ULG's Language Services Blog

5 Red Flags to Look Out for When Choosing an Interpretation Vendor

Language should never be a barrier to receiving information, support or services in legal, financial, medical, business, or non-profit settings. Every customer deserves gold-standard support in the language they prefer, and, in fact, the best outcomes depend on it. For multilingual, multicultural consumers and community members, an exceptional experience starts with the interpretation vendor you choose.  

Sourcing interpreting services for your organization involves understanding your industry-specific needs, the vendor’s reputation and technological capabilities, compliance factors, and more. As you narrow down your options to find the ideal fit for your organization, it’s important to know what you’re looking for, but it’s equally important to know what characteristics to avoid.  

In this article, we’ll discuss five common problems you should look out for when selecting an interpretation vendor.  

1. Interpreters who lack subject matter expertise

Interpretation services in specialized fields like medical, legal, government, and insurance require interpreters with subject matter expertise to protect both the organizations they assist and the consumers they serve. For example, interpreters in the legal or insurance industry must understand technical language specific to contractual terms and agreements. Failure to do so could place multilingual consumers in a situation where they misunderstand their options and make poor choices as a result.  

Medical interpreters must understand medical terminology in both languages so that they can accurately communicate questions, answers, and information about treatment in a high-stakes environment where mistakes can put patients in danger.  

Other industries are constantly evolving, such as in the technology space. Interpreters must have industry expertise related to new technologies, integrations, and thought leadership to provide consumers with quality customer service at every stage. 

The bottom line: if a provider is using interpreters without subject matter expertise, both your customers and your organization is at risk. Instead, be sure to ask potential providers about the level of training and experience their interpreters have in your industry.  

ULG has highly trained interpreters with industry knowledge and relevant experience in fields such as healthcare, government, education, insurance, entertainment, manufacturing, legal, and more. We prequalify all our resources to ensure they have the levels of expertise they need to work within a specific area of specialization.    

2. Interpretation vendors with inadequate cultural competence 

In addition to specific industry knowledge, you’ll also want to partner with a language service provider whose interpreters are culturally competent and aware, meaning they have a deep understanding of the values, beliefs, and preferences of the target culture. They are not just bilingual professionals, but bi-cultural as well.   

 This cultural knowledge is critical to providing accurate and complete linguistic interpretation and connecting with the person who is receiving the interpreted message.  

This is because language interpretation is about more than just changing words from one language into another. For example, 60 to 70% of human communication is nonverbal, and different cultures use different nonverbal cues. Beyond the words being spoken, interpreters must be tuned in to cultural specifics in terms of body language, facial expressions, hand gestures, and eye contact. Even the age or gender of the interpreters themselves can have cultural implications that interpreters should be aware of. For example, some female patients may prefer an interpreter of the same gender, especially when discussing sensitive healthcare matters.  

Be sure that your provider uses interpreters who understand not just the languages, but also the cultures involved.  

3.  Lack of technical equipment  

Some interpreters work in an in-office environment, while others may work remotely. No matter where they work, you’ll want to make sure that the language service provider you partner with provides them with the proper equipment to provide high-quality video and over-the-phone interpretation.  

Interpretation services require audio and recording equipment with dependable performance and clear sound. Microphones and headphones should undergo regular testing to make sure the audio quality is clear. Faulty or outdated equipment leads to a poor interpreting experience for everyone involved.  

Without the proper audio equipment, interpreters could mishear the source language. The same goes for customers in the target language.  

The type of call center technology the interpretation vendor uses also makes a significant difference in the experience your customer has with the service. For example, ULG uses a cloud-based call center software to reduce average connection time by 25% and make sure every call is crystal clear.  

Speaking of technology, new technologies are changing the interpretation industry at light speed. If your vendor isn’t future-focused, they (and you) could be left behind.   

Be sure to ask potential vendors about their current technology and how the tech they use benefits your organization and your customers.  

4. Inability to Scale  

As your organization grows, can your interpretation provider grow with you? There are two key elements to effectively scaling interpreting services:  

  • Having enough interpreters for each language and  
  • Having the technology to cope with surges in demand  

Procuring interpretation services starts with a needs assessment. Most organizations request interpretation based on the current linguistic demographics they serve.  

However, these demographics are constantly shifting, and language service providers must be able to adapt accordingly. A sudden influx of speakers of a particular language requires an equally swift response on the part of language partners.  

For example, over the past year the war in Ukraine has driven a sudden increase in refugees, particularly in Californian cities like Sacramento. A shortage of Russian and Ukrainian healthcare interpreters has made it difficult for these refugees to get the medical care they need.  

Providers of interpreting services need to have a well-developed network of interpreters who speak a variety of languages and who are able to meet in-person and remote interpreting needs.  

Before you select a provider, be sure to ask how they will handle sudden, short-term increases in call volume as well as growth over time.  Interpretation vendors should also have the technology in place to meet surges in demand for over-the-phone interpretation.  

ULG’s cloud-based contact center software provides increased visibility into calls as they come in. It also allows us to forecast call volume and quickly shift to meet sudden increases.  Our linguistic liaisons monitor dashboards to determine which languages are in highest demand at any given time. In response, they can direct more interpreters to those languages with the most need in real time.  

5. Failure to use professional, trained, certified linguists 

The final red flag to watch out for when sourcing an interpretation vendor is the failure to use professional, trained, certified linguists.  

Effective interpreting requires more than simply being bilingual. There’s an entire set of skills that go into interpreting.  

  • Interpreters need soft skills to help everyone involved in the conversation feel at ease. Accredited interpreters also receive training in ethics, so they can better handle sensitive situations. This protects you and your customers.   
  • Interpreters also have to be able to think on their feet. Sometimes, they need to relay the meaning or spirit of a conversation, rather than a literal translation. When it comes to interpretation services in the healthcare industry, for instance, it’s vital to make sure the patient understands the medical advice given. But that may not mean using a word-for-word translation.  
  • Interpreters also need a strong working knowledge of colloquial language including idioms, expressions, and slang. Multilingual customers may use informal language that the interpreter must be familiar with to interpret from the source language into the target language. 

It’s critical to make sure you have qualified interpreters. Many states have licensing and certification requirements for interpreters, and qualifications and testing can vary. However, many qualified interpreters are not certified. Relying on unqualified people can lead to misunderstandings and poor outcomes.  

Before you partner with an interpretation vendor, ask about their evaluation criteria for interpreters.  

Interpretation services tailored to your unique needs 

ULG offers interpretation in more than 200 languages to meet the needs of your consumers. Our industry-specific interpretation services cover a variety of industries including healthcare, manufacturing, government, and finance. We vet all our linguists thoroughly and we have the technology to scale our services as your organization grows.  

For language services tailored to your needs (and not a red flag in sight), connect with our experts today!  

Let’s discuss how we can help with your translation and interpretation needs. Contact us today. >>


Topics: Interpreting