INTERPRETING

The Remote Interpreter
The first textbook dedicated to remote interpreting

SUPPORTED BY CROSS-CULTURAL COMMUNICATIONS, CULTUREANDLANGUAGE.NET

Interpreting is a pretty old profession.

Interpreters have been around, in some form or another, for as long as people from different linguistic backgrounds have needed to communicate with one another in real time. There are written records of interpreters facilitating communication all throughout history: ancient Egypt in the third millennium BCE, imperial China in the 800s, and Spain during the Inquisition, just to name a few examples.

Now, remote interpreting, on the other hand, is not quite so old. Historically, interpreters have had to be in the same room or space as the speakers, for obvious reasons. According to a 2020 report from Nimdzi Insights, the oldest method of remote interpreting is over-the-phone interpreting (OPI), which dates back to the 1970s or 1980s. Other solutions, like remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) and video remote interpreting (VRI) came later on, as advancements in technology paved the way for these newer interpreting modes.

And while the practice of remote interpretation has been around for roughly half a century now, the COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly brought the field to the forefront of the language industry.

Despite the fact that it’s grown to become an extremely important means of interpreting, remote interpretation is less standardized than in-person interpreting. Given the fact that remote interpreting developed multiple millennia after the first in-person interpreters delivered their services, it makes sense that there’s a bit of a knowledge gap between the two — that’s where The Remote Interpreter, a new textbook dedicated entirely to the practice of remote interpreting, comes in handy.

“Having managed remote interpreter networks, it’s clear that there has been a lack of standardization across the profession, and that makes it difficult for all parties involved,” said Caroline Remer, vice president of language access at Boostlingo and one of the authors who contributed to the book. “This textbook solves that exact problem and gives the industry a guiding light that all parties can look to for best practices.”

Published in July 2023 by Culture & Language Press, The Remote Interpreter, Volume One: Foundations in Remote Learning has been called a “first of its kind” — a textbook entirely dedicated to the field of remote interpreting. The textbook aims to provide remote interpreters with a standard set of best practices and empower them with the set of tools and skills necessary to succeed in the profession.

With more than 600 pages chock-full of information on the profession, The Remote Interpreter certainly bridges that knowledge gap, providing new and experienced remote interpreters alike with a wealth of tools and techniques to hone their craft.

“So much has changed, evolved, and improved — especially due to the pandemic — that there is very little standardization of best practices for remote interpreting. And ultimately, interpreters and the people they serve suffer when there is a lack of standardization,” said Danielle Meder, one of the authors who contributed to the book.

“I hope that anyone who reads this textbook feels confident as they enter the remote interpreting space. For those who are already working in remote interpreting, I hope they have new tools to elevate their performance further,” she added.

For the vast majority of human history, remote interpreting was impossible. We simply did not have the technology necessary to enable interpreters to hear speech across such long distances until the 1930s — and as The Remote Interpreter’s introduction notes, it wasn’t until the 1970s that OPI became a popular practice. Then came VRI in the 1990s and 2000s, and later on, RSI in the 2010s.

The team behind The Remote Interpreter had long recognized the need for a standardized knowledge base surrounding remote interpreting. Dieter Runge, one of the authors who worked on the project, said he and Marjory Bancroft (another member of the author team) first discussed the need for a book specifically dedicated to remote interpreting practices back in 2016 at an American Translators Association conference in San Francisco.

He says that need “became even more evident and more compelling in the following year as we observed interpreters from all walks of life being onboarded to use the Boostlingo platform and other interpreting delivery platforms out there.”

“This was even well before the advent of the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent pandemic, an unprecedented event that really punctuated the urgent need for skilled remote interpreters on a global scale,” Runge added.

After identifying a need for resources specifically geared toward remote interpreters, the team got to work on the textbook, identifying topics that are important for remote interpreters to familiarize themselves with. The textbook features a wide range of topics, with ten chapters dedicated to subjects such as remote interpreting technology, ethics in remote interpreting, language policy, best protocol for remote interpreting, evaluation, and professionalism in the language field.

