Do’s and Don’ts of Telephone Interpreting

All remote interpreters should follow some key rules when it comes to telephone interpreting. ISL has come up with the following guide to assist those newly joining this industry.


1.         Introduction

Introduce yourself to the service provider and non-English speaker. It is important to establish trust amongst all parties involved, and for everyone to be aware who all the participants are during telephone interpreting.

2.         First person

Always interpret in a first person. This means you speak in terms of ‘I attended…’ or ‘I need help…’ rather than ‘he/she said that…’.

3.         Relax

Relax and speak at a natural speed and tone of your voice.

4.         Confidentiality

During the course of the assignment, the Interpreter learns confidential details of non-English speakers’ lives and business affairs. You should never use privileged information for personal gain.

5.         Professional Development

Interpreters should regularly take part in CPD and other professional development or continuing education activities.

6.         Competence and Misrepresentation

The Interpreter should only accept an assignment that falls within his/her sphere of competence. You should use the information provided by the LSP/agency to determine whether you are competent in the topic (you should also use this as a guide for preparing for the assignment).

7.         Conduct

The Interpreter should always be professional in his/her appearance and demeanour, remaining as unobtrusive as possible during interpretation. You must not have any music or distractions in the background – treat telephone interpreting with the same professionalism as Face to Face assignments.

8.         Smile

Despite the fact that the service professional or non-English speaker are unable to see you, your tone of your voice is very important. A smile projects into your voice. This will allow all parties to feel comfortable.

9.         Speak with clarity

Be clear and concise while interpreting. Use “plain English” when possible and avoid any use of complicated terminology.

10.       Headset

Use a headset attached to your phone so that you can use your hands to take notes.

11.       Phonetic alphabet

It would help if you learned the phonetic alphabet for spelling which is a standard for interpreters and advisors. Always double-check the spelling with the client to avoid mistakes or failing security procedures.


1.         The Interpreter is not a walking encyclopaedia. It is not always possible to prepare before the telephone interpreting assignment and review of subject-specific terminology. Don’t be shy to ask for an explanation of any related terminology you are not familiar with.

2.         The correct language

It is very important to interpret in a language you hold your qualification in. The non-English speaker must receive the correct language and/or dialect, so he/she receives the correct interpretation. You could be liable for any actions resulting from a miscommunication where you did not adhere to the rules and were not qualified to interpret in a particular language.

3.         The correct interpreting technique

Don’t interpret using a simultaneous technique. It is very important to ensure that multiple people do not speak over each other.

4.         No background noise

Eliminate background noise as best as possible. If using a computer, be careful not to type loudly whilst telephone interpreting as this can be distracting to the other callers and gives an unprofessional impression. No other people should be present with you in the room you are interpreting. TV or Radio must be switched off. If you are not using your mobile handset for interpreting, this must be on silent mode or switched off.

5.         Opinion

Don’t share your opinion; you are only the voice.

6.         Cultural differences

Don’t skip explaining cultural differences. Interpreters must possess enough understanding of the culture, cultural practices and beliefs of their working languages to be able to facilitate communication across cultural differences.

7.         Conflicts

Interpreters should divulge any real or potential conflicts of interest that might make it inappropriate to interpret in a given situation. This includes any existing personal or financial relationship with one of the parties.

Continuing professional developmentCPD is essential for every interpreter because it ensures you continue to be competent in your profession. Nowadays, all linguists should work towards obtaining regular CPD. International School of Linguists – ISL strive to create CPD that’s relevant, useful and informative. Please check the link below to find more information about our upcoming CPDs.