Five scenarios where face-to-face interpreting is your only option

Published on April 4th, 2017


Face-to-face interpreting has been replaced by phone and video interpreting in many cases over the years, but there are a number of situations where it remains irreplaceable. In some settings you can’t accept anything less than the human presence of an interpreter – or sometimes a whole team of them.

Here are five scenarios where face-to-face interpreting is your only option.


#1: When language impacts the law

One of the most common and important use cases for face-to-face interpreting is in the legal environment. This is especially true for the courtroom where misunderstanding witness testimonies, for example, could have a major impact on the outcome of a verdict.

Video technology plays a large role in court proceedings these days and video interpreting is also used in some cases. However, almost all courtroom interpreting is still conducted face-to-face – for example, interpreting court proceedings for defendants and their statements for the courtroom.


#2: When language impacts business results

The business world is more multilingual now than ever and with global deals flying around, the stakes are high for businesses on the international scene. Which means companies not only need to match the multilingual demands of modern business, but mistakes can cost some astronomical figures.

So accuracy is imperative for businesses when important deals or contracts are on the line. There’s also the question of professionalism in the boardroom where having the presence of an interpreter makes all the difference (patchy Skype calls never look good).

Of course, business results only start at the top and it’s the people powering a company – ie: the workforce – that hit your targets. An increasing number of these workforces are made up of non-native speakers now as well, which means you need to decide when to provide document translation, interpretation and other forms of translation for these workers.


#3: When you’ve got something important to say

It could be bad news from a doctor, health and safety instructions from an employer or anything else that can’t afford misunderstanding. In these situations, everybody needs to know where they stand and signals like body language, eye contact and facial expressions play a large role in this.

These are conversations where you don’t simply want to say your piece, you want to know your audience fully understands the situation and what their options are. So face-to-face interpreting is your only option in this case, allowing your interpreter to fully explain and get confirmation that your message has gotten across without any misunderstanding.


#4: When language impacts a person’s rights

This one touches back on legal settings but also incorporates employment, residency and anything else where people’s rights are implicated. Think of foreign speaking employees who need to understand their options – eg: changes to pension, redundancy options, formal investigations, etc. – or refugees who think their landlords are exploiting them.

The same goes for anyone silly/unfortunate enough to get arrested in a foreign country. In the EU, anyone arrested is entitled to free interpretation for police questioning, “essential” meetings with their lawyer and all court hearings.

In these cases, defendants need face-to-face interpreting to fully explain their situation and give them the opportunity to ask any questions they have.


#5: When the human touch is important

There are times when interpreting requires a human touch you simply can’t get without face-to-face interpretation. Imagine a child who needs to explain something difficult to a social worker, the police or an investigation team. This is an appropriate example with many child refugees seeking safety in the UK and other countries, before you consider the troubles experienced by children and young people already settled in Britain.

It’s not only young people who face these intimidating situations either. Victims of workplace discrimination, sexual assault and hate crimes are just a few examples of non-native English speakers who might need to tell their story, but find telling it adds to the trauma they’ve already experienced.


Phone and video interpreting have made it easier to provide multilingual conversations to every corner of the world, but there are still times when face-to-face interpreting is the only way to go. If you need any more advice on which kind of interpreting service is best for your needs, our team of experts is only a call away.

Posted on: April 4th, 2017