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My question is primarily to remote interpreters and those with agency business experience. Do feel free to share your opinion if you are neither of these.

Are there remote interpreting clients for this type of service? (I.e, not government and not big business). If so, who are they, why do they seek this service?

I'd like to understand if this service now becomes in demand by general public and small businesses. With recent technological developments the cost of telecommunications became negligible. The cost of doing private business with international partners has been reduced. So I would expect an increase in demand from small businesses and individuals, but I have no way to judge.

Many thanks,

asked 27 Jan '16, 07:09

nochance's gravatar image


edited 27 Jan '16, 17:21

Hi Gáspár, Camille and Julia

Many thanks for your thoughtful replies! Yes, I am talking about telephone interpreting between two parties maximum, not about conference interpreting. The location can be anywhere in the world, as long as the users have a good, stable Internet connection. I agree with your points, and at the same time I don't disregard some other shades of grey.


It is our second weakness (as you kindly called it) that is indeed an issue for European languages. We don't have much to order for large businesses that know they have the need for an interpreter. As for the small ones and private individuals, our offer is interesting to them, if - of course - they have a need and they know they have a need. Google translate has its own place, I guess we all use it. Yet there are times when having an easy access to a professional can save a lot of time, but people need to realise this. 'Market education' is an extremely expensive and totally ungrateful exercise. So it's pointless to offer a service people are not actively looking for.

As for supply, it is not really a problem as long as there is demand. Sound quality matters a lot. The service will not work with a poor sound quality. But for this type of service it does not have to be conference-quality to be acceptable. For example, when mobile phones just appeared, they had an inferior sound quality, and we accepted that. The connection can drop occasionally, the sound may be variable, and yet we keep using our mobile phones. Same with telephone interpreting - as long as it's useful and works most of the time, it has a future. And VoIP sound quality will be getting better and better.

As for the per-minute rate, it's not an issue for many interpreters. And yes, these are interpreters - telephone interpreting is way above the skill set of an ordinary bilingual. I believe the reason people accept this pay structure is that it is intended to supplement other jobs - not replace them. With high demand (I know I describe ideal conditions) the pay will be decent. Sometimes, circumstances do not allow interpreters to accept full-day assignments, and this type of work can provide some money and practice. And my other guess - interpreting provides very high levels of mind stimulation, so the profession attracts more people than there are full time jobs.

Therefore, it comes down to the demand, as in my original question. Once the demand grows beyond governments and multi-national corporations, this service has a bright future. And looking at the comments, it does not look like it has grown just yet.

(31 Jan '16, 18:10) nochance

Hello again,

The other problem, though, is keeping your workforce happy. Say you have lots of interpreters - and yes, they are still interpreters even if they aren't working in a booth, I agree - on your rolls, with all sorts of language combinations, including really rare ones. I don't know how your structure would work, but say they sign on for a certain period when they are at home and wanting to supplement their income. Your Polish<>English interpreters may have as much work as they can handle, but your Spanish<>Italian interpreters may have very little. In fact, so little that they stop signing on, and then suddenly you need that combination (which you have advertized as having) and they are no longer even in the country, but saw no reason to let you know as there had been no work.

Icsay this from experience, because I worked as a telephonic interpreter for a while, to try it out. While there was great demand for a very few languages and directions, there was almost zero demand for all the others, so that some of us were amazed to be getting no paycheck at all, or only $5 for a pay period.

This job does have a bright future, as well as a bright present, but only for a few language combinations in any given geographical area; the others aren't really worth it for either the interpreters or the company.

(31 Jan '16, 18:32) JuliaP

I agree, Julia,

Not all language combinations can be commercially successful.

(31 Jan '16, 19:17) nochance

As for supply, it is not really a problem as long as there is demand.

Bear in mind that in Europe, most interpreters are trained as conference interpreters. And have quite high expectations when it comes to their income.

They'd rather work in a different field (my housemate has become an HR specialist after his MA Conference Interpreting, another friend from the same graduation year is now a banker) than for a low income gained from a type of interpreting that is not being taught in this part of the world.

Because phone interpreting is less known, it suffers from a certain stigma. Many would think it's the language industry segment of the lesser qualified, those who didn't manage to make it on other circles. Will the end users be willing to pay enough to prove them wrong?

With the best not wanting to work in this field and the majority not being trained for telephone interpreting, delivering the expected quality might be a challenge at first.

As for the per-minute rate, it's not an issue for many interpreters. And yes, these are interpreters - telephone interpreting is way above the skill set of an ordinary bilingual. I believe the reason people accept this pay structure is that it is intended to supplement other jobs - not replace them.

