Picture this: you’re a business owner and you must have a quick call with your client in Brazil who speaks limited English and would feel much more comfortable having a fluent conversation in Portuguese. Or you’re an immigration attorney who’s having trouble finding a Punjabi interpreter on short notice for your client’s immigration interview. Or you’re a doctor and your non-English speaking patient does not understand what you’re explaining about his injury or treatment. Rather than pay for time you don’t need, increase costs for your client or risk liability over a language mishap, why not consider interpreting by phone?

Over the Phone Interpreting, or OPI, is an on-demand service that allows you access to a qualified interpreter in any language on a moment’s notice. OPI is a great alternative when you have:

  • Calls or meetings that are short enough that you can’t justify the trouble or expense of hiring an onsite interpreter
  • A language need that is not easily serviced in your area
  • On-demand medical interpreting needs
  • An urgent or last-minute need for interpreting

Here’s how it works: Your language service provider sets you up with an 800 number. When you need interpreting, you call the 800 number (instead of the translation company), follow the prompts for the language needed, and within seconds you’re connected to a qualified interpreter in the language required. Once the interpreter is on the line, you only pay for the minutes you use – whether it’s five, 15, 30, or whatever it is. 

Onsite interpreting is normally priced by the hour and a two- to three-hour minimum is applicable. This is standard in our industry because the expense associated with being present at a client’s office cannot be higher than the fee charged; there’s simply no earning opportunity. Imagine asking a handyman to come to your house to fill a crack on the wall. A good, reputable company will always supply a qualified professional who is specifically matched to your needs (whether medical or legal), and much of the pricing built into the hourly fee reflects the interpreter’s years of experience and specialized training not just in languages, but in a specific industry or topic. But there are plenty of times when you only need a fluent bilingual speaker and not a certified interpreter or a subject-matter expert. So, if it’s on-demand, and it’s non-technical in nature, an over-the-phone interpreter might just fit the bill. Case in point: you’re leading a workshop on a non-technical subject and your audience is Russian speakers who are proficient enough in English to understand what you’re saying but are having trouble articulating their thoughts during the 15-minute Q&A session. Here’s when you call your 800 number, follow the prompts to reach a Russian interpreter, and within seconds you have someone available to help. Put them on speaker, and you’re in business.

OPI takes place in consecutive mode, which means that the interpreter waits until each party finishes speaking to convey what the party said in the source and target languages, back and forth. The interpreter does this in first person. A qualified interpreter will never say: “Mr. Smith just said blah-blah-blah.” 

OPI is widely used by police departments, hospitals, call centers, airlines, law firms, medical practices, government agencies, and financial services companies. Interpreters are rigorously screened and undergo frequent quality checks. If you have a need for on-demand interpreting, whatever your line of business, consider this alternative.

Carmen Hiers is founder and managing partner of TransForma Translation Services. Get a free quote on your project today at request@transformaonline.com or call 305-722-3827.