Interpretation and translation services, like many other businesses, have quickly adapted their delivery model in order to respond to the restrictions on freedom of movement that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about. While some professional translation services and interpreters already offered telephone and video interpreting, national lockdowns around the world have prompted many more to swell the ranks of those providing online interpreting services.
This rapid change is pushing every interpretation and translation agency in the industry to innovate in several ways. Let’s take a look at some of these.
What are interpretation services?
Interpretation services convert one spoken language to another. What is the role of an interpreter? To deliver the speaker’s words in the language that the audience understands. This can mean the interpreter speaking at the same time as the speaker (known as simultaneous interpretation and best suited to events such as conferences) or alternating their speech with that of the speaker (known as consecutive interpretation and most appropriate in business meetings).
How are professional interpretation services innovating?
The COVID-19 lockdown has seen interpreters move en masse to deliver their services online. Businesses around the globe are holding meetings virtually now. Those that require interpretation services to help them through the lockdown need them to join by phone or video call. This means that interpreters who would usually deliver their services face-to-face are turning to video meeting technology in order to meet their clients’ needs.
Demand for interpretation services in recent years has risen significantly, as has the industry’s revenue. A snapshot from the US of the total revenue for translation and interpretation services across all establishments in 2018 saw a total value of US$4,739 million.
COIVD-19 has, of course, disrupted the workflow and therefore income of many interpreters. In a sector where many individuals work freelance, keeping business moving means keeping food on the table. As such, interpreters are upping their game in terms of technical skills.
One way that some interpreters are doing this is by helping companies to deliver webinars. Sites such as Zoom, which saw the use of its software jump 30-fold in April 2020, offer easy functionality when it comes to event interpretation. Interpreters use a password to join the meeting via video call, then deliver the speaker’s words in the required language. Webinar participants simply select the language they need to listen in their native tongue when they join the event.
Business meetings and online interpretation services
For professional linguists providing consecutive interpretation services (as opposed to the simultaneous interpretation called for by webinars), the lockdown has made using video technology all but essential. With meetings no longer taking place face-to-face, interpreters who don’t provide their services online are unlikely to be able to work.
Consecutive interpretation is a skilled art. It’s not just a matter of linguistic ability, though of course being able to speak two languages fluently is a prerequisite of the job. Successful consecutive interpreters also need to be ‘people persons’ – they need to be able to make meeting participants feel at ease with the comparatively stilted format of conversation that using two languages in this way creates. This can be tricky in person; to do it online is even harder.
Despite this, those interpreters who want to keep working during these unprecedented times are pivoting the way that they do business. They are honing their skills when it comes to meeting facilitation, as well as delivering outstanding interpersonal skills.
Will video interpretation continue after the pandemic?
One question that many interpreters are likely asking themselves right now is how long they will continue delivering their services online. Will businesses continue to meet virtually once lockdown and travel restrictions ease?
While there’s no certain way to predict the future, it’s worth bearing in mind that it can take anywhere between 18 and 254 days to form a new habit, with the average being 66 days. Meeting virtually has a number of advantages. Businesses can save both time and money by meeting online instead of in person. There are also environmental benefits to holding meetings via video call.
Given all of this, many companies are gradually slipping into the habit of meeting virtually, even as they are currently being forced to do so out of necessity. The potential for a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic (and subsequent waves), coupled with the ongoing but as yet unsuccessful race to find a vaccine, means that it’s impossible to say when the potential for ‘normal’ working will return.
Not only that, but by supporting companies to connect with customers in other languages in new ways, such as through online conferences, summits, webinars, and more, interpreters are showing businesses how easily they can engage with their target audiences. Many companies that previously stuck with more traditional means of customer engagement have been forced to innovate in order to adapt. In doing so they have found that not only is the technology in place to allow them to take a more virtual approach but that in many cases it can be more effective to do so.
This realization means that it might not just be the science of habit-forming that causes many businesses to stick with using video interpretation services in the future. For some companies, doing so will be a strategic decision based on how best to use their resources and engage with customers in a meaningful way that suits the organizations’ goals.
For those providing interpretation services online, there are a whole host of advantages. Saving time on travel means more hours in the day to work and earn – or more free time, for those who are already happy with their current income. Working from home is also immensely convenient, with no more commuting in the rain or having to catch three trains and a bus to an awkward-to-reach client’s office.
The social isolation that comes with full time home working might not suit some, but others will see it as a small price to pay for the added convenience that working remotely delivers. As such, regardless of when the world returns to normal (and quite what ‘normal’ looks like when it does), many of those who have been pushed into providing online interpretation services by the COVID-19 outbreak will surely seek to continue to do so over the longer term.