Modality Matters: Including Remote Interpreting in Interpreter Training Programs

Modality Matters: Including Remote Interpreting in Interpreter Training Programs

Using the results of research conducted with health care interpreters who work remotely, the following will provide a framework to categorize key areas of professional development for this growing modality.

Information contained in this article was presented for webinars for the California Healthcare Interpreting Association and the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care’s Home for Trainers in February 2018.

As the demand and opportunity for interpreting via remote modalities grows, so does the need for interpreters to develop their ability to perform effectively in these modalities. As a result, trainers and training programs need to offer initial courses or continuing professional development content targeted at helping students and working professionals close the gaps in their remote interpreting skills.

Using the results of research conducted with health care interpreters who work via telephone and video, the following will provide a framework to categorize key areas of professional development for remote interpreters and discuss perceptions and trends and how they impact training. While the examples shared are related to health care interpreting, the concepts may be applied to other areas of interpreting.


Over-the-phone and video remote interpreting are being implemented more quickly in medical settings than ever before. Momentum is also growing in the legal field. In 2016, for example, the Judicial Council of California approved a pilot project to evaluate and test video remote interpreting in three of the state’s superior courts (Merced, Sacramento, and Ventura).1 As of December 2017, two equipment vendors were completing equipment installation in all three courts and training was being scheduled.2 The pilot assessment period will last six months.

Regarding modality usage, three research studies have indicated a preference for in-person medical interpreting and video interpreting over telephonic interpreting, with one study adding evidence that the mode of communication affects perceptions of the quality of the encounter.3 Research also indicates that the cost of providing language services may be recouped through reduced testing, shorter visits, and better compliance with treatment and follow-up instructions.4

While debating the pros and cons of remote interpreting is beyond the scope of this article, it’s important to acknowledge that fears and concerns among interpreters do exist, such as the possibility that face-to-face interpreting will disappear completely, that lowering cost is more important than customer service, or that remote interpreting is not as effective as face-to-face interpreting. Nonetheless, access to a qualified health care interpreter by phone or video still outweighs the alternative of utilizing an untrained ad hoc interpreter, or not having an interpreter at all.


As a graduate student in 2014, I had the opportunity to collaborate with the Health Care Interpreter Network (HCIN) and conduct a front-end analysis concerning the professional development needs of remote interpreters.5 HCIN is a nonprofit organization led by former hospital executives and technologists dedicated to creating an efficient and high-quality service for video health care interpreting. At the time of my research, HCIN was composed of more than 40 member hospitals and provider organizations across the U.S. and offered service in 20 languages.

To collect data from as many respondents as possible, I created a 15-question online survey that was sent to 299 interpreters, with a completion rate of 41.8% (125). The survey was divided into three sections: 1) overall interpreting experience, 2) remote interpreting experience, and 3) professional development. It concluded with three demographic questions.

The study had two goals. The first was to explore the needs of health care interpreters who provide remote language services on a shared audio/video network. The second goal was to implement strategies that will increase access to professional development opportunities and improve morale, consistency, and the quality of service for this segment of interpreters.

This analysis was significant because, depending on the size and scope of their organization, interpreters in the network did not have equal levels of support or access to professional development opportunities. This could be said to be reflective of the larger health care interpreting community. Here is a summary of the results:

Interpreting Experience: The respondents’ years of overall interpreting experience regardless of modality were distributed evenly, with the majority (33%) reporting more than 15 years in the field. However, the same respondents reported much less experience in remote-only interpreting, with the majority almost evenly split at 0–3 (47%) and 4–7 (41%) years.

Working as a Remote Interpreter: To gather qualitative data on their experience working as a remote interpreter, respondents were asked five open-ended questions. Convenience emerged as the main theme for what respondents liked most about remote interpreting (26), while sound and connectivity issues (59) were found to be the most challenging part of this work.

In terms of advice they would give to an interpreter who is new to remote interpreting, most respondents recommended asking for repetition (30), followed by listening and taking notes (18). When asked what they would change about remote interpreting and why, the most common response (19) was better audio quality to allow for more accurate interpreting.

Professional Development: In this part of the survey, respondents were asked how they receive information related to professional development opportunities, which resources they find most valuable, what topics are of greatest interest to them, and how they prefer to learn.

Most respondents (99) received information about professional development opportunities from colleagues (66%), followed by leadership (62%) and association memberships (55%). On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being their first preference, online discussion boards were ranked highest by respondents.

When asked for topics of interest to develop educational material, five themes emerged. Most respondents showed an interest in material related to medical specialties (44), followed by medical terminology (20) as a sub-theme of language resources. When asked about preferred learning methods, the majority selected hands-on practice (73%) and listening (72%).

Demographics: Three demographic questions were included to help analyze the data, which 98 respondents (78%) answered. Most respondents had some college credit (22%) or an associate (24%) or bachelor’s degree (25%). In terms of age and gender, the majority were either 30–49 (45%) or 50–64 (36%) years old, and most were female (70%).

CLICK HERE TO REED MORE ......  Suzanne (Sue) Couture is a certified health care interpreter and ATA-certified translator (Spanish>English)