“It keeps me on my toes”: Interpreters’ perceptions of challenges in telephone interpreting and their coping strategies

Jihong Wang

This article reports on the findings of a questionnaire survey of 465 telephone interpreters in Australia, focusing on what they liked and disliked about telephone interpreting, their perceptions of challenges in telephone interpreting, and their coping strategies. Just over half of the respondents liked working as telephone interpreters. Results also show that interpreters identified many favourable and unfavourable aspects of telephone interpreting. A key finding is that interpreters perceived many comprehension-related challenges (e.g., poor sound quality, a lack of non-verbal information), communication-related challenges (e.g., overlapping speech), and other challenges in telephone interpreting (e.g., low remuneration, casual employment, work-related stress). Importantly, interpreters adopted various coping strategies, including using high-quality headphones and requesting briefing or clarification to deal with comprehension-related challenges, explaining the interpreter’s role and intervening with clients as necessary to address communication-related challenges, and reducing working hours and exercising self-care to manage work-related stress.

Publication history
Table of contents

Since its introduction in Australia in 1973, the use of telephone interpreting has rapidly grown in Australia and many other countries. Compared with on-site interpreting, telephone interpreting provides clients with greater and quicker access to professional interpreters. However, over the past two decades, there have been grave concerns among interpreters and scholars about the following issues: challenges for telephone interpreters, the quality of telephone interpreting, and telephone interpreting being used merely as a cost-saving substitute for face-to-face interpreting (see Gracia-García 2002; Kelly 2008a; Mikkelson 2003; NAJIT 2009; Rosenberg 2007; Wadensjö 1999). As expressed in quote 1 below, many organisations in Australia are quickly switching from using on-site interpreting services to using telephone interpreting services:

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