Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Mobile Interpreters

Wall Street Journal reports that interpreting companies are increasingly providing services over the mobile phone to language-stranded businessmen and tourists. These services aim to give you access to a 24-hour bilingual interpreter; you call the service on your mobile, explain your dilemma in English, then hand over the phone to whomever you need to speak with -- cab driver, waiter, police officer, doctor, or the object of your affection in a bar.

"Over-the-phone interpretation, mostly aimed at companies that conduct business in several languages, is expanding. The industry saw $700 million in sales in 2007, and is expected to grow to $1.2 billion by 2012, according to Common Sense Advisory, a research firm specializing in business globalization and the language-services industry."

That is the same Common Sense that common-cynically played with statistics of language services providers outlook in Q1 of 2009, but never-mind. We are starved for good news.

"Across the board we found the services fairly expensive. In Jakarta, we spent about $30 on dinner and the cab ride, but about $40 for 10 minutes or so of the interpretation service we used to order dinner and direct the taxi. The cheapest service we tested was chinaONEcall, at $1.48 per minute initially but cheaper as minutes are added."

Did you hear that? $40 per 10 minutes. How much is the interpreter paid? I wouldn't dare guess, having just blogged about the "lower your rates" advice from "Asia's Leading Translation Agency". But I assume that it is close to the cost of a peanut. And for the peanuts, the WSJ team got some interestingly peanutty results:

"We asked the interpreter to take us to the Moma Towers, but didn't get an immediate translation, so we assumed the interpreter didn't know the correct word in Mandarin. After a back and forth, we mentioned the Mandarin name and got on the road (...) We ate at a Middle Eastern restaurant in Beijing, but when we asked the interpreter to order humus, kebab and mint tea, the interpreter didn't recognize those foods even after we spelled out a few of the words. In the end, the interpreter asked us to tell him the numbers next to the food we wanted and he told the waiter. The company says interpreters want to complete the call as quickly as possible because customers are paying per minute, so decided that asking the customer the numbers was faster then researching a translation for the cuisine."

Bon apetit!

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