Language Inc

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Telephone Interpreting and nonverbal communication

Telephone interpreting is a fairly recent phenomenon, and involves communication via a telephone between individuals who do not share the same language. The telephone interpreter helps to overcome this communication barrier by interpreting on a consecutive level between the respective participants. Telephone interpreting can save a considerable amount of money. Not only does it cut out travel time and expenses for numerous parties, but an interpreter’s time is often cheaper over the telephone.

For an interpreter, the main difference between telephone interpreting and face-to-face interpreting is obviously the lack of visual information. To many opponents, this is its main drawback. All nonverbal aspects, not to mention necessary documentation, are left out. This inevitably raises the question of what impact the loss of visual cues might have in the interpreter’s performance. Human communication is imprecise and often subjective and ambiguous. It is frequently difficult to determine how one should understand a given message.

Nonverbal codes exist in all cultures and languages. They are so common and self-evident in human interaction that they usually escape systematic analysis. The combination of communication codes originating from the movement of the hands, body language, postures, facial expression, eye contact, and so on, can generally provide high percentages of the message content.

Nonverbal cues allow us to recognize the speaker’s feelings and intention (anger, irritation, impatience, boredom, excitement, hesitation, joy, stress...). At an incredibly high speed, our brains process that visual information, which helps to shape our feedback to the other person. Professional interpreters seem to believe almost unanimously that seeing nonverbal cues is a critical component to the success of accuracy in rendering messages.

Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of telephone interpreting is that a good interpreter at a distance is better than a bad one up close, or none at all. That is probably the common ground between the opponents and the proponents of TI. This interpreting system is a way of overcoming the language barriers in intercultural communication and allows quick access to a large pool of qualified professional interpreters in almost any language wherever they are, especially in situations where hospitals and courts would otherwise use lay people to interpret or would have to do without an interpreter at all.

It may sometimes be difficult for a telephone interpreter to interpret effectively between parties - particularly if the line is occasionally bad, or if the nonverbal cues of a speaker help to further convey the intended meaning of their speech. However, it should be noted that a qualified telephone interpreter is trained to pick up on nonverbal language - such as intonation within the voice, emphasis, breathing and tone of voice. For this reason, it is preferable to use fully qualified telephone interpreters for telephone interpreting exercises as opposed to non qualified telephone interpreters, as the latter may flounder in the absence of nonverbal cues.

That's it for this week.

The Language Inc. team

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