Aug 16, 2012

The Joys of Telephone Interpreting

written by Sveta Kalinskaya

I have recently served as the interpreter for a number of phone conversations and teleconferences. This is convenient for clients for several reasons. First of all, there is no need for them to travel and spend money on transportation and lodging. Second, they can ask questions and get answers immediately, clarifying things right away if necessary. Naturally, the cost of interpreting services for teleconferencing is less than for on-site consecutive interpreting. And so on, and so forth. But among all of the indisputable benefits of teleconferencing, there is one that stands out for me in particular: no one can see you.

One woman in a group that I interpret for talks with her colleagues across the ocean 11 time zones away. When the work day is starting there, it has been over for a long time here. So it should come as no surprise when one of the participants in a meeting might say “Well, I’m settling in with a beer here.” Isn’t it amazing that a person can sit at home in house slippers and discuss important issues with people halfway around the world!

My favorite story happened quite recently. A new client approached me wanting to speak with his partners at 7:00 am. I tossed and turned all night, dreaming that I had overslept, or that I had misunderstood the client, or that he was talking about something I didn’t understand at all. But at 7:00 am I was by the phone. No ring... I patiently waited ten minutes. Silence… Another 10 minutes. I dialed the client’s number and got the office answering machine. A half hour later I was sure that I had lost the client, and I went to console myself by trying on a new evening dress that someone had given me the day before. And of course I had to wear the highest possible heels with the dress. Then the phone rang. The client had overslept! I run to the phone. Picture it: I’m sitting in an evening dress and high heels in my kitchen early in the morning, yelling into the phone in two languages. And it gets better. Suddenly I remembered that the electrician was supposed to come in five minutes. I am sincerely grateful to whoever invented mobile phones. I just managed to put a robe on over the dress and greet the electrician in a robe and high heels as I yelled into the phone in two languages.

Thank God everything turned out all right. The teleconference went off without a hitch, the client was happy, and the electrician developed great respect for this lady who speaks an incomprehensible language and walks around her house in high heels.

The whole incident reminded me of the time someone in our office said “I don’t understand why they don’t just talk on Skype.” Uh-uh, no way!

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