How to Prepare for a Remote Interpreting Session (Like an Expert)

Female interpreter sitting at computer looking up resources to prepare for a remote interpreting session

“Work from home” is not a new concept, but if you’ve never done it, it can feel like one. And while it has its upsides (business up top, sweats down below), it’s certainly not for everyone, including for all who work as interpreters.

The good news is that, like interpreting itself, it’s a skill that can be learned. So even if you’re used to in-person work, you can teach yourself how to be just as successful at remote interpreting as you are at on-site. It just takes a little preparation.

A woodsman was once asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.”

— C. R. Jaccard in “Objectives and Philosophy of Public Affairs Education”

Preparation isn’t glamorous, but the fruits of your labor will come in handy when you’re met with a challenging call. Just like interpreting for a deposition is different from interpreting for an oncology appointment, you will need to tweak your strategy to ensure you’re well-equipped for remote calls. Here are a few suggestions.

Continue to build your vocabulary

This isn’t something that’s unique to remote interpreting, but is nonetheless essential. Unlike on-site interpreting, you won’t know what’s on the other end of the call, so continuing to study your vocabulary and terminology is a must.

In addition, if you’re contracting with a language services company, ask if they have any client-specific glossaries or other materials that will help you prepare for calls.

Related: 4 Helpful Tips on How to Rock Remote Interpreting

Have your go-to sites ready

One advantage to being remote is that you can tap into resources during interpreting sessions that you wouldn’t be able to if you were interpreting in person. Find your favorite sites and bookmark them. Doing this ahead of time will be way less stressful than fumbling to find them during a call. Choosing which resources are right for you will depend on your target language, but here are some trusty suggestions:

Although not necessary, it’s very helpful to have language-specific stickers for your keyboard, too!

Ready yourself for challenges

When you’re in a remote session, you don’t have the luxury of picking up all the visual cues you would if you were in person. In addition, the quality of sounds might be compromised or a speaker might have a quiet voice. This can make it difficult to hear and distinguish certain words, especially similar-sounding words that have different meanings.

If this happens, it’s a good idea to have a call management strategy in place ahead of time so you won’t be caught off guard in the moment.

Following is an example scenario where the non-English speaker is soft-spoken:

Start by informing the client what the problem is.

  • Example: Sir, this is the interpreter speaking. Just so you are aware, I am having trouble hearing the patient.

Give the client a solution to the problem, if possible.

  • Example: You could try moving the device closer to the patient, or adjusting the volume in your microphone settings.

Let the client know what you’ll do to help solve the problem.

  • Example: In order to provide an accurate interpretation, I may have to ask for repetition often.

Always make sure to thank the client.

  • Example: Thank you for your understanding.

Check your tech

Interpreting via telephone or video requires a secure location free from ambient noise and distraction. It also requires a little bit of technology.

For over-the-phone interpreting, you’ll need a landline, a reliable headset, a place to take notes, and a computer with all your resources queued up.

For VRI, you’ll need a reliable headset, a computer with a strong internet connection, a solid background, professional attire, and a webcam. For VRI especially, test your microphone and webcam before you begin a session, so you know they’re working appropriately.

If you share an internet connection with others in your household, make sure they know when you’ll be working so they don’t stream movies or other content that uses a lot of bandwidth.

Related: Top 5 Things Video Remote Interpreters Can’t Live Without

Once you take a few calls, all of this will become second nature. How do you prepare for a remote interpreting session? Tweet at us and let us know.

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