Making The Best Of On-Demand

We’re on record that in-person interpretation delivers the best results. However, as we see Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations surging throughout the United States, it’s clear that interpreters will mainly be available via video or telephone for some time to come.

Some of these telephone (OPI) and Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) sessions will be on-demand. In other words, you’ll be contacting a language company with an unscheduled (and perhaps sudden) need. Working with an on-demand interpreter has its own set of best practices. Let’s review some methods for making the most out of on-demand interpreting.

Use OPI for short calls.
OPI is a great resource for quick calls or when video cameras are not available. It is important to make sure to inform the language company if you will need the interpreter to make a three-way call.

Use VRI if possible.
Visual cues are important during any conversation, so VRI is worth the extra work needed to prepare a video connection. Many smaller language companies have the ability to use the client’s preferred platform, or provide their own secure platform. Smaller language companies may also offer a pay-as-you-go option, rather than charging a monthly/yearly subscription fee.

Perform a test call.
If procedures at your location have changed—for example, you have used onsite interpreters in the past—or even if you’re just changing the room or equipment used for on-demand interpreting, make a test call to ensure all equipment works and all participants in future conversations will be heard and seen clearly. This is especially important when using video, so that bandwidth or connection issues can be resolved ahead of time.

Make a checklist.
If time allows, create a simple list to ensure all necessary topics are covered. The process of dealing with technology and briefing the interpreter (see below) may tend to “push” items out of your memory that you might otherwise recall.

Eliminate distractions.
You may already need to maintain a private setting for the call, especially in a medical environment. But no matter what the subject of the conversation is, minimize interruptions as much as possible. Just like anyone else, an interpreter will do their best work if they are not interrupted. Also, make sure your location for the call is as quiet as possible; “white noise” from background activity can interfere with the conversation far more than you might think.

Allow for a pre-session (introduction), and give them the time they need.
Often, an on-demand meeting is set up with no notice, and the interpreter and Limited English Proficient (LEP) person in the conversation may be speaking with you for the first time. Be sure to provide the interpreter with the context they need to understand the nature of the call. After providing this context, allow the interpreter to introduce themselves and clarify his/her role.

Consider what the interpreter doesn’t know.
If you’re making a change from onsite interpreting to remote, you may be working with someone who is much less familiar with your region and operation than before. Consider using your local onsite provider for remote interpreting. You may be able to request interpreters familiar with your business.

Use basic best practices for interpretation.
Be sure to follow these tips to make sure you are clearly understood by both the LEP and interpreter:

  • When you speak to the LEP maintain eye contact and speak to them directly, just as you would if no interpreter was needed.
  • Avoid jargon, slang, idioms, metaphors, and acronyms when possible, as they may be difficult to interpret. Keep your speech simple for easy understanding.
  • Be as concise as possible.
  • Be sure to pause regularly (and to keep your sentences short) so the interpreter may render what you’ve said.

Remember that each on-demand interpreter is different and has a different level of expertise and training. With the right approach, your conversations will keep everyone properly informed and completely safe.

To Protect, Serve and Understand

The United States of America has always been a land of immigrants, due in part to the great opportunities this country offers. But globalization, and an increase of immigration, has greatly increased the number of residents who have Limited English Proficiency (LEP). Twenty percent of our population speaks a foreign language at home and over 25 million are LEP.

How can law enforcement better protect and serve these diverse communities and keep themselves safer? One answer is better access and utilization of qualified interpreters when dealing with the public. Let’s review some benefits.

Clear Communication Protects Officers and Citizens

Total understanding between law enforcement personnel and community members can be essential to making sure everyone knows what is happening in a quickly developing situation.

Officers may ask, “What help will an interpreter be able to give in a situation where a life and death decision can happen in a fraction of a second?” Interpreters are tools of communication.

They are there to assist when communicating with the public. These interactions may range from assisting someone who has locked their keys in the car, to witnesses who can provide information about a subject, incident, or even tactical information. When people are clearly able to understand law enforcement, and the information they provide is clearly understood, mistakes are less likely to occur.

Clear Communication Improves Community Relations

Immigrants and refugees are often at different stages in learning English, and using an interpreter when speaking with immigrant communities shows that leaders respect their culture and have taken extra steps to ensure understanding. Seemingly small gestures like this send a big message and improve community relations.

Clear Communication Closes Cases

While some officers are multilingual, their language skills are often untested. A professional interpreter is trained to clarify ambiguous statements in a transparent and neutral manner. In this way the interpreter can often tease out nuanced meaning and notice cues that those with less training will miss. These cues and the information they contain may be the difference that helps investigators solve the case.

It’s also true that language interpretation can have a major impact on the psychology of a witness or subject. Dealing with an expert speaker will not only make the situation more familiar to them, and therefore less stressful, they will understand that the interpretation of their words is reliable. An LEP person who knows they will be able to express themselves accurately will be more likely to do so.

Interpreters Ensure Impartiality

When dealing with immigrant communities, officers often find themselves relying on family members to help them communicate with LEP persons. In some cases, a person with a strong bias or even a desire to protect a family member from legal jeopardy is in a position to change, filter, or discard important information.

Another problem with interpretation by family members is that children are often the most proficient English speakers in a family. In addition to the issues mentioned above, a child may not completely understand the role of police or the situation at hand, and involvement in an investigation may subject them to trauma, long term stresses, and situations that are inappropriate for a child.

Interpreters are likely to appear impartial to the interviewee as well. This allows them to explain the role and aims of police. Immigrants may have arrived from countries where police are a threat or where bribing officers is common. An impartial interpreter can inform officers to explain the role of the neutral interpreter and allow police to introduce themselves and ensure the interviewee knows that the goal is information.

Local Interpreters Provide the Clearest Communication

Just as an officer who knows their city well is a more effective investigator, the rendition of local interpreters is often more effective because of their knowledge of the area and its communities.

Imagine, for instance, if a subject mentions traveling from one part of the city to another. For a phone or video interpreter in another state or country, these simple place names may cause confusion.

For a local interpreter, these are places he or she knows. This added knowledge makes it more likely that the information that comes out of an interview will be accurate and makes it far less likely that there is misinterpretation due to the language barrier.