Interpreting technology adoption at LSPs

MultiLingual January February 2020 You can deliver interpreting services without using any technology.
Hélène Pielmeier headshot

Hélène Pielmeier

Hélène Pielmeier is a senior analyst at CSA Research. As an analyst, she provides research and advisory services for the firm’s LSP platform.

Hélène Pielmeier headshot

Hélène Pielmeier

Hélène Pielmeier is a senior analyst at CSA Research. As an analyst, she provides research and advisory services for the firm’s LSP platform.


ou can deliver interpreting services without using any technology. However, language service providers (LSPs) that process large numbers of assignments or that offer remote interpreting eventually equip themselves with specialized software. How ingrained are such technologies at LSPs? And what systems do they use?

To gauge the state of interpreting technology adoption at interpreting service providers, CSA Research surveyed 81 LSPs that derive some revenue from spoken language services — conference, on-site, telephone, video, remote simultaneous and machine interpreting – about their use of the more common technologies. This is in addition to more common LSP technology adaptation for translation tech (Figure 1).

Telephone Interpreting

Over-the-phone interpreting (OPI) platforms are the most common tools used by interpreting service providers — 68% of our respondents use one. They assist in the delivery of interpreting services with audio only. Users typically conference in an interpreter who consecutively interprets the back-and-forth dialogue.

We found that 53% of our sample use a commercial solution and 49% a proprietary one. A few providers use multiple systems and when they do so, they tend to supplement their own with ones chosen by top clients.

Graph of Translation technologies in use

Figure 1: Translation technologies in use. This is in addition to more common LSP technology adaptation for translation tech.
Copyright CSA Research Inc, 2019.

Interpreting management systems

Interpreting management systems come in second place (59%) in terms of adoption. LSPs use these applications to schedule and manage interpreting assignments, whether on-site or remote. They enable major efficiencies in coordinating large volumes of scheduled assignments.

When we asked respondents that use an interpreting management system to identify their sources, 56% of respondents told us that they rely on a proprietary solution that they developed themselves or paid to have developed. Some of these custom tools have extensive functionalities and automation levels.

Video remote interpreting

Third in interpreting technology adoption was video remote interpreting (VRI), with 58% of our sample using one. This technology encompasses systems that manage both audio and visual delivery when the interpreter or one of the stakeholders is off-site.

For VRI, we observed greater numbers that adopted a commercial solution (60%) than a proprietary system (40%). While the balance toward commercial systems is higher compared to OPI, proprietary video remote interpreting systems are up sharply in recent years following the release of WebRTC technology.

Remote simultaneous interpreting

Last in terms of adoption is a relatively new technology: remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI), which under one-quarter of respondents (23%) have deployed. These platforms deliver simultaneous interpreting services by phone or over the internet. RSI creates a virtual booth where linguists — who may be in different locations — can pass the microphone back and forth as they interpret the event in real-time. It can handle remote speakers, remote interpreting, remote participation and hybrid events that mix and match these setups. In addition, RSI technology may, but does not necessarily, include a visual element such as a slideshow or a video feed.

RSI technology vendors also typically provide the services that go with it. As a result, answers from tech vendors in the relatively small pool of LSPs that currently use the technology overinflate the importance of proprietary systems (44% of respondents delivering RSI services). Few language service providers have developed their own RSI technology.

Machine interpreting

Too few respondents reported utilizing machine interpreting to graph usage. Machine interpreting involves systems that process speech to text using voice recognition systems, then send the text through machine translation, and render the text into spoken language through speech synthesis. Some systems enable users to choose between reading or listening to the translation.

While machine interpreting platforms still have limited use cases mostly centered around smart earbuds, speech recognition and machine translation technology are improving. As a result, we expect the number of scenarios in which it plays a role to grow.

Computer-aided interpreting

Finally, we did not inquire with LSPs about computer-aided interpreting platforms. Individual interpreters use these more than LSPs themselves. These platforms support professional human linguists in the preparation and delivery of accurate interpreting assignments with tools to collect corpora and extract linguistic information. Tools also offer terminology management functionalities, and there are tools for memorizing terminology. Such software helps interpreters be more efficient and systematic, which is crucial to manage the wealth of information needed to prepare for events and to recall relevant terminology while interpreting.

Computer-aided interpreting as it stands now has barely scratched the surface of what can be done. Over time, it may be integrated more systematically to interpreting delivery platforms. For example, some video remote interpreting platforms already enable automatic term lookup in their systems. Yet that’s just one basic functionality of the range of tools that may benefit interpreters.

What is the bottom line?

In our analysis of the data, we observed that some LSPs report having specific capabilities yet little revenue from related services. Adding remote interpreting solutions represents a quick and effortless way for smaller providers to expand their portfolio of expertise with minimal investment. However, it doesn’t mean they proactively sell these capabilities. Many LSPs add remote interpreting technologies to their technology stack just in case clients ask for them but spend no effort selling the service.

This leaves room for interpreting-centric providers to develop not only their portfolio of tools, but also the market for their solutions. Buyers still have different levels of awareness of the various interpreting delivery platform options out there and the best use cases for each. Yet the market for interpreting services keeps steadily growing, both from the growing demand from existing clients and from new market segments that technology options unlock.