Telephone interpreting (TI) is a type of remote interpreting carried out over the phone. In recent decades it has become a growing business and a useful way of providing language assistance, both in public services and the private sector, thanks to its immediacy and its cost-effectiveness. It certainly offers a wide range of advantages to users and customers alike as it allows them to access interpretation in almost any language in a mere matter of minutes, or even seconds. And it is cheap. TI is cheaper than face-to-face interpretation as interpreters often work from their domiciles, thus eliminating the need to pay out for any travel expenses or waiting times. This is one of the reasons why many scholars, researchers, and practitioners have expressed fears about TI being used in occasions where an on-site interpreter would be much more appropriate, and it appears there are reasons to be concerned: it seems that financial concerns are often placed first and foremost, especially in times of economic crisis, whilst quality concerns are given a back seat. However, we should probably ask ourselves if these concerns are reason enough to discredit remote interpreting, and TI in particular. Research on TI is scarce and cannot offer any conclusive results at this time (Oviat & Cohen 1992, Wadensjö 1999, Ko 2006, Lee 2007, Rosenberg 2007), although generally speaking it does seem to indicate that the main difficulties in TI (namely lack of visual information) can be overcome with specialized training and enough practice hours.
If we turn our attention to Spain, there is one particular aspect of TI that should not be overlooked as it has a direct impact on quality assurance: unlike face-to-face interpreting, TI providers are legally obliged to record every single telephone interpretation performed in the public services. The consequence is that TI providers are able to go back to their interpreters’ renditions whenever necessary, give them feedback periodically, and carry out quality control in an effective manner. I am sure many of us wish the same could be said of on-site interpreting in the Spanish public services.
Marlene Fernández is a professional conference interpreter and translator. She also works as an interpreter trainer at the University of La Laguna (MIC) and is currently conducting a doctoral dissertation on Telephone Interpreting.