Approaches to Telephone Interpretation

Research, Innovation, Teaching and Transference

by Aurora Ruiz Mezcua (Volume editor)
©2018 Edited Collection 268 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 250


The book gives an overview of telephone interpretation from a professional, innovative and pedagogical approach. There are not many studies on telephone interpretation, as this technique was first introduced in the twentieth century. Nevertheless, it is becoming very popular due to its effectiveness: it is an excellent option for situations that cannot be planned in advance (for instance, emergency services), it is provided immediately and it is available 24/7, it relies on readily available everyday technology (mobile telephones) and it decreases the cost of the interpretation services. Due to these advantages, many interpreters and students are interested in becoming specialists.
This book is unique in its perspective and contributors. It was written by specialists who are involved fist-hand in the study and practice of telephone interpretation: pioneers and successful companies providing the service, researchers who are carrying out state-of-the-art investigations, telephone interpreters who describe their day-to-day work; and university lecturers, who provide academic and pedagogical approaches by designing lessons and hypothetical cases for students to practice.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Prologue
  • General Overview of Telephone Interpretation (TI): A State of the Art (Aurora Ruiz Mezcua)
  • Section 1: Companies´ and Research Approach on TI
  • Technological Progress Allowing for Telephone Interpreting (Gabriel Cabrera Méndez)
  • Designing and Implementing an Online Training Programme for Telephone Interpreters (Adriana Jaime Pérez)
  • Specific Training for Telephone Interpreters, by Interpret Solutions (Sandra Jiménez Higuera)
  • Telephone Interpretation Beyond Interpretation Over the Phone: Proposal for In-Company Training (Dora Murgu)
  • Shaping the Interpreters of the Future and… of Today? The Project SHIFT (Mª. Jesús González Rodríguez)
  • Section 2: Pedagogical Approach
  • Design and Compilation of a Multilingual Corpus of Mediated Interactions About Roadside Assistance (Raquel Lázaro Gutiérrez)
  • Conversation Analysis as a Methodologic Tool in the Training and Study of Telephone Interpreting (María Del Mar Rivas Carmona)
  • Developing Intercultural Communicative Competence: An Essential Skill for Telephonic Interpretation (Cristina A. Huertas Abril)
  • Two Role-Plays to Practise Terminology Reformulation and Coordination in the English–Spanish Telephone Interpreting Class (Sergio Rodríguez Tapia)
  • Bilateral or Liaison Interpreting as the Main Teaching Asset for Phone Interpreting: A Proposal (Carmen Expósito Castro / Rafael Porlán Moreno)
  • Section 3: Professional and Academic Approach
  • Telephone Interpreting: The Figure of the Interpreter (Irene Carratalá Puertas)
  • Phone Interpreting in Legal Contexts: A Professional Experience (Ingrid Cobos López)
  • Teaching Telephone Interpreting for the Pharmaceutical Sector (German/English–Spanish) (Mª. Pilar Castillo Bernal)
  • Telephone Interpreting in a NGO Programme for Refugees (International Asylum) at Local Level: Concepts, Perceptions and Conclusions Aimed at Teaching (José María Castellano Martínez)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Series index

← 6 | 7 →


This book was created as a result of a Galileo Project and a National Congress on Telephone Interpretation held at the University of Córdoba (Spain) in 2017. Telephone interpretation is a modality of remote interpretation that connects interpreters to people who need to communicate over the phone with others who do not speak the same language. Normally, interpretation over the phone takes place in consecutive mode or dialogue mode, which means that the interpreter waits until the speaker finishes his/her statement before rendering the interpretation into the target language.

This interpretation technique is becoming increasingly common nowadays, as it enables communication with a professional interpreter almost instantaneously and with satisfactory results. New technologies have opened up a range of new methods for providing worldwide information which are faster and more effective. In this sense, this interpreting mode is quickly being promoted for its convenience, as interpreters do not have to be physically present, but can be available at any time using a device as simple as a phone, saving time and money for all the parties involved. This is why telephone interpreting services are provided by governmental organisations, private companies and non-profit groups. It has been widely used in many community interpreting settings, such as hospitals, courts, police stations, schools, etc., although it has received little attention in terms of training.

Most universities do not include a specific plan for teaching remote interpretation. This means that students, in general, do not receive any previous training in how to activate protocols that are different from other consolidated modes of interpretation, such as consecutive or simultaneous interpretation where the interpreter has visual contact or has been contacted for the interpretation some days in advance.

