This is the final draft of a handbook article to appear as: Braun, S. (2015). Remote Interpreting.
In H. Mikkelson & R. Jourdenais (Eds.) (2015). Routledge Handbook of Interpreting. London/New
The development of communication technologies such as telephony, videoconferencing and
web-conferencing in interpreter-mediated communication has led to alternative ways of
delivering interpreting services. Several uses of these technologies can be distinguished in
connection with interpreting. ‘Remote interpreting’ in the narrow sense often refers to their use
to gain access to an interpreter in another location, but similar methods of interpreting are
required for interpreting in virtual meetings in which the primary participants themselves are
distributed across different sites. In spite of their different underlying motivations, these
methods of interpreting all share elements of remote working from the interpreter’s point of
view and will therefore be subsumed here under one heading. Although the practice of remote
interpreting (in all its forms) is controversial among interpreters, the last two decades have
seen an increase in this practice in all fields of interpreting. As such, it has also caught the
attention of scholars, who have begun to investigate remote interpreting, for example, with a
view to the quality of the interpreter’s performance and a range of psychological and
physiological factors. This chapter will begin by explaining the key terms and concepts
associated with remote interpreting and then give an overview of the historical development
and current trends of remote interpreting in supra-national institutions, legal, healthcare and
other settings, referring to current and emerging practice and to insights from research. This
will be followed by the presentations of recommendations for practice and an outlook at future
directions of this practice and for research.
1 Introduction and definition of key terms
The evolution of communication technologies has created ample opportunities for distance
communication in real time and has led to alternative ways for delivering interpreting services. On
the one hand, mobile and internet telephony have made telephone communication more flexible,
enabling conference calls with participants in two or more locations. On the other hand,
videoconferencing has slowly established itself as a tool for verbal and visual interaction in real time,
also between two or more sites.
Two main uses of telephone and videoconference communication can be distinguished in
connection with interpreting. One of these, remote interpreting (RI), refers to the use of
communication technologies to gain access to an interpreter in another room, building, town, city or
country. In this setting, a telephone line or videoconference link is used to connect the interpreter to
the primary participants, who are together at one site. Remote interpreting by telephone is
nowadays often called telephone interpreting or over-the-phone interpreting. Remote interpreting
by videoconference is often simply called remote interpreting when it refers to spoken-language
interpreting. In sign-language interpreting, the term video remote interpreting has established itself.
Remote interpreting is best described as a method of delivering interpreting. It has been used for
simultaneous, consecutive and dialogue interpreting.
A similar method is required for interpreting in a telephone call or videoconference between parties
at different sites who do not share the same language, i.e. for interpreter-mediated telephone or
videoconference communication, but in this setting, the interpreter is either co-located with one of
the parties or at a separate site. The latter configuration leads to a three-way telephone or
videoconference connection. The method of interpreting required in this setting can be termed
teleconference interpreting to cover both telephone and videoconference communication.
However, the terms telephone interpreting and videoconference interpreting may also be used here.
In relation to sign-language interpreting, the term video relay service is used for this method.
Given the above definitions, the term telephone interpreting emerges as a cover term for remote
interpreting via telephone and working in interpreter-mediated telephone calls. However, in this
chapter, telephone-based interpreting will be used as a cover term to avoid ambiguity. With regard
to videoconferencing and interpreting, the cover for term for remote interpreting via
videoconference and interpreter-mediated videoconferencing will be videoconference-based
To return to the difference between remote and teleconference interpreting, it should be noted that
these methods or modalities have different underlying motivations, i.e. the use of communication
technology to link an interpreter with the primary participants vs. its use to link primary participants
at different sites, and that they are not interchangeable. However, both methods overlap to a
certain extent, for example in three-way telephone or videoconferences, which can be seen as a
combination of remote and teleconference interpreting. Moreover, both share elements of remote
working from the interpreter’s point of view. Both methods will therefore be discussed in this
Although Paneth noted in 1957—in what is probably the first reference to remote interpreting—that
this was “a very neat and obvious use of interpreters” which “might easily be developed further”
(Paneth 1957/2002: 39), the actual development of remote and teleconference interpreting has
sparked heated debate among practitioners and interpreting scholars and has raised questions of
feasibility and working conditions; but the debate has also been linked to the efficiency of service
provision and the sustainability of the interpreting profession. Whilst uptake in traditional
conference interpreting has been relatively slow, there is a growing demand for remote and
teleconference interpreting in legal, healthcare, business and educational settings, and both
methods are used to deliver spoken and sign-language interpreting alike.
