Any telephone interpreters out there?
Thread poster: liz askew

liz askew  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:51
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
Jun 4, 2009

Hello there

Every now and again I do telephone interpreting (when I need to earn a bit more money:-) and I wanted to ask you how long you are prepared to interpret for on the phone, and how long can you actually interpret for without going bonkers!

I had a call today of about 1 hour 20 minutes, and I had to stop the call myself and tell the users that I was too tired to carry on. The details of the call are confidential, but I had to keep repeating what was being said to both parties and frankly it was so tiring!! and also if I get a hostile caller/call centre operator this really does my head in.

What are your views on the subject?

All moans and groans acceptedicon_smile.gif

Liz Askew


perhaps "hostile" was not quite the word to use here.....let us say users that are hard of hearing/don't listen/talk over the interpreter/relay too much name it!

[Edited at 2009-06-04 16:18 GMT]


Anne Lee  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:51
Member (2003)
Dutch to English
+ ...
my sympathy Jun 4, 2009

Your observation strikes a note of recognition. I regularly do phone interpreting. Usually the customer service desk people are very helpful and professional, but it can be frustrating when you realise that the so-called 'professional' has had insufficient training. Yesterday, the 'professional' asked ME how to spell 'The Netherlands' (although US English was his mother tongue) and he also asked ME how to dial out from a USA location. In the meanwhile, the client who was making the enquiry kept trying to chat to me about the weather and about my location, although I had already explained my role and that I could only interpret the conversation. He just wanted to tease me, he said.
I suppose we get calls like that every once in a while, among the many calls that are much easier to deal with. You also get amusing calls, like the end user who was kept on hold for ages and who merrily started to sing a song because he wanted to provide his own 'holding music'. I regularly have to be very patient when Dutch callers think that they can hear me misspelling their name because vowels are pronounced very differently in English, but if I need to clarify something to both parties, I start by saying 'Interpreter speaking: ...' and then clarify what is going on or going wrong in the event of any misunderstanding.

[Edited at 2009-06-04 16:35 GMT]


Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 15:51
German to Serbian
+ ...
A few notes Jun 4, 2009

Hi Liz,

What you can do is prepare a brief interpretation kit/guide for the parties involved, and give them some time to go through it, pointing they must strictly adhere to those instructions, for the interpretation process to be carried out smoothly.

For example:
~ do not talk when I'm interpreting
~ do not talk before the other party has finished talking
~ do not send more than 5 sentences for interpretation in one reply to the other party (or whatever your limitation is, that may depend on context)
~ bear in mind I'm just a human
~ watch the interpretation dynamics
~ prepare yourself for the meeting (agenda, questions etc)


You can also read these instructions out loud for them at the beginning of a meeting and just hope they will stick to them, however, there is no guaranteeicon_frown.gif . Also bear in mind that you are connecting the two(or more) parties and you are the principal coordinator, so it's you who must make them obey the rules.


Javier Wasserzug  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:51
English to Spanish
+ ...
NO more Jun 4, 2009

It is true it can be frustrating.

I use to do telephone interpreting a few years ago and had to stop because of the same type of reasons.

Too much noise on the line, people taping on desks, babies crying or horrible telephones. Also, some clients think the interpreter is a machine and they can just talk without being careful about making noise, talking at the same time or talking non-stop, talking to the phone and to the other side of the room alternatively or expecting the interpreter to stop the long interpretation because it’s pointless or repetitive, etc.

Of course, this happens all the time as an interpreter in the hospital (I work in a hospital) but being there, physically present makes a huge difference in most of these situations.

[Edited at 2009-06-04 16:58 GMT]


Kati Bumbera  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:51
Hungarian to English
+ ...
I usually have the opposite problem... Jun 4, 2009 calls tend to be very short, 5-15 minutes, so it can take half a day to clock up an hour's work. With the rates it pays, I'd rather have fewer but longer calls and waste less time.

Plus repeating names, addresses and NI numbers bores me to tears. So it's not my preferred way of working. I like the flexibility of it though. I remember it came in handy when all that snow fell in February and nobody could get anywhere for two days!


United Kingdom
Local time: 14:51
Member (2010)
Polish to English
+ ...
Not too bad Jun 5, 2009

I love it actually. Thanks for bringing it up at;)

Tel. interpreting is sometimes repetative (NI, address, age) and tiring (the longest call took more than 2 hours!), but overall I do enjoy the variety, friendly LEP and LES, flexibility, having a chance to wear my pyjamas when I work (lol), rates, and the feedback I get from my agencies.

Translation is great, but with interpreting, there is not so much pressure getting every single word 100% right.



Lauren Butler (X)
Local time: 14:51
Russian to English
+ ...
not listening Jun 5, 2009

Being the interpreter in a contentious conversation is interesting and frustrating. When the parties start swearing at each other, talking over each other, refusing to listen to each other ('la-la-la I'm not trying to hear that'), I begin to wonder why I've been contracted at all!

I think it's worse in telephone interpreting simply because it's easier for people to be rude over the phone.

I agree that it's essential to set guidelines. I'll usually begin by saying something to the client along the lines of, 'Go ahead and speak directly to [the other party] and remember to stop after a few sentences so that I can interpret.'

A few times I've had to interrupt a conversation. 'The interpreter needs to interrupt here: okay, I can't interpret if everyone is going to talk at once.' Usually one reminder is enough. Once, though, when I was in a three-way call with all parties shouting at once I asked them whether they wanted to reschedule, because it was impossible for me to interpret and I wasn't going to try and shout over them.


Martin Stranak  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 15:51
Member (2009)
English to Czech
+ ...
Best clients Jun 5, 2009

These are very rare, but there are still some. The best clients I´ve ever had on the phone are Highway Agency in the U.K. and medical staff in California, all of them very polite, with straight forward questions and brief conclusions.

On the other hand, the more "family like" approach by the British DWP personnel tends to extend the calls over 90 minutes sometimes. I really do admire the nerve and patience of these people, they are really dedicated and commited to their jobs, yet not all the stories seem to fit the forms being completed and most of the clients should actually realise the interpreter has to handle double the volume of talk.

This kind of job is a very good of personal training with regards to listening and explanatory techniques though.


English to Russian
+ ...
conference Jun 5, 2009

It reminds me when our Partner in Greece wanted to communicate with our boss in Ukraine (but he was in Germany) and our Vendor in Italy simultaneously... $780 per 52 mins. It was really cool at that time.

After this I insist on using add-on conference mode (it’s when all parties can communicate simultaneously but should do it in turns) and a good loudspeaker/ an intercom. Yet it also can be pretty difficult because interlocutors are not always native speakers and it takes me about a minute to get used to their manner of speaking. Also I make some important notes and precise info (like numbers) on the paper and I use headphones not to be distracted. If there’s a ‘bad listener’ I just mute him (via the button) until the other party or I finish speaking.
IMO some 20-30 minutes are enough for most negotiation – they’ve got some info to consider and need to get ready for the next move.

Now I do prefer a television space bridgeicon_wink.gif


Lauren Butler (X)
Local time: 14:51
Russian to English
+ ...
double the time! Jun 5, 2009

Martin Stranak wrote:

realise the interpreter has to handle double the volume of talk.

Yes. Also the clients don't always realize that a routine appointment (social services benefit intake, yearly review, well-baby check-up) is going to take twice as long if they're using an interpreter! And NO I can't make the patient speak any faster.

And, hey, social worker: I'm glad that we've hit it off so well, but don't call me at home after I've translated for one of your appointments and ask me how I think it went! Or what you ought to do in the next appointment! If you want to chit-chat about your caseload, go to your boss. Geez.


liz askew  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:51
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
Thank you for all your comments! Jun 5, 2009

Hello everybody

When I posted this I was "cheesed off", having had a bad telephone interpreting afternoon, so can I thank you all for cheering me up no end and putting this job into perspective.

One thing I have learned is that if I am tired telephone interpreting is the worst thing to do! Recently the company I work for has asked me to actually commit to a schedule in the week, so I find that I cannot log in and out as I please now, as if I don't commit to some sort of schedule then I don't get preference calls. Tiresome isn't it?

Anyway, I like to be my own boss so when I get cheesed off I just log off as I know I will not be doing anybody any favours if I am not in tip-top condition/morale.

Some of you have given some useful tips, so will try and remember these when I am next in an awkward situation!

Thanks again to all of you and I wish you all the very best!

Liz Askew

[Edited at 2009-06-05 16:03 GMT]


To report site rules violations or get help, contact a site moderator:

You can also contact site staff by submitting a support request »

Any telephone interpreters out there?

Advanced search

Protemos translation business management system
Create your account in minutes, and start working! 3-month trial for agencies, and free for freelancers!

The system lets you keep client/vendor database, with contacts and rates, manage projects and assign jobs to vendors, issue invoices, track payments, store and manage project files, generate business reports on turnover profit per client/manager etc.

More info »
CafeTran Espresso
You've never met a CAT tool this clever!

Translate faster & easier, using a sophisticated CAT tool built by a translator / developer. Accept jobs from clients who use SDL Trados, MemoQ, Wordfast & major CAT tools. Download and start using CafeTran Espresso -- for free

More info »

  • All of
  • Term search
  • Jobs
  • Forums
  • Multiple search