Telephone interpreter services

How to Choose a Telephone Interpreter Service

Telephone interpretation (or over-the-phone language interpretation) is a mode of interpretation that is becoming more and more popular, especially in business circles. With that popularity comes an increase in demand for competent interpreters.

That popularity is due to the fact that it is usually cheaper for a business to contract out to telephone interpreters on an as-needed basis instead of employing full-time interpreters that won’t be used for all the time that they are being paid for.

While interpretation companies will differ in how they go about setting up over-the-phone interpretation sessions for clients, there are usually two different types of telephone interpretation.

1. Conference Call – First you contact the company to let them know the date and time you’ll need their interpretation services, as well as the contact information of the person you’ll be communicating with. The interpretation company calls you on the specified date and time and then sets up a conference call between you, the person you will be talking with, and the interpreter.

2. Spontaneous Interpretation – There will be times when clients can’t predict when they will need telephone interpreting services and won’t have time to set up a conference call. In those instances, there are companies that offer spontaneous interpretation services. The important thing to check before using one of these services is how long the lag time is from when you call them to the time an interpreter gets on the line with you. Thirty seconds to a minute is an average timeframe.

Telephone Interpreter Services

In addition to understanding the basic structure of most telephone interpretation, it’s equally important to be aware of some important things when requesting service from companies that offer telephone interpretations.

Interpreter Pricing

In terms of pricing, it’s worth it to ask a couple of basic questions.

What is the pricing structure?

Does the company charge by minute or by hour?

Most companies charge between $1 and $3, depending on the language and the destination, along with a connection fee.

Will you be using the telephone interpretations services frequently? If so, many companies offer special discounts for higher call volume. What kind of discount can the telephone interpreter service offer you based on how much (or little) you’ll be using the service?

Interpreter Agreements

Many companies require you to fill out and sign a service agreement before they agree to interpret for you.

Make sure you read what you’re signing before you sign anything with any of these companies. You don’t want to be caught in a situation where you have given up any rights or any rights of your clients who might be using the service.

Interpreter Confidentiality

Along the same lines, you absolutely must be certain that the interpreters for the company are all bound be confidentially agreements. It wouldn’t be too much to even request one in writing be sent to you for your records.

This is especially true if you are providing the service for your clients to use. You don’t want to lose the trust of your clients and one of the fastest ways to do that is by not keeping things confidential that they expect to be kept confidential.

Interpreter Stability

This goes without saying, but it’s important that the company have a stable telephony system in place.

Not only does their telephone system need to be stable, but if they’re using any kind of Internet backbone to process any part of the interaction, that needs to be stable as well.

You might have clients that are using cell phones, landlines, or even Skype-type applications. The system needs to be stable enough to handle all of those different scenarios.

Interpreter Training

Proper interpreter training is a must for any telephone interpreter service.

One of the first things you need to ask when choosing one of these services is about the credentials and training that the interpreters have.

And this doesn’t just mean that the interpreters should have proper language abilities.

They should also be specialized in the area in which you (or your clients) will need interpreting services. If you’re in the medical profession, for example, the interpreter should be trained in medical terminology.

Another issue with interpreter training is to make sure that the company offers the type of interpreting service that you need.

I mentioned the two major types above.

If you are going to need spontaneous interpretation, don’t go with a company that only offers interpreting services in advance. In addition, as I mentioned above, if the company does offer spontaneous interpretation services, find out what the lag time is between the time you call and when an interpreter is available. You (or your clients) don’t want to be sitting on the phone for 30 minutes waiting for interpreter services.

Interpreter Availability

Are the interpreters available to take calls 24/7? Do you need them to be?


In the end, choosing a telephone interpreter service can be a great way to provide value to your clients using a cheaper and more convenient method than the traditional route of hiring full-time (or part-time) interpreters.

If you keep the above points in mind, you’ll be much better prepared to choose the right company for you and your needs.

P.S. If you’re interested in knowing what you should look for in a language professional, read my book.

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