When she joined the team of writers contributing to the book, Tatiana Gonzalez-Cestari says her goal was twofold: first, to show the world that we need to adapt to, rather than fear, technological evolution, and second, to share the knowledge she’s gained over the course of her career as a remote interpreter with the world.

While the primary goal of remote interpretation largely remains the same as that of in-person interpreting — to break language barriers and facilitate communication between two parties that would otherwise be unable to communicate with each other using spoken language — there are several important differences between the two settings that the authors believe are important for interpreters to be aware of and prepare themselves for.

“The physical presence of an interpreter in an in-person session brings a level of power. When working remotely, the interpreter often has to be more assertive when they need adjustments or accommodations made so they may work effectively,” Meder said. “This can sometimes be intimidating, so it’s important to fine-tune the soft skills necessary to support communicative autonomy successfully.”

In addition to those soft skills Meder points out, remote interpreting comes along with a whole host of technological considerations that interpreters have to make — so much so that Runge says remote interpreters often become, to some extent, IT experts.

“The onus is really on all remote interpreters to try and remain well-informed and up to date on technology, best practices, and any new developments as much as possible as this professional field continues to evolve,” he said.

Linguistically speaking, there are also challenges unique to remote interpreting. Sarah Stockler-Rex, another author who contributed to the textbook, says remote interpreters are likely to come across slight variations in the language they come across due to geographical differences.

Since remote interpreters aren’t limited by their geographical location in the same way that in-person interpreters are, she says remote interpreters are more likely to be exposed to terms that are specific to the region in which their clients are located, such as community resources or even street names.

“Interpreting remotely means your pool of participants can come from all over. Which means you’ll face more linguistic variation and terms you’re not familiar with since you’re likely not from the same area,” she said.

“Remote interpreters do a lot of research and clarification, and if you know how to manage these challenges — which you will after reading our book — then all can go smoothly.”

Katharine Allen, one of the other authors who contributed to the textbook, concurs:

“A freelance on site medical interpreter might work for many LSPs, but they will do so within a contained geographic region and will be intimately familiar with the local culture, healthcare services, and immigrant communities,” she added. “A remote medical interpreter might be dropped into encounters across multiple states or regions in a single day and be asked to handle a wide variety of medical topics without access to the local contexts on site interpreters take for granted.”

These are just a handful of the many differences between remote and in-person interpreting settings. The ultimate goal behind the textbook, then, is to provide remote interpreters with a comprehensive understanding of the differences and provide them with the tools needed to succeed.

Using the tools and techniques outlined in the book, in-person interpreters can help themselves make a smooth transition to remote interpreting. And considering that most other training available to interpreters focuses on in-person interpreting, this textbook also allows new interpreters to familiarize themselves with the basics of remote interpretation.

Allen says developing the first textbook solely focused on remote interpreting proved to be challenging at times, particularly since the technology used in the profession is constantly changing. Another big challenge she said the group had to overcome was making the book broad enough in scope to apply to remote interpreters in many different contexts — from conference interpreters to community interpreters to medical interpreters, each working in unique settings.

But in spite of those challenges, the team was successful in their goal of creating a textbook that operationalizes and standardizes best practices in remote interpreting — and indeed, it’s the first one to do so to date.

“So much of what has been done in remote interpreting previously was decided by the companies delivering the services,” Stockler-Rex said. “Now that there’s a comprehensive textbook, I love that interpreters and industry folks alike can point to it and say — this is the best practice.”

AUTHORS: Katharine Allen, MA; Marjory A. Bancroft, MA; Tatiana González-Cestari, PhD, CHI-Spanish; Danielle Meder, RID-NIC; Caroline Remer, MA; Dieter Runge, M.Ed; Sarah Stockler-Rex, MA, CHI-Spanish

YEAR PUBLISHED: 2023

EDITION: 1st

PAGES: 676

PUBLISHER: Culture & Language Press

ISBN: 978-1-7332491-7-1

EBOOK VERSION: Yes

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