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Alternatives to face-to-face interpreting - things to consider when advancing to remote language services - Word360

Alternatives to face-to-face interpreting - things to consider when advancing to remote language services - Word360

A supplier on ESPO’s Language Services framework (402) - Word360 - discuss use of video and telephone interpreting and explain 5 things to consider when advancing to remote language services.

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, digitisation of language services had been on the march for some years, across all areas of our lives, and the public sector is no exception. However, the pandemic has resulted in a marked acceleration of our adoption of digital services as organisations look at alternative solutions in supporting non-English speaking service users to maintain accessibility of services.

The use of video and telephone interpreting services are being adopted more readily and are forming integral parts of a holistic service delivery solution. With face-to-face having been viewed as the gold standard of interpreting for so long, does this shift mark the end of face-to-face interpreting?

Word360 review 5 things you should look for in a quality remote interpreting provider as well as weighing the benefits of different modes of interpreting to help you assess your needs in a changing landscape.


What does a quality telephone and remote video interpreting service look like?

As a digital service, remote interpreting services should offer several benefits that drive cost and time efficiencies as well as offering equitable access to all service users.  The top requirements Word360 clients look for in a quality service provision are:

24-hour availability of all languages
  A major perk of remote interpreting is that it doesn’t require anyone to be on-site and therefore can allow your teams to access an interpreter at any hour, day or night.  This means unusual working hours shouldn’t prevent you from accessing an interpreter within minutes via telephone or video - for example, for 24-hour detention centres or mental crisis teams.
Instant access services
  Like many digital services, remote telephone and video interpreting can be available at the drop of a hat. Using intelligent software, your provider should allow any of your staff members to be connected with an interpreter in as little as 30 seconds through both video and telephone interpreting platforms.  Flexibility is paramount and being able to pre-book a service offers additional assurance for planned appointments.
Using specialist equipment or hardware

Many video and telephone conferencing platforms can be accessed from your mobile device or PC/laptop and interpreting services should not be any different.  In the case of video conferencing, most organisations should be able to offer their own conferencing solution e.g. Wordskii or integrate with generic systems such as Teams, Zoom or Attend Anywhere.

As such there shouldn’t be a requirement to purchase new telephone handsets or specialist hardware unless your organisation is looking for adapted systems to support your service users in a particular environment.  An example of this would be the Word360 WoW stands - a mobile tablet unit that has been adapted so that interpreting can be delivered at the point of care e.g. in an A&E department or reception area.

Gather business intelligence
  All procurement managers are conscious of driving cost efficiencies, and having access to reporting information in real time has become integral in maintaining control over usage across an organisation and to manage spending. This allows for more direct tracking of primary KPIs. The ability to see how your staff are accessing various interpreting services across your organisation offers valuable insight into how costs can be managed and where demand is centred allowing for active service management.
Access to any language
  Does your language services provider have access to the bank of languages that you need and are they available via their remote interpreting services? Nowadays, a fully managed service offers cohesive benefits from a single use platform to manage all services to a single point of contact for contract management.  Fundamentally, however, offering equitable access to all service users is crucial to meeting EDI objectives and have a robust recruitment department able to source the ever changing demand in languages across the UK.  It is not uncommon for us to supply the rarest of languages such as Twi, Oromo or Uyghur.

A quality remote interpreting service provider will be able to source a complete suite of language requirements including British Sign Language. Using a framework such as ESPO’s Framework 402 ensures that suppliers are vetted to only use appropriately qualified interpreters who hold specific qualifications such as DPSI, NRSPI and in the case of British Sign Language, NRCPD Level 6.


Telephone, video and face-to-face interpreting - which one should you choose?

Each form of interpreting from telephone to face-to-face has its advantages and disadvantages meaning a truly effective service should incorporate a combination of all three provisions, allowing staff to choose the most appropriate service for their needs. More often, organisations are looking for suppliers of multiple services so that they can take advantage of the benefits of each.  For example:

Telephone Interpreting is:

Remote and easy to access even from a landline.
Perfect for routine conversations such as regular medical appointments or simple conversations between the police and a member of the public.
Available on demand and perfect for unforeseen situations, such as a roadside stop in the case of a police service.
Provides a clear audit trail of usage.
Cheaper than other services.


Remote video Interpreting can:

Provide some of the contextual benefits of face-to-face such as facial expressions while maintaining distance and retaining the best of human interactions.
Offer immediate availability, 24 hours a day.
Allow documents to be shared on screen as well as chat functions that allow messaging of information that may be unclear.
Can be accessed via something as simple as a smart phone through a simple secure link.
Can incorporate the offer of British Sign Language.
Provides a clear audit trail of usage.


Face-to-face interpreting is:

The most personal form of interpreting and suitable for sensitive conversations or bereavements.
Perfect to build a relationship with the service user that creates trust with the interpreter.
Ideal for conversing with families and children.
Perfect to portray emotion and sensitively interpret information on a face-to-face basis.


The gold standard?

Face-to-face interpreting has long been perceived as the gold standard of interpreting, and even with our recent rapid advance towards digitisation, this remains largely true. However, remote services can provide exactly the level of service necessary in so many situations, allowing the costlier face-to-face option to be reserved for when it’s really needed.

This balancing act between remote and face-to-face allows for greater cost-efficiency, better time management and will help the public sector as a whole, meet crucial accessibility requirements and KPIs for financial efficacy.

To find out more about our Language Services framework (402) or the suppliers listed on the framework, click here or contact the People and Professional Services team on



Celebrating 30 years in business, Word360 is the Midlands’ leading translations and interpreting agency, supporting crucial public sector organisations across the region and beyond. Using innovative digital solutions, we work with our clients to drive efficiencies, enable global conversations and provide award-winning support across multiple industries and sectors.