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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world irrevocably, forcing almost every industry to rapidly adopt online technology to continue operations.

And it’s no different for the translation and interpretation market.

Since early March, multinational corporations and international associations have had to turn face-to-face events into online video conferences that use digital translation tools.

While frontline workers are undoubtedly the heroes of this crisis, interpreters are increasingly essential to the day-to-day operations of many industries — from court hearings and medical appointments to government conferences and assisted learning. 

That’s not to say there aren’t those who have taken significant strain adapting to this fundamental shift in process...

 

Who has been the worst hit?

Though many translators are no strangers to working from home with the aid of glossaries and style guides, it’s the interpreters who work face-to-face that have been the worst hit. In a recent study by CSA Research, 55% of language service providers report a decrease in business since the outbreak of the pandemic and show great concern about the uncertainty of how long the pandemic will last. They have less confidence in a quick return to business normalcy that they expected in May.

Many have had to move their services to online platforms, with varying degrees of success. In an article by Slator, German Translator Alexander Gansmeier states: “The worse the global situation gets (and country governments react accordingly), the more clients rely on the force majeure argument to try to avoid any cancellation fees” — which significantly impacts a translator’s source of income.

Smaller companies that provide on-site interpretation for larger organisations have also felt the pressure. As an increasing number of events are cancelled, more clients are citing force majeure — unforeseeable circumstances that prevent the fulfilment of a contract — as a means to avoid paying. This depletion of income is further compounded by a lack of infrastructure to allow for complete remote working.

Additionally, interpreters have been challenged to enter uncharted territory by working from home instead of a fixed booth installation.

“We unexpectedly found ourselves in our apartments wondering how to continue performing our duties and contribute to multilingualism,”

said Veronique Vandegans, Chief of the French Interpretation Section of the United Nations. “However, it quickly became apparent that we could adapt and interpret remotely, given the proper equipment, testing and training.”

Unfortunately, most language service providers have — until now — been operating traditionally, and have thus struggled to take operations ‘online’ during the pandemic. Moreover, these traditional processes have hampered their ability to shift to remote simultaneous interpretation (RSI) as it fundamentally changes their business model.

That said, the rapid adoption of digital transformation caused by COVID-19 has proven to be a boon for many tech-savvy companies.

 

Who is thriving during the pandemic?

While LSPs register a decrease in demand for their services from sectors such as events or travel and leisure, certain verticals seem to have an upraise in demand. According to the CSA survey, 64% of LSPs report an increase in demand for interpretation in the health sector. And 59% report a higher demand from the life sciences, medical and pharmaceuticals sector.

The change in demand for interpretation services appears to vary highly between sectors. Companies that already provide remote or virtual interpretation services are thriving as businesses look for ways to maintain communication with staff, prospects, peers and the general public. Video conferencing platform Zoom is a prime example of this — its stock has tripled in value over the last few months as remote working and video conferences become the norm.

To return to a semblance of normality, some LSPs are actively encouraging more of their employees to work from home, using video conferencing and online interpretation platforms such as Interprefy to do so.

In our new normal, this is the way of the future, and an inevitable progression that has been hastened by the COVID-19 pandemic. With many companies having already extended their home office policy until late 2021 and reinforcing a strict no travel policy, the majority of events are most likely to continue in virtual and hybrid scenarios in the near future.

 

What does the future look like?

The key requirements for any LSP to succeed in our ‘new normal’ are resilience and adaptability. LSPs that can provide interpretation services via online platforms are already in a much better position than those that typically work offline. That’s not to say that ‘offline’ LSPs are fighting a losing battle — in fact, it’s likely that many of these interpreters are already upskilling and familiarising themselves with online platforms so that they too can offer their services wherever, whenever.  

For interpreters who provide RSI solutions, this has resulted in a greater emphasis on “online” platforms, with hybrid options becoming more commonplace as lockdown eases globally. As markets reopen, there will be a greater focus on tools that streamline and improve the experience in the future.

The shift to remote participation has opened up new needs for inclusivity and audience engagement, as event organizers are tackling "zoom fatigue". Allowing participants to join the conversation in their native language and offering the audience an accurate translation of speakers' inputs, fosters engagement, inclusivity and ultimately raises the likelihood of the event’s success.

Remote interpretation and participation may well lead to an increase in demand for interpretation services in the long run, because they are more attainable, affordable and easier to arrange, especially for smaller organizations. At the Royal Melbourne Hospital for example, video interpreting appointments have increased from 10–15 appointments per month (before COVID-19) to 100–200 a month currently.

If you’d like to find out more about remote simultaneous interpretation and  what to look for when assessing possible vendors, download our eBook  ‘Evaluating RSI Platforms’.

 

Pioneering a positive way forward post-pandemic

While COVID-19 won’t be around forever, it will have a lasting effect on how interpreters operate in the future. For interpreting services to evolve and demonstrate value, translation and interpretation expertise, organisations and professionals need to be resilient, flexible, and able to meet the demands of today’s digital-first world.

There can be no disputing that online interpretation for events, conferences, seminars, and press meetings is the way of the future. Luckily, the tools to facilitate this paradigm shift are already available.

Interprefy is the world’s leading cloud-based RSI platform, empowering interpreters with the tools they need to translate from anywhere, anytime. Our cloud-based remote interpreting platform for any online or offline event offers the following benefits:

  • Flexibility: We provide remote simultaneous interpreting tailored to your meeting or event, either on our platform or in your existing web conferencing tool, such as MS Teams, WebEx or Zoom.
  • High fidelity and security: Interprefy provides crystal-clear audio and high-definition video streaming with near-zero latency, encrypted to the highest security standards.
  • Intuitive: No configuration required. All you need to do is download the app and you’re good to go.
  • Best-in-class talent: We work with the best language service providers in the world and guarantee conference-level interpreters for your event.


To chat to a consultant or request a demonstration of the Interprefy platform,  click here.

 

With changes expected to be felt across the events industry as well as translation & interpretation, find out how you can best evaluate Remote Simultaneous Interpretation providers in our eBook. Follow the link to download it for free.

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Markus Aregger

Written by Markus Aregger

Markus is Head of Marketing at Interprefy, on a mission to help people and organizations connect by breaking down language barriers.