If you’ve ever had the pleasure of taking part in the direction giving exercise of teaching an alien how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you’ll understand how cultural contexts, assumptions, and visual cues can play an important role in understanding a situation. If you’ve never tried the exercise, think back on a misunderstanding with a waiter, co-worker, or family member where you asked yourself were we even speaking the same language?

Increasingly we are NOT speaking the same language as doctors, attorneys, and business owners find themselves working with diverse communities and rising numbers of immigrants and refugees. While most people prefer to use an in-person interpreter to avoid potential technology glitches and provide more personal service, there are excellent phone and video options available, too. How do you decide what the best option is?

Here are a few questions to ask:

  • Are there any acoustic barriers to conducting the session over the phone? (if yes, use an in-person interpreter)
  • What role and function will the interpreter have? (interpreters can act as cultural brokers, if seeing the body language is important use an in-person interpreter)
  • Is there sensitive or privileged information that is best discussed in-person? (If no, a phone interpreter may be used)
  • What will make the person with limited English proficiency most comfortable? (Remember, not everyone is familiar with or accepting of technology, if the client is not comfortable using the phone or video it’s time to request an in-person interpreter)
  • Will this be a short and straightforward appointment? (If yes, a phone interpreter can be a fast and cost efficient way to manage short, simple appointments)
  • Do we have the appropriate technology for video or phone conferencing? (If high speed internet, web cams, laptops/tablets/smart phones etc. are available and reliable phone and video solutions can be used for interpreting)
  • How comfortable am I with using technology? (If you or your team isn’t comfortable with using technology it’s best to request an in-person interpreter)
  • Will visual aids or demonstrations be used during the appointment? (If yes, it is best practice to have an in-person interpreter)

Still not sure what to do? We are here to help 24/7 so don’t hesitate to give us a call.