The Way You Communicate

Working with an interpreter is a complex process involving many moving parts, with one of the most pressing questions being how do you plan to carry out an interpretation session: over the phone, through a video call, or in-person? Surprisingly, literature reviews on the subject point to there being no unified preference amongst limited English individuals (LEI’s). While there is evidence that interpreters prefer meeting in-person, each method comes with its own benefits and drawbacks that should be considered based on your needs.


While there are several glaring issues with translating over the phone, there are still some positives that should be considered; the most obvious being its cost efficiency, as interpretation-by-phone is usually the cheapest option. Phone interpretation can also be set up at a moment’s notice, does not require an interpreter to live nearby, and cell phone service is still more reliable than mobile data in certain locations. Telephone interpretation also has a lower technology barrier than video calls. However, as time progresses, mobile data infrastructure advances, and cellophane manufacturing costs decrease, these benefits become less and less prolific.

The greatest hang-up with over-the-phone interpretation is the lack of a visual element. Of course, languages with a strong visual component, like ASL, are completely impossible to interpret over the phone, but most interpreters use visual queues like body language to guide their interpretation. Because of this, many organizations, especially those in the medical field, do not recommend the use of over-the-phone interpretation. For situations in remote locations where technology is limited and an interpreter cannot reach the site in a reasonable time frame, over-the-phone interpretation may be your best option, but outside of edge cases similar to that scenario, it is not recommended.


Video interpretation is your best bet for a middle of the road option. Of course, its visual component makes it ideal for translating languages like ASL, and allows for an interpreter to read into body language and facial expression to best convey an LEI’s message to a client. It can also be quickly set up for situations when you need an interpreter soon and cannot wait for an interpreter to arrive for an in-person session. Video-Interpretation also comes with a cheaper average price-point than in person interpretation, though is still more expensive than over-the-phone interpretation.

Still, there are some downsides to video-interpretation. The technology requirement is higher than other options, as you will need a video recording device, such as a modern cell phone, tablet, or laptop. You will also need a stable internet connection, which might be difficult depending on the appointment’s location. A hospital or law firm might have a perfectly serviceable connection speed, but what about an large outdoor event, such as a concert? Even with a stable connection, latency issues can arise, dragging out a routine appointment. Because of this, video interpretation is best recommended for situations when you need to connect with an interpreter quickly and know that a stable internet connection will be available, like an unexpected hospital.

In Person

While LEI’s have no preference on the method by which they are interpreted, interpreters by and large prefer to do in-person interpretation, which is understandable. In-person interpretation offers the chance to build rapport with both an LEI and a client. In-person interpretation also has none of the technology issues present in other options, ensuring that important messages aren’t delayed by having to set-up. In-person also makes it easier to read body language and communicate with multiple people at once.

There are, though, some obvious drawbacks to in-person interpretation. Usually, in-person interpretation is more expensive because it accounts for the travel time of the interpreter. In-person interpretation also requires the client to plan ahead and set up appointments with an interpreter. Plus, the amount of languages provided is going to be limited by the interpreters that can travel to your location. Because of this, we recommend using in-person interpretation for events that are planned well-in advance and where making an LEI as comfortable as possible is a priority, such as therapy appointments, routine doctor’s appointments, and international business meetings.


At 7C Lingo, we recommend that phone interpretation only be used as a last resort, as its lack of a visual component greatly limits its application. When deciding between in-person versus video-interpretation, however, both options are viable depending on the needs and budget of your company. Be sure to work with your agency and go over these topics to ensure the service you choose is the right one for you.