Tools and Tips for Migrating to Remote Interpreting

by / Tuesday, 21 July 2020 / Published in News

In-person interpreting has been the cornerstone of industry for as long as interpreting has been a profession—but now, during a pandemic when facilities are trying to reduce as much contact between people as possible, more and more appointments are being conducted by phone or video. On the surface it might seem like the transition from in-person interpreting to remote interpreting should be a breeze—it is interpreting no matter what mode it’s conducted in, right?

Yes and No. There are several important changes that need to be made when switching from in-person interpreting. It is important to think about these things before being assigned to your first remote appointment, which can later help ease the transition and any frustration that could result from failing to prepare.


The most obvious difference between in-person and remote interpreting is the location; in-person interpreting takes place on-site at the facility itself (or wherever your services are needed), while remote interpreting takes place elsewhere. There are a few key requirements for remote interpreting:

  1. Privacy. The location MUST be secure and private; if it is not, you are running a high risk of violating HIPAA laws and any confidentiality agreements you have signed with your agency. Information heard and interpreted during appointments is confidential and is only meant to be heard by the parties present. There cannot be people walking in and out of the room you’re interpreting in, nor can you interpret in an open space (such as a living room or public space) where other people could potentially overhear you.
  2. Quiet. It is imperative that the location is quiet. There cannot be any distracting background noise. Noise makes it more difficult for you to be heard clearly, and it comes off as unprofessional. The biggest causes of noise interference come from televisions and other people. If you have a home office, do not have a TV on in the other room, have any music playing in the background and do not be outside. Wind can cause interference as well as barking dogs or neighborhood kids outside playing. If you have children at the age that they need to be watched, make sure you have another adult taking care of them while you interpret; it’s essential you are not interrupted by other people during your assignments, particularly children who might not understand that you’re working and can’t play with or talk to them at the moment.
  3. Strong connection. Whether you are interpreting via video or telephone, you need to ensure the area you are in has a strong signal. If your reception is spotty or your wi-fi connection weak, there is a high chance that the call could cut-out, of voices getting garbled and the success of the appointment faltering. The clients (both provider and patient) must receive proper interpretation and that requires a secure, quiet area. When possible, use a computer that is directly wired into the internet to avoid disruptions in the wi-fi signal.


The devices you use for remote interpreting can make or break an appointment. While SIT does not require any special equipment for remote assignments, it IS required that you use reliable devices. Ensure your webcam and microphone work well before any appointments, and that your batteries are always charged. If your device has problems with shutting down unexpectedly or producing errors, make sure to use a different device during remote assignments to ensure each appointment runs smoothly and efficiently, without any issues arising from faulty equipment.

If you do remote interpreting often and are looking to invest in more specialized equipment, microphones are great to start with, as they are arguably the most important aspect of any equipment used for spoken language interpreting. The clearer your voice is, the easier it is for the client to understand. Webcams are good to investigate as well so that clients can clearly see the interpreter.

Additionally, ensure you have the proper software for any video appointments. Many facilities are using Zoom, but many also use Skype and Google Meets, all of which require a quick download in order to use the platform. Some platforms are also only compatible with specific browsers, so if you are uncertain, be sure to ask your agency and perhaps schedule a test-call to work-out any unforeseen issues.


  1. Body Language. To those who are not familiar with how interpreting works, the task seems straightforward—interpret what’s said. But body language is a huge part of interpreting (and just communicating in general), and during remote assignments interpreters and clients alike often acutely feel the absence of it.

When an interpreter cannot see the client—or the video rendering is poor—it is extremely difficult to pick up on the nuances that feel innate in-person. It can lead to a lot of frustration on all sides, and it can leave both interpreter and client feeling as though the appointment may not have been as successful as on-site interpreting.

  • Use what you know. It is important to remember what you know from in-person interpreting. Remember to interpret in first-person. This is one of the quintessential duties of interpreting. You are the voice for the patient and must remember to keep that frame of mind. By saying “he said” or “she said” the appointment can quickly become confusing for all parties.
  • Background. Remember, when providing video interpretation, you MUST have a solid color background. We know home offices likely have awards, certificates and many other framed acknowledgements, but remember, the patient and provider are not in the appointment to see your accolades. There cannot be any distracting images in your background.
  • Be Prepared. Often times a provider will ask you to relay a phone number for a referral or provide dosage information. Make sure you keep a pen and paper handy so you can write-down the information and be able to repeat it accurately to the patient. In some cases, you will need to leave a voicemail for the patient and with that comes a call-back number to be given. Be prepared for this. The provider will not want to wait until you find a pen and paper for notes.
  • Punctuality. Remote interpreting timeliness is just as important as on-site interpreting. Doctors, counselors and case workers must still run their appointments on time. Get ready a few minutes before the appointment is scheduled. Make sure your batteries are charged, you have a strong connection and you are ready to go! Once the call comes in, you will need to start interpreting right away. Should you not answer the call, the agency will find someone else, which will result in not only loss of the appointment, but consideration for when the next remote appointment arises.

Remote interpreting certainly comes with its own set of challenges, but the benefit to your community can’t be downplayed, especially during times of social distancing and minimal physical contact. Patients still need to be seen by their doctors, court cases will still proceed, and people’s lives will not come to a complete halt. For those who do not speak English, or who rely heavily on interpreters now more than ever, the transition can be difficult. Prepare yourself both physically and mentally, stress can be reduced and you’ll become adjusted in no time.