In writing this book, we intend to promote this rising modality of interpretation and, to a certain extent, fulfil an existing training gap by presenting telephone interpreting and its beneficial role. The aim is ← 7 | 8 → to provide a guide for practitioners, teachers or students who want to become professional telephone interpreters. With this purpose in mind, we have divided our book into different sections that cover a wide range of aspects in teaching and learning this discipline: an introduction, where history and modality are explained and the state of the art, and 15 chapters divided into three sections that focus on some of the principal innovations of this technique.


← 8 | 9 →


General Overview of Telephone Interpretation (TI): A State of the Art

1.   A Brief Introduction

1.1   Interpretation: Modes and History

Interpretation is a young profession, although it has been practised for a long time, so long that it cannot even be dated, as it has probably been in existence since the beginning of the modern era, when the first explorers arrived in new lands and needed to communicate. Most academics in the field date its establishment back to 1919, when excellent interpreters were needed to carry out consecutive interpretation during the period after the First World War,1 when many nations and languages were involved and when peace was much needed in the world.

There are many types of categorisation, but according to the context where the interpretation takes place, it can be divided into conference interpretation or community interpretation. The most frequently used modes for conference interpretations are consecutive or simultaneous interpretation. In the former, the speaker gives a full or partial speech and the interpreter waits for him/her to stop talking before translating. In simultaneous interpreting, the interpreter gives the translation at the same time (just with some time lag) as the speaker gives his/her speech. On the other hand, “community interpretation” is the term used for all kinds of interpretation that takes place out of conference contexts, such as services provided by administrations – that is, courts, justice and police stations, health care facilities, general teaching or ← 9 | 10 → primary schools, etc. The most frequent modality used for such contexts is dialogue or link interpretation, where the interpreter plays an active part in the act of communication as he/she enables the dialogue, with short or long interventions, that occurs between two parties.

Furthermore, depending on the interpreter’s presence or not in the aforementioned communication acts, we also find remote interpretation (RI). Remote interpretation happens when the interpreter is not in the same room with the rest of the participants. This means that the interpreter needs a piece of equipment or tool to be connected to the speakers. Remote interpretation can be done over the telephone (for telephone interpretation) or via a video device (video-conference interpretation). Both are useful for disabled people, where, for example, one of the parties is blind in the case of telephone interpretation or one of the parties is deaf, hard-of-hearing or speech-impaired in the case of video interpretation.

1.2   What Is Telephone Interpretation?

Telephone interpretation (TI) is a modality of remote interpretation, as the interpreter is not physically present in the act of speech. Telephone interpreting enables the communication via an interpreter between people who do not share the same language, using a device as simple as a telephone. As a kind of remote interpreting, the main advantage of TI is its easy accessibility (Ko, 2006). Normally, interpretation over the telephone takes place in consecutive mode or dialogue mode, which means that the interpreter waits until the speaker finishes his/her statement before rendering the interpretation into the target language.

Telephone interpretation was born as a response to the strong need for communication among immigrants and the administrations of the many countries that received a high quantity of people from other states and who did not speak the nation’s language:

First world countries experiencing unprecedented waves of immigration are looking for ways to meet the overwhelming need for interpreters to enable immigrants speaking dozens of different languages to communicate with service providers in their new land. One solution has been to provide remote ← 10 | 11 → interpreting services, usually by telephone, to make the most efficient use of scarce interpreting resources. (Mikkelson, 2003: 251)

Some authors (Pérez, 2002; Phelan, 2001) consider telephone interpreting as simply a type of bilateral interpreting that takes place over the telephone. However, this modality has a great number of differences and peculiarities when compared with others. One such peculiarity is that both the speakers and the interpreter must follow a specific ritual in order to establish communication (Lázaro Gutiérrez, 2012). The person who wants to use the telephone interpreting service must have previously received an explanation about the steps to follow, from calling a specific number, to talking with the interpreter after selecting from the options provided by a recording. On the other hand, telephone interpreters require certain skills in order to effectively carry out these tasks without being present in the interaction. They lack most of the context of the interaction, including the elements and individuals present, their roles, body language, movements, etc. Other difficulties that arise from using a telephone, such as lack of coverage, use of deteriorated or old equipment, incorrect usage, etc., must be added to these considerations (Pertusa Elorriaga, 2012).

