How Can Video Phone Interpreters Help During The Coronavirus Outbreak?

Last Updated On: August 11, 2020

inGeneral, Translation Skills, Translation Tips

Video Phone Interpreters

Video phone interpreters are part of the army of people who have been utilized during the international response to the Covid-19 pandemic that has swept the world. Video phone interpreting is a more effective method of helping people who wish to communicate with each other yet do not understand each others’ languages.

Phone interpreting is a service that has been around for some time now, but video phone interpreting takes it to a new level as it allows for body language and facial expressions to be included in the interpretation setting. Many people find it hard enough getting their message across when communicating in the same language with ordinary phone communication. Video communication using apps like Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and others improves communication as people can watch the responses and reactions of the people they are communicating with.

Videophone interpreting as a service may be provided by a private agency or a government agency. If it is part of the Covid-19 response it is most likely to be provided by a government agency or a private agency contracted by a government department.

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This is an example of the way it works

Let’s say that someone wants to access a government health department about their symptoms or whether they should go to work or go and get a Covid-19 test. Unfortunately, they don’t speak the official language used by the government officials they are trying to communicate with. Because of lockdown restrictions, they are self-isolating and unable to see any of their younger relatives who are able to speak the official language.

The health department has a video phone interpreting service which is available in most of the languages used by migrants and refugees who are living in their adopted country but confused about what is going on and therefore more at risk of suffering either from the disease itself or unwittingly doing the wrong thing and getting into trouble with the authorities.

The video phone interpreting service is well advertised on the TV, radio and government websites. The advertising and instructions on using the service are translated into all languages that are offered by the service, so anyone who needs to use it should be able to work out how to do so. Usually, it means booking up a video phone interpreting session with a specific individual who could be a health representative, doctor, government official etc. The hook up is a three-way event so that the person requesting the service, the interpreter and the person who is being contacted all take part on an agreed platform.

The video link helps each of the three participants because it means that any confusion will be shown quite easily by facial expression and body language which helps to eliminate misunderstanding.

The only drawback with this sort of service during an emergency such as a sudden widespread lockdown is that the resources available to make the service effective to as many people as possible are unlikely to be sufficient. It is a service that would work well as a supplement to other forms of communication available to non-native speakers when the Covid-19 situation in that place is relatively contained or suppressed. In many countries these days where these sorts of services are offered (usually the wealthier countries) the response to the disease is one of a patchwork of restrictions and semi-normality.

To take the current situation in Australia, for example, two states have issues with community transmission whereas all other states and territories have effectively eliminated the virus from the community. In Victoria, the situation is not only more serious, there are also large numbers of migrants and refugees who live in the suburbs of Melbourne where there is a lot of infection. It’s hard to see how a video phone service, although desirable, could be set up to satisfy the probable demand. In neighbouring New South Wales, where contact tracing has been more effective, a video phone interpreting service would work reasonably well.

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