That sounds like a contradiction in terms to me. You can't really be a professional in a given field if that isn't your actual job. People don't do surgeries or dental fillings just for the fun of it and to complement their income. Nor will they be much available if the phone doesn't ring often enough to make their standby time worthwhile:

I won't be available last minute, but for the client who pays most. Which is 400€ net per day, tax free in my case. My colleagues who juggle between small interpreting assignments and translation projects also tend to be fully booked one week ahead and won't stick around waiting, just in case they'd be offered $5.

(01 Feb '16, 04:03) Gaspar ♦♦

"To supplement other jobs" means here to work for different agencies, clients using the same set of skills, or teaching/organising events, etc. I don't expect many interpreters to be able to do dental fillings though. Marketing specialists, programmers, accountants, lawyers work for different clients, I'm sure interpreters do too. I have evidence of there being enough interested interpreters, provided, of course, the phone rings often - that's the key.

As for the pay and price, the per minute structure is easier to accept for clients. They know they pay only for the actual time. We all have access to scissors, yet the majority are happy to pay their hairdresser to do the haircut. Same with interpreters - if you have a need and it's easy to access an interpreter, you'll pay.

For the interpreters - depending on the language pair and country, the pay per minute does not have to be lower than their per minute rate as a CI (day rate divided by minutes in a day, including travel time). So it's not a lower paid job, although much less glamorous. No preparation is needed - like an emergency services doctor, you have no idea what's coming, so you only give the best you already have. There is no need for any admin - technology does it all for you. And you only work when is convenient for you. So why wouldn't a CI do it between the conferences?

It's the low demand that ruins my picture.

(01 Feb '16, 05:17) nochance

Marketing specialists, programmers, accountants, lawyers work for different clients, I'm sure interpreters do too.

Indeed. But the ones in demand won't need to supplement their income or won't be able to do so last minute. They'll be fully booked way ahead of time and/or won't bother turning their off time into stand-by time.

it's not a lower paid job

Not counting travel time, because I don't have to commute (or am paid for that time as well when assigned outside of town) and not counting preparation time, because some conference assignments don't allow me to prepare either... Then, considering only the time spent on mic, CI pays me 4.44 to 3.33€ per minute, net, tax free. Which would amount to approximately 6.66€ to 8.88€ per minute gross (plus your cut) to be billed to the client.

If that price range can be sold, you could count me in during low season, provided the sound quality is good enough.

(01 Feb '16, 10:38) Gaspar ♦♦

Gáspár, It is somewhat misleading to calculate CI's daily income by mic minutes only. All professionals who are paid by time (lawyers, etc) are limited by the hours they can work. In order to maximise the income, one has to maximise the number or billable units. When you work in a conference, you have around 90 min mic time (according to your calculation), yet you have to dedicate your whole day - you cannot bill it to anyone else. Therefore, your minute rate is 600 to 800 / no. of minutes you are away from home. If we exclude the top rated interpreters who work 200 days a year on conferences, we'll still get a lot of highly qualified professionals happy to earn a similar rate per minute with a lot of flexibility. And every minute they work on telefone interpreting gives you extra income. You work a couple of hours and your weekly grocery bill is paid. Can I count you in? :) Again - this only works if there's demand. If you dedicate 2 hours, but only interpret for 5 min - that's a rubbish rate per minute and unsustainable business.

(01 Feb '16, 12:42) nochance

I must say though that I am surprised that you have found a lot of interpreters willing to do the job.

Firsty, I agree with Gaspar that if you're looking for interpreters for language pairs that are in high demand (in order not to disappoint them if they sit all day waiting for a client to call), they will most likely don't need the extra money and already have enough work. But well I guess you'll still find some people interested in the extra money.

But what would bother me the most and makes me reluctant to work as a telephone interpreter for the moment is, again, the sound quality. You can't really compare it to the sound quality of a mobile phone, because we usually don't use mobile phones for interpreting. Even though we indeed all have scissors at home, I can assure you that cutting your hair with kitchen scissors will leave you with split ends. I would definitely want to check the quality of the line before committing to the job. Would that be possible? And what if I commit to a job, start interpreting but realize that the sound quality is not sufficient for me to work, can I tell the client that we need to stop? Will he be reimbursed? Will I be paid?

(03 Feb '16, 08:41) Camille Collard

I would also be very worried about not knowing what the subject is, who I am interpreting for and not having time to prepare. When you can only rely on the person's voice, when you don't see the body language, the face, when you're in a different room, you're missing a big chunk of the message. Add This to the lack of preparation and a poor sound quality and you have the recipe for failure. As a professional, I only accept a job if I know that I can deliver quality. Especially if I am dealing with clients who are not used to pay for interpreters, because as Gaspar pointed out, when they end up paying for it, they'll have big expectations about quality. If their expectations are not met, they'll just go back to Google translate or globish. So not only do you have the issue of finding clients, you also have the issue of not disappointing them.

Moreover, knowing that interpreters are often called only a few days, or a few hours before a meeting, it means that you will mostly rely on interpreters who sign up on the same day because they did not have a meeting planned on that day (since we assumed that no professional interpreter with a good language combination will block a full day of potential work in the prospect of working only a few minutes on that day). I therefore wonder how you are going to plan the demand and offer. Are you going to work only with clients who require an interpreter at the last minute and let them know whether you have someone available on the same day? There I wonder if there are many clients who plan a meeting at the last minute. Or will you accept clients in advance not knowing whether you'll have an interpreter available on that day?

(03 Feb '16, 08:41) Camille Collard

Gáspár, It is somewhat misleading to calculate CI's daily income by mic minutes only.

Exactly. Why would we use a different way of calculating the income for phone interpreting by the minute then? When I'm on call, I can't jump under the shower, have a beer, work out or organize a meal with friends. I'll be waiting, actively refraining from doing what I'd otherwise do at home during my free time. Yet, that stand by time won't be paid for. Unless I incorporate that time in my per-minute rate, which then would rise exponentially, up to the figure I mentioned before.

If while being on call I don't refrain from doing the things I mentioned, when I'll pick up the phone, I might be tired, drunk, out of breath, unfocused, pressed by time, and overall mentally or physically unable to get the split second attention interpreting requires.

When I'm on call for my usual suspects, I'm paid a full day rate and I'm in a suit ready to head where I'm needed, from 9 to 5. It's definitely not idle time.

If stand-by time isn't paid, if I have to sit around for two hours to work for three minutes, it's simply not worth my while. I'm afraid you'll be likely to attract first and foremost people who aren't able to sell themselves on their own market (I'd wonder, is it related to the quality of their work?). I really can't see who'd sit around at home, unpaid, hoping to get last minute calls out of the blue, rather than get out and actually earn money. If there were a guarantee that people would pay for my services regularly, booking me ahead, it'd be a different story. If not, you don't have enough to offer.

You're saying that many interpreters are interested by your idea. Which is a very subjective statement. Anyone can claim to be an interpreter, provided they don't pretend to be accredited or sworn. The big question is whether that pool of people will be able to deliver the quality you want to offer, which quality that is, and whether that would satisfy your paying customers.

(03 Feb '16, 11:40) Gaspar ♦♦

One more thing: phone sex in the higher segment pays somewhere between 0.25€ and 0.45€ per minute. You don't need qualifications for that.

How much do you think someone who has an MA will ask then, for a service which does require skills and qualifications only a few have?

As a consumer myself, when I have to call a number that isn't toll free, I think twice. I refuse to call my bank for instance and rather will annoy them by e-mail, because I deem I shouldn't pay extra for customer support. It's a psychological thing. I'm afraid in people's mind, 0.45€ and more will be perceived as a HUGE sum of money. And as said before, if there's any demand at those rates, quality and availability at that price then should be better good.

But can it be, when you pick up the phone out of the blue, not knowing what it'll be about, while you're cooking pasta or looking after your kids, with random signal quality throughout the call?

I'm not sure you can uberize a service that usually is quite expensive -for reasons we could explain at length-, which suddenly should become flexible, low-cost, affordable for any SME.

I can understand that there can be a need to find solutions where a face to face meeting isn't possible. But not at the interpreter's and the quality of service's expense. I can't imagine why paying for at least an entire hour wouldn't be feasible, just as booking ahead to allow the interpreter to plan ahead and prepare as much as possible before the phone eventually rings. As Camille said before, people don't just get up in the morning and think Hey, let's have a business call today without any previous planning. Oh, but we don't speak Chinese, what could we possibly do about that? Let's ask the internet whether there's a solution for that problem and just chose the first website we find and enter our credit card details... who cares if it could be some sort of scam!

As mentioned before, convincing your clients to pay and to trust you will be a big challenge.

(03 Feb '16, 12:15) Gaspar ♦♦
showing 5 of 11 show 6 more comments

Hi Maria,

I agree with Julia and Camille regarding the importance of technicalities. You can't just jump in, on a poor phone line, and start interpreting without knowing what it is about, who the parties are and what interests are at stake.

If you charge by the minute, which seems to be something that is done in the US, you'd need to charge also for some preparation time. Otherwise, if you just push your interpreters into the unknown with only fifteen seconds for the client to test the quality of the line (can't the interpreter test it as well?), the quality of service will be poor. And who'd want to pay for a poor quality of service, when there is google translate and the Skype interpreter, just as able to do a poor job, but for free?

Also, the concept live interpreters, all from the convenience of the user’s smartphone (like an Uber for interpreters) your company is trying to push on the market has two weaknesses, as far as the European market is concerned.

1) Supply: most interpreters trained on the old continent are trained conference interpreters. They are used to daily rates. They want good sound quality and keep insisting on that, Julia and Camille are an excellent example. Since they are highly trained people, they won't work for peanuts. If they can't make a living with conference interpreting (and rates between 600 to 800€ per day in countries like Belgium or Germany), they'll rather do some other, well paid job, rather than work for a start-up which pays by the minute and can't guarantee regular work. A former colleague left the booth to become the vice president at one of the big Asian multinational conglomerates.

Which would leave you with bilingual(ish) people with little to no qualifications, who'd be happy to complement their day job's income with some extra cash. But will they be available when you need them? Will they know how to interpret, opposed as just to how to translate words? Will they bring the added value that will justify that you charge for the service, while Skype and Google are there for free?

2) Demand: most European SMEs (not to mention individuals) aren't used to work with interpreters. They will work around, ask their secretary or intern who has a bit of English knowledge to negotiate the bulk order they will place on To them, it seems to be the best option, as they know what they're getting, don't have to compare service providers, go through small print, etc. In social psychology, it's called coherence, i.e. the refusal to break habits, even if they're bad. Sticking to how you usually do things is more important than improving the way you work. It's deeply rooted and associated to survival patterns (something in the lines of if living like I did hasn't killed me yet, then I'll stick to this way of life).

Uber managed it's breakthrough because taking a cab was already in many people's habits who had to get home at 3a.m. All they had to do was relying on a stranger to do things for them and book the stranger via an app giving you a sense of security and belonging, rather than getting the first yellow car you'd see in the streets. Not a big stretch.

Also, Uber (and Airbnb for that matter) offered a better and cheaper service. Getting people to pay less than they did before while they're getting more for their money is quite easy. Getting people to pay for something that they can get for free will be more difficult.

In conclusion, the question is whether you can build demand where there is little so far in Europe. If so, whether you can meet it with quality offer, in sufficient quantity and availability at all times. Predictability is key, because if you fail once to provide the service, your first time customer won't be returning.

Bear in mind that the less money people are able to invest, the more expectations they have. You'll have to satisfy consumers not because they paid a lot, but because the mere idea of having paid for something that otherwise is available for free will give them the impression that they're to be treated like the Queen.

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answered 29 Jan '16, 05:27

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

edited 29 Jan '16, 06:34

Hello nochance.

You don't say which market you are interested in. In the US, remote interpreting has already been around for years. It started with rather expensive (to the client, NOT high-paying for the interpreter) telephonic services, which were used both at very high levels, and also by insurance companies, hospitals and the police, at least 20 years ago.

Since then, it has developed into big business, with interpreters working from their home office, and interpreting meetings either simultaneously or consecutively over the web, with some sort of view, for more than one client. Systems can be sophisticated enough to allow to interpreters to work in a team and write notes for each other, each being in their own home office.

Since it is so well-developed in the US, I presume it will expand to Europe in a big way sometime soon. More and more people in Europe are already turning to online translation apps for their everyday conversations when they are in another country. More and more people (not interpreters) are seeing these programs as cash cows and trying to set them up. And clients are looking for ways to decrease their costs all the time - so why not by not paying travel costs to bring in the interpreters, or even the participants?

Remote interpreting of any type does bring up quite a few questions that have to be answered by each specific platform and provider. From what I understand, the interpreter works from their own home office, over their own phone or from their own computer with their own headset/mike combination, over the regular broadband connection, but the agency/client provides the platform.

Some of the platforms allow the interpreters to work in real teams, while others are good for only one interpreter - so do meetings last only 30 minutes?

Who checks sound quality? (For an interesting and telling comparison, check out this video: ).

How does one ensure that the broadband connection doesn't drop out or become worse while the conference is going on? What happens if it does? Does the remote interpreter have some connection to a technician, or to the client to explain / ask for help / etc.?

How is the interpreter paid? Is it by the day? By the hour? By the minute?

These are just a few questions. For a full listing of discussion and questions related to some telephonic interpreting companies out there, try this question, which brings up issues that are still relevant today.

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answered 28 Jan '16, 05:10

JuliaP's gravatar image


edited 28 Jan '16, 08:59

Julia is right: even though this type of interpreting becomes more and more popular (it seems natural for small businesses to be tempted to try this cheaper option), there are a lot of uncertainties regarding telephone and remote interpreting.

Therefore before wondering whether there is a demand, it would probably be wiser to know in which conditions it can and should be done.

Unfortunately, the information provided on this topic on this website is rather outdated (the last post was written in 2013, which is an eternity when we're talking about new technologies).

The most recent and exhaustive presentation I've read until now is the one by Cyril Flerov: Remote Simultaneous Interpreting: Options and Standards

But I would really like to read other recent contributions on this topic.

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answered 28 Jan '16, 08:54

Camille%20Collard's gravatar image

Camille Collard

edited 28 Jan '16, 08:55

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question asked: 27 Jan '16, 07:09

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