1.3   Where Is Telephone Interpretation Used?

New technologies have opened up a range of new methods for providing worldwide information which are faster and more effective, where distance is no longer a barrier for people to get connected. In this sense, this interpreting mode is quickly being promoted. Telephone interpretation is becoming increasingly common nowadays, as it provides a professional interpreting service almost instantaneously, saving time and money, and with successful outcomes. Nevertheless, despite appearing to be the ideal modality of interpretation, we have to bear in mind that telephone interpretation is not suitable for all situations.

Telephone interpreting services are provided by governmental organisations, private companies and non-profit groups. They have been widely used in many community interpreting settings – that is, hospitals, courts, police stations, schools, emergency phone call centres, etc. ← 11 | 12 → Telephone interpreting is especially useful for settings where the two parties would communicate via telephone anyway, such as interactions between call centres and consumers.

2.   State of the Art

2.1   Pioneer Countries on RI and TI

Esteban Causo states that the first video-conference, called “Symphonie Satellite”, took place in 1970 at the United Nations to connect Paris with Nairobi (2003: 145). However, telephone interpretation is older, as it was first used in the 1940s (Cabrera, 2016: 4):

We can geographically locate Australia as the cradle of the remote interpretation profession, specifically in TIS National, 1947. This translation and interpretation service started as a response to massive migration communication needs after the Second World War, together with the International Red Cross and the Commonwealth services. This free and public service for citizens was consolidated in December 1958, when the Department of Immigration and Borders took charge of its activities and do so to the present day2.

In the beginning, the use of telephone interpretation was closely linked to community interpretation, due to its immediate need because of immigration issues. Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom are, thus, forerunners of this modality of interpretation. In fact, in 1973 Australia was the first country to introduce telephone interpretation as a free service provided by the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection to respond to its increasing immigrant population. The service was available 24 hours a day in eight different languages (Mikkelson, 2003; Ozolins, 1998). It later arrived in the United States, Japan and Europe, particularly the United Kingdom, in the 1990s (Phelan, 2001). In Spain, telephone interpreting started in 2004 when Dualia introduced the system in different public institutions. ← 12 | 13 → Other initiatives and companies, such as Interpret Solutions, joined later on. In recent years, innovative changes have been introduced thanks to the widespread use of smart phones. The mobile phone application Voze, developed by Migralingua, warrants mention (Lázaro Gutiérrez, 2012).

2.2   Academic Research on the Topic

According to some data, telephone interpreting is becoming a common medium for providing interpreting services (Rosenberg, 2007). However, there is not much literature devoted to it. According to Ozolins (2011: 33), until fairly recently, it has not been paid enough attention:

The scattered research effort so far has given us a patchy picture of TI, with inconsistent or uncertain findings on basic questions such as how interpreters and other participants coordinate discourse via telephone, or the use of first or third person, as well as more technical issues of the extent of use of mobile vs. fixed-line phones, or which set-ups of TI are most effective. The research effort is hampered by abiding stereotypes of TI as an inferior form of interpreting, and by the lack of a theoretical basis for further exploration.

Nevertheless, some descriptive works can be found, most of which are focused on the quality of the product (especially in the beginning) – for instance, Oviatt and Cohen (1992), Wadensjö (1999), Niska (2005), Mikkelson (2003), Pollitt and Haddon (2005), Ozolins (2011), Braun (2016), Valero-Garcés and Lázaro Gutiérrez (2016), Cabrera (2016), Lee (2007) and Cheng (2015). These papers detail the modality depiction, several successful definitions, a brief state of the art and history, as it is a young modality, pros and cons based on interpreters’ and users’ experiences, settings where telephone interpretations are suitable and some of the many experiments that have been carried out, but they all point out that there is still a lot to do.

As well as this kind of research, there are some interesting projects run by a group of universities and interpretation companies – they are the European Project SHIFT in Orality, the IVY – Interpreting in Virtual Reality project (University of Surrey, United Kingdom) and the TISSA (Telephone Interpretation in South Africa) project. ← 13 | 14 →


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (November)
Telephone interpretation New technologies Education Pedagogy Interpretation Translation Studies
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 268 pp., 1 fig. col., 1 fig. b/w, 11 tables, 16 graphs

Biographical notes

Aurora Ruiz Mezcua (Volume editor)

Aurora Ruiz Mezcua studied Translation and Interpreting and completed her PhD at UMA in 2010. She worked as a translator for Hermes Traducciones y SL and later as a freelance translator and interpreter. She works as a lecturer (since 2008) at UCO, where she teaches Interpretation French–Spanish, English–Spanish for the Translation and Interpretation Degree and Master's (UCO), and the Master's offered by ISTRAD.


Title: Approaches to Telephone Interpretation
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