2 Historical perspectives/developments
The Australian immigration service is commonly credited with establishing the first service for
telephone-based interpreting, the Telephone Interpreting Service (TIS), in 1973. In the US and in
most Western European countries, such services have been offered since the 1980s and 1990s
respectively (Mikkelson 2003). Today, telephone-based interpreting is the business of large and
mostly private operators who act as agencies between clients and interpreters, but some large
hospitals have their own in-house telephone interpreter provision (Angelelli 2004). Telephone-based
interpreting is mostly carried out in consecutive mode (see Chapter 6 on consecutive interpreting).
Although some telephone interpreting services are now being replaced by videoconference-based
interpreting services, telephone-based interpreting is still a growing market which was worth an
estimated US$994.18 million worldwide in 2011, compared to US$700 million in 2007, and was
expected to grow further by more than 15% per year from 2011 to 2013 (Commonsense Advisory
2011). This is particularly interesting in view of Ozolins’ (2011) observation that telephone
interpreting services still rely nearly exclusively on the use of landline phones rather than mobile or
internet-based connections due to concerns about line quality and confidentiality. Thus, whilst the
‘telephony revolution’ has fundamentally changed global business communication, leading to a
possible increase in the demand for interpreter-mediated telephone conferences, it does not seem
to be the driver of the expansion of remote interpreting by telephone. Ozolins believes that it is the
fall in call rates, including long-distance rates, following deregulation that has fostered the expansion
of telephone-based interpreting.
Another important factor is demand. Based on an analysis of over 1000 instances of telephone-
based interpreting, Rosenberg (2007) showed that at the time of his study, the demand for remote
interpreting by telephone mainly arose from migration and associated language policies, and that it
was most widely used in healthcare settings while interpreting in three-way telephone conversations
was more common in the business world. Rosenberg described interpreting in telephone
conversations as less problematic than remote interpreting by telephone, as a three-way telephone
connection puts the primary participants and the interpreter “on equal footing”. However, detailed
analyses comparing interpreter-mediated telephone conversations with non-interpreted telephone
conversations (Oviatt & Cohen 1992) and face-to-face communication (Wadensjö 1999) identified a
number of interactional problems and showed that the interpreters spent considerable effort
coordinating the conversation. Rosenberg, in turn, believes that the difficulties of telephone-based
interpreting arise more from situational factors and the lack of a shared frame of reference than
from inherent difficulties of telephone communication (2007: 75).
Whilst these studies refer to consecutive interpreting, Hornberger et al. (1996) conducted an
experimental study comparing remote interpreting via telephone connection using the simultaneous
mode (see Chapter 5 on simultaneous interpreting) with consecutive on-site interpreting in doctor-
patient conversations and found the remote simultaneous delivery to be more complete and more
accurate than the onsite consecutive delivery. The interpreters participating in the study preferred
consecutive on-site interpreting but thought that the remote simultaneous delivery would be
beneficial for doctors and patients. The doctors and patients preferred the remote option.
Ko (2006) and Lee (2007) draw attention to the working conditions of telephone interpreters arguing
that the generally high levels of dissatisfaction associated with telephone interpreting partly stem
from the working conditions including low remuneration rather than from the use of the technology
as such. Lee also highlights advantages that the respondents in her study reported, especially the
anonymity of telephone interpreting. Ko reports that experienced telephone interpreters exhibit
more positive views.
With the spread of telephone interpreting, the method has seen improvements in the technology
used. Whilst Rosenberg (2007) denounced the inappropriate practice of passing the handset
between clients such as a doctor and a patient, to listen to the remotely located interpreter, service
users now increasingly make use of speakerphones or dual headset phones.
Kelly (2008) provides a comprehensive overview of the practicalities of telephone interpreting. She
cites a number of advantages especially for interpreters who feel disadvantaged by face-to-face
interpreting due to race or disability, and advocates specific protocols and training for telephone
interpreting. Overall, Kelly paints a positive picture of telephone interpreting. However, as Ozolins
(2011) notes, her description mostly refers to the US, where the size of the market and “the
particular situation of having Spanish as a majority minority language” (43) has led to a level of
sophistication in terms of technology use and logistics that is unlikely to be found in many other
The development of telephone-based interpreting is closely associated with access to public services
and is especially wide-spread in healthcare interpreting (see also section 3.3) (see also Chapter 15).
By contrast, the development of videoconference-based interpreting was originally driven by the
interest of supra-national institutions such as the United Nations and the European Union in this
method of delivering interpreting services. The earliest documented experiment was organised by
the UNESCO in 1976 to test the use of the Symphonie satellite. The experiment linked the UNESCO
headquarters in Paris with a conference centre in Nairobi and involved three different methods:
remote interpreting by telephone, remote interpreting by video link and interpreting in a
videoconference between Paris and Nairobi, with the interpreters being situated in Paris (UNESCO
1976). Similar experiments were organised by the UN later in the 1970s and 1980s (Luccarelli 2011,
Mouzourakis 1996). Although reports about these early tests do not always make a clear distinction
between remote and teleconference reporting, they indicate that remote interpreting was perceived
to be challenging or unacceptable, whilst interpreting in a videoconference link seemed more
It was, however, remote interpreting that the supra-national institutions were most interested in.
When videoconferencing over the Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), i.e. digital telephone
lines, became available in the 1990s, a series of studies into the feasibility of remote interpreting
was organised by various institutions, including the European Telecommunications Standard
Institute (ETSI) in 1993 (Böcker & Anderson 1993), the European Commission in 1995, 1997 and
2000, the United Nations in 1999 and 2001, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in
collaboration with the École de traduction et d’interprétation (ETI) in 1999 (Moser-Mercer 2003),
the European Council in 2001, and the European Parliament in 2001 and 2004.
As reported by Mouzourakis (2006), the studies used a variety of technical conditions. For example,
the ETSI and ITU/ETI studies and the first European Commission study used ISDN connections based
on H.320, the encoding and transmission standard developed by the ITU for ISDN-based
videoconferencing. However, this was found to be unacceptable for simultaneous interpreting,
because the sound quality fell short of the ISO 2063 standard for simultaneous interpreting booths.
The UN experiments used ISDN connections with non-standard encoding to achieve a better audio
signal, and the more recent tests in the European institutions were based on coaxial or fibre optics
cable connections to avoid a loss of sound and also image quality. The equipment used also varied
widely. According to Mouzourakis the studies revealed a range of physiological and psychological
problems which recurred in different technical conditions, so that it would be “difficult to attribute
[these problems] solely to a particular technical setup or even to the working conditions provided by
a particular organisation” (2006:52). Mouzourakis suggests that the problems are, in the first
instance, caused by the overarching condition of remoteness.
The idea of remote interpreting was also met with considerable resistance by professional
conference interpreters, most visible in the discourse of the International Association of Conference
Interpreters (AIIC). In its ‘Code for the use of new technologies in conference interpretation’,
published in 2000, the association warned that “the temptation to divert certain technologies from
their primary purpose e.g. by putting interpreters in front of monitors or screens to interpret at a
distance a meeting attended by participants assembled in one place (i.e. tele-interpreting), is
unacceptable” (2000). The updated version of 2012 is unchanged in this respect.
The insight that remote interpreting is challenging regardless of technological improvements was a
blow to the institutions which saw remote interpreting as a means of improving interpreter
availability, saving interpreter travel time and costs, and from the 1990s onwards, increasingly as a
way of meeting the linguistic and logistical challenges entailed by the expansion of the European
Union, including the shortage of interpreting booths in meetings rooms (Mouzourakis 2003).
The motivation for the use of videoconference-based interpreting in legal and healthcare settings
shares many of these reasons, especially the shortage of qualified interpreters for many of the
languages that are required in these settings and the short notice at which many interpreting
assignments need to be scheduled. Moreover, the short duration of many legal and healthcare
assignments make the interpreter’s travel and physical presence particularly uneconomical. