Video Mediated Interpreting (UK)

The above video is produced by SignVideo and demonstrates a variety of ways a remote video interpreter (VI) can be deployed to facilitate communication between those who do not share a common signed-spoken language. Using an Internet-enabled device (smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop computer) an interpreter can be reached (on demand or pre-planned), as long as the deaf/hard of hearing (HoH)  person has a robust and stable Internet signal. There are multiple video interpreting companies in the UK providing bespoke video-mediated interpreting services to organisations, businesses and individuals. To find out which UK-based organisations provide access to their services via a free video interpreting service go to UK Council on Deafness: Video Relay Directory.

Background: The concept of remote interpreting is not new. Since the seventies spoken language interpreters have been known to provide their service remotely via standard telephone networks. It was not until the advent of videophone telecommunication technology could the same concept be made available to the signed language community. This form of interpreting service is known as video-mediated interpreting. Researchers interested in video-mediated interpreting describe they way this technology impacts the delivery of interpreting services and the additional training and considerations required.

Signed-spoken language video-mediated interpreting was pioneered in Sweden (Porrero & Hellstrom, 1998). Today, signed-spoken language video-mediated interpreting is defined in two ways a) Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) as shown in figure 1 and b) Video Relay Services (VRS) as shown in figure 2.

What is the difference between VRI and VRS? Although at first glance the two video interpreting descriptions may look the same, there is a difference between VRI and VRS. VRI is defined as a situation where the two parties, e.g. a deaf/HoH person and a hearing person, in the same location, are enabled to communicate with each other by connecting to a VI via an Internet enabled device. The VI is not physically in the room, but appears on screen from a remote location (see figure 1). In a VRS call, each participant is located in a separate physical space. VRS enable deaf/HoH people and hearing people to interact with one another, essentially making the telephone networks accessible and available to deaf/HoH sign language users.

In both examples the VI listens and interprets through a headset with the English speaker and via a video camera and screen to interact with the British Sign Language (BSL) user.

Figure 1: Video Relay Interpreting model (source: Insign Project, 2014).


Figure 2: Video Relay Service model (source: Insign Project, 2014).


Does video-mediated interpreting work? Research has shown there are some common causes that can impact on the success and outcome of a video-mediated interpreter call. In brief these are:

  • If a hearing person is unfamiliar with how a VRS call is performed, e.g. no experience of communicating with a deaf/HoH person or an interpreter, they can struggle to conceptualise how a video interpreted call is conducted and as a result may not behave appropriately  during this call. The hearing person cannot see the interpreter or the deaf/HoH caller,
  • For a VRS call, the deaf/HoH and hearing person cannot see each other. The lack of direct access can result in overlapping dialogue and difficulties with turn taking. In these situations, the interpreter must become more present in order to perform their job successfully,
  • An interpreter stationed in a call centre will need to be prepared to handle a diverse range of calls dealing with a wide range of subjects, e.g. work related calls (a joiner, accountant, occupational therapist, professor of a university department), medical calls, banking related calls, council services, calls to family/friends, etc. These calls will vary in duration, and the deaf/HoH/hearing person will differ in their method of communication (e.g. regional accents, speech/signing styles, speech/signing clarity),
  • The on-demand nature of calls means that an interpreter may lack sufficient background information or preparation material to scaffold their ability to deal with the content and to efficiently interpret between the two languages,
  • Technical issues, such as audio or video signals, can disrupt the flow of discourse and increase the time it takes to communicate via a remote interpreter.

Video-mediated interpreting could be considered more efficient, especially for short interactions, one-on-one or small group meetings for any language, not just signed languages. An advantage of VRI/VRS is that, if a standard (face-to-face) interpreting service is unavailable, VRI/VRS can fill the gap. VRI/VRS are useful for last-minute requirements and emergencies because they can be invoked on demand. Wherever there are shortages in local qualified signed language interpreters, schools, businesses and other enterprises can benefit from VRI. The Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI) UK has produced a set of best practice guidelines for interpreters working in a remote video call centre.