Instant telephonic interpreting – a communication revolution

Folio Translation Consultants, based in Cape Town, South Africa, has over a period of three years developed, refined, tested and enhanced its instant telephonic interpreting service, InterTel.

The service utilises call centre software to link professional interpreters to end-users. Interpreters are all mother-tongue speakers of the languages they specialise in and have an excellent command of another language, typically English.

Says Folio’s MD Philip Zietsman, “We recognised the need for a service such as InterTel because South Africa is a linguistic melting pot. Not only does it have 11 official languages of its own, but it has to cater for an ever-growing refugee population from countries throughout Africa.

“Whilst InterTel has the potential to be utilised in many interpreting applications, such as at police stations, courts and refugee centres as well as in the private sector, we decided that hospitals and clinics represented the most critically important area. Thus, InterTel in its current phase is geared towards medical interpreting.”

Folio recruited interpreters in over 30 different languages, mostly African languages, but also several important Asian and European languages. They were initially required to undergo training in telephonic medical interpreting through MITIO – Medical Interpreting and Translating Institute Online. Ongoing training opportunities are provided.

The MITIO course was adapted to meet South African requirements, which are typical of much of the third world. Students of the beginner’s course were introduced to the terminology and circumstances surrounding AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and malnutrition, in addition to the normal curriculum.

Educational measures were not only aimed at interpreters, but medical personnel and patients as well. Marli Viljoen, Folio’s project manager in charge of InterTel, liaised with health authorities, superintendents of participating institutions and nurses and doctors in order to launch the service initially.

She said, “Hospital staff took a little while to get used to the system, but we had very positive feedback from the start. It is touching to hear the joy in the patient’s voice when they are addressed in their own language by the interpreter. We also find that the patient provides much more information when they are speaking in their mother tongue.”

The system is extremely flexible, as the up-to-date call-centre software allows up to fifteen simultaneous conversations. When end-users call in, they simply select the mother-tongue language of the patient by keying in a code and the interpreter for that language comes on the line within 30 seconds. All calls are recorded, mainly to facilitate quality control but also for training purposes and to enable accurate record keeping for clients. The interpreter uses his or her own cellphone and does not have to be physically present at a call centre.

Currently Folio is embarking on a marketing and education drive aimed at the patients themselves, in order to empower them at a time when accurate communication about their health and well-being can make a tremendous difference in their lives. It is important for them to know that InterTel is easy to use at no cost to themselves and is instantly accessible.

Says Viljoen, “We are in the process of refining InterTel to make it more patient-centred. Patients will be issued with medical ID cards, containing their name, home language and InterTel language code. This will be presented to the receptionist, nurse or doctor who can see immediately what language they speak, and how to get an interpreter on the line. Thus, the decision to use InterTel can be made by the patients themselves. This will enable them to communicate about their own health in a way that eliminates misunderstandings.”

Folio’s InterTel service has enormous potential to be of benefit not only to patients, but also to tourists and traders. Import/export drives need no longer be derailed by language problems. Negotiations can be facilitated by telephonic interpreters if the parties to a contract prefer to conduct business in their own language, rather than struggle to express themselves in a so-called lingua franca.

In this way InterTel could be used extensively by the private sector, adapted for the hospitality industry and in due course, enhance communication at police stations, courts and refugee centres. Other uses would include facilitating communication for travellers in foreign countries (both tourists and business visitors). It would be of enormous benefit when dealing with medical aid and travel insurance companies, in emergency situations and when changes have to be made to travel plans, etc.

Zietsman adds, “The InterTel experience could be projected into Africa as a whole. We have had a challenging learning curve establishing it in South Africa and in so doing, we are laying the groundwork for taking the system Africa-wide.”

Contact Info

E-mail: [email protected]

Tel: 021 426 2727

Address: Unit 2
10 Pepper Street
Cape Town 8001
South Africa

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