartial

Interpreters are professionals who have an incredible amount of talent and skill. They are not there to convince your LEP customer to do anything, and they are not there to provide emotional support either. They live by a set code of ethics, boundaries, and scope of practice. 

“Don’t refer to the interpreter as ‘your interpreter,’” states Kay Tucker for Paraquad. “It’s better to say ‘our interpreter’ or ‘the interpreter.’”

Their job is not to take sides, but to simply transfer information from one party to another.

9. Don’t forget to say “thank you”

At the end of your session, take a moment to thank the interpreter before ending the call. Not only does a simple “thank you” help people feel more valued, but showing gratitude can also help you feel happier, too.

And if you’re really feeling the love, don’t forget to let the telephone interpreting company know the interpreter did a good job. At CLI, hearing compliments about the interpreters we partner with gives us all the warm and fuzzies.

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