On-site versus Over-the-phone: Which kind of interpreting do you prefer? Why?
Thread poster: Sara Senft

Sara Senft  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:12
Spanish to English
+ ...
Feb 10, 2010

I'm curious about this. Do you prefer interpreting over the phone or on-site? Why?

Personally, I prefer interpreting on-site. It makes all the difference to have everyone physically present.

I do, however, see valid advantages to interpreting over the phone. One of them is that I don't have to leave my apartment to do it. No traffic, no need to dress up, etc.


Giuseppina Gatta, MA (Hons)
Member (2005)
English to Italian
+ ...
Most of all... Feb 10, 2010

...it depends on how much they pay. I've been offered insulting rates for telephone interpreting, something like 18USD per hour, which I obviously did not accept, and for some reasons I've never been offered these rates for on-site interpreting. But I also have clients which pay really good rates for telephone interpreting, which is, in my opinion, much more difficult and stressful than on-site interpreting, even if you are dressed with your pajama and have slippers on...


Liviu-Lee Roth
United States
Local time: 16:12
Romanian to English
+ ...
On-site Feb 11, 2010

Although I noticed a shift where telephonic interpreting becomes very convenient,both for the client (money) and for the interpreter (comfort),I'd rather travel 100 miles to do an on-site.
As Giuseppina pointed out, $18 is ridiculous, but the norm is between $35-60/hr. Today I had two OPI (over-the phone) and one paid $78/hr -for a 2 hrs conference - and the other paid $45/hr for 3 hrs court hearing. Perfect timing during the already famous
2010 Blizzard in NE.



liz askew  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:12
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
on-site Feb 11, 2010

Hello there

No doubt about it, on-site.

1. You can nearly always clearly hear what is being said.

2. You have the advantage of seeing the persons in front of you and reading any non-verbal clues.

3. It is a more human approach.

4. It makes me feel less like a machine.

Having said all that, economics rules the day, so a lot of interpreting is now done over the telephone. Personally, I only do it when I am really hard up.

Kind regards
Liz Askew

p.s. I forgot to mention the very poor rate of pay for telephone interpreting, and unless you are interpreting in one or two of the top-demand languages, you are not going to earn very much! The organisation I worked for recently reduced the hourly rate by about 20%. As I get paid by the minute and was kept "waiting" as my languages don't seem to have that much demand here in the UK, I found I was earning a pittance:)

Anyway the translation work is rolling in so I don't have to worry now.

[Edited at 2010-02-11 10:55 GMT]


juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:12
English to Hungarian
+ ...
You take your pick... Feb 12, 2010

On-site is more interesting, more positive, because you meet the people you interpret for and gets you out of the house, but telephone interpreting has its advantages too. Sometimes telephone interpreting can help people in very difficult situations, even save life.

You can take on translation and interpretation together, and do it from the comfort of your home. Telephone interpreting is very good practice, it is usually a proper dialogue, and the clients usually learn quickly not to say too much in one go and wait for the others to finish talking.

On the other hand, it is a haphazard job, you never know, when the calls come, but if you know the agency and their market, you can have an educated guess, how much time you are likely to spend interpreting in a day, so you can do your translation while waiting for calls. When your translation deadline is getting close, you may log off and stop the calls coming.

Having said that, telephone interpreting has caught on big scale, and having a lot of companies dabbling in it means rates dropped generally. It pays less that it used to ten years ago, and I think that is ridiculous.


Carol So  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:12
Member (2008)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Definitely on-site Feb 12, 2010

I hate interpreting over the phone, not to mention the ridiculous rate (if you think $18 is bad I have seen worse, especially those big American and UK agencies), but the quality of the conversation, the lack of human interactions, the lack of non-verbal exchange and so on. I think interpreting for a meeting over the phone is fine, usually the quality would be much better if there's proper equipment, but unfortunately telephonic interpreting is now widely used in social services, and the quality of the phone calls is really bad.

Usually when the service provider (I am mainly talking about social service interpreting here) couldnt see you, they tend to speak much faster, treat you like a machine, and they get annoyed when the patients/ service users get confused with whom they are really talking to. The situation is so much better when you can see both the service providers and the service users, and you can do the introduction in a proper way, making sure both sides understand your role there.

May be telephonic interpreting is easy and comfortable, and you can fit it in your schedule easily while you are doing some translation at home, but I dont really mind the travelling. I find it difficult to concentrate when I cant see the people, and my ears really hurt (sore from holding the earpiece to my ears, and hurt from the other side shouting/ talking too loud) after a while.


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