In-Person vs Remote Interpreting: Considerations for K-12 Educators

To ensure every child gets an equitable education, it’s vital to address language barriers in K-12 settings by translating written materials and providing access to interpreters for spoken language events like parent/teacher conferences. 

Whether a student or their guardian is an ELL (English Language Learner) or communicates via a sign language such as ASL (American Sign Language), interpreting services must be provided to those who need them. However, there are a few different interpreting options to be aware of: in-person interpreting, over-the-phone interpreting (OPI), and video remote interpreting (VRI). 

K-12 schools and districts must decide which type of interpretation is best for each individual scenario by carefully considering the nature of the interaction, the level of complexity required, cultural context, personal preference of the student(s) or guardian(s) involved, and more. In this post, we’ll cover each type and provide some examples of when you might use them.

In-person interpreting

Also known as on-site interpreting, in-person interpreting requires an interpreter to be in the same physical location as the client. This makes for a more personal interaction and allows for body language and facial expressions to be taken into account, which results in the most accurate interpretation possible. 

In-person interpreting is ideal for first meetings, sensitive discussions, technical topics (for which the interpreter must be knowledgeable in the subject matter), as well as any interaction where body language and face-to-face communication are especially important. Examples include:

  • A first meeting with a student or parents/guardians
  • Serious discussions about student conduct or academic performance
  • Interactive situations (e.g. software demonstrations)
  • Situations in which remote methods are not ideal or not possible (e.g. no access to a webcam, communicating with someone who finds it hard to hear over the phone)

While in-person interpreting is arguably the best option for rapport building, it does have a couple of downsides. First, it’s almost always the most costly form of interpreting, and second, arrangements must be made well in advance to allow for travel and scheduling. This makes it less than ideal for urgent, unforeseen situations.

Over-the-phone interpreting

Convenient and cost-effective, over-the-phone interpreting (OPI) is generally less complex to set up than in-person interpreting.

Because the interpreter will not be physically present, there is no travel time required, which makes OPI a great option for urgent or emergency situations. Depending on your provider, you might even be able to call anytime and get an on-demand interpreter in seconds, with no scheduling required.

Compared to video remote interpreting, OPI is a great option for clients who aren’t very comfortable working with newer technology (e.g. webcams and video conferencing software) and prefer the familiarity of a simple phone call. However, it’s still less personal than on-site interpreting, and takes body language and facial expressions out of the equation — and therefore isn’t an option for ASL interpretation.

Video remote interpreting

In many ways, video remote interpreting (VRI) is a happy medium between OPI and in-person interpreting. It doesn’t require as much advance notice as in-person interpreting and is more affordable, but still allows for visuals like body language, facial expressions, and sign language.

Depending on the particular setups of both the provider and the client(s), technical difficulties (poor internet connection, software crashing, etc.) may be more likely to occur than they would over the phone. Additionally, some clients may not be tech-savvy enough to feel comfortable with software like Zoom, and not everyone has access to a computer with a webcam. For both the client and interpreter, video quality can potentially interfere with understanding and translation, so a high-quality webcam is preferable. 

Still, VRI is a valuable option for situations in which remote interpreting is preferred but you want the interaction to be a bit more personal than it would be with OPI. 

To sum up

Each interpretation method has pros and cons. In general, phone and virtual translation services are faster and more cost-effective, while in-person interpreting allows for a more personal touch, but is more costly and requires more advance notice. However, every situation is different, and it’s important to take into account the preferences of the person who requires interpreting services. 

Vetting and scheduling freelance interpreters on an ad-hoc basis creates a lot of administrative work and doesn’t allow for flexibility. To alleviate this burden, consider partnering with a provider that has experience working with K-12 districts, offers all three types of interpreting, and provides education translation services, like Dynamic Language. 

This approach enables you to schedule all interpreting requests from one place and gives you access to a wide range of languages and dialects — so you can get experienced interpreters when and where they’re needed.

Contact us to get started.