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Remote Interpreting – Yes? No? Maybe?

Jul 16, 2020GENERAL, MUSINGS

6.5 min read

Last spring, the suspension of international travel and the imposition of lockdowns in many countries around the world catapulted Remote Simultaneous Interpreting (RSI) about three years into the future.

Suddenly, we all had to look it in the eye and come to terms with it as with many other tech solutions in our overnight digital existence.

There are, of course, many benefits to RSI, not the least that it is allowing us to continue to do our key work at a time when international communication and collaboration is, simply, vital. 

There are, also, many considerations to be taken into account if we wish to add RSI to our professional practice in a sustainable way. Matters related to technology, sound quality, in-booth collaboration, virtual console features, and our own wellbeing are, fortunately, being widely and openly discussed online.

Today, however, I would like to focus on the following: 

  • The assumption that RSI is like in-person interpreting but done online
  • The assumption that, because it is online, RSI is cheaper than in-person interpreting

In my opinion, assuming that remote interpreting is the same than in-person interpreting but done online is as reasonable as assuming that apples are the same than oranges and will yield the same result when baking a cake.

Once the extreme circumstances we are living in subside, RSI will find its own place within the interpreting world. 

In the meantime, the sooner we start thinking about it as a distinct format different from all other forms of interpreting out there, the sooner we will be able to embrace it in its own right instead of trying to force it to hit a brief originally drafted for something else.

The fact that so many Simultaneous Interpreting Delivery Platforms (SIDP) are involved in developing and adopting the current ISO Specifications and future ISO Standards is already an indication of how seriously they take what they and we do. Shouldn’t we then return the favour?

Covid-related restrictions are forcing the world down many unexpected holes and, thus, opening our eyes to possibilities that might have never occurred to us before. The event and MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions) sectors are rapidly growing new wings and taking on innovative, new ways of doing things.

This is certainly shaking up the foundations of what is familiar to us, interpreters, but, on the other hand, is also opening and will continue to open new opportunities – Some we might welcome; others we might not.

What we cannot afford to do, as the professional community we are, is to turn the blind eye or endure the current situation while wishing for a return to the “good old days”; thus, missing the chance to take the wheel and steer the future of our profession as only we can.

As a concept, “online” is quite a peculiar one.

For some reason, people tend to believe that because something is delivered online, then it should be free. Maybe it is the residual effect of the common marketing strategy of offering a reduced, online version for free as a taster for an unabridged and paid in-person event or the unscrupulous outsourcing of services to low-income regions.

Whatever the reason, the general assumption is that online interpreting is (or should be) cheaper than in-person interpreting.

Not quite so. It is true that clients may spare themselves any travel and accommodation costs by not flying-in their interpreters but, in general, hiring a simultaneous interpreting delivery platform costs roughly the same or more than hiring a traditional interpreting booth and, for the most part, interpreters’ rates do not vary when working online. 

I say “for the most part” because lately we have been offered and seen it all.

In my experience, clients, agencies, and Language Service Providers (LSP) that were only interested in working with the lowest possible offer when in-person will seek to do the same online.  So will those colleagues trading only in monetary terms.

Not only are they mistaking apples for oranges, but they are also mistaking the whole fruit content for the box that contains it.

If the work we do and the value we bring to the table are only to be regarded in monetary terms, then we should all close shop and go (sorry, stay) home as we have already lost the race to the bottom. 

There are many reasons why clients (and agencies, which I consider clients) choose to work with certain interpreters and not others: trust, quality, cultural awareness, manners, response time, and more are part of their equation as much as ours.

The sooner we embrace the whole of what we do and contribute through our work, the sooner we will be able to leave pettiness and resentment behind and start building the multi-layered future of this profession we all love so much.

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AUTHOR

Cecilia Lipovsek

Cecilia Lipovsek

Cecilia Lipovsek – the Diplomatic Interpreter. I am a communicator through and through; from the heart. Born in Buenos Aires and a Londoner by adoption since 2015, I have lived and worked on both sides of the Atlantic, a foot on each side of the language and cultural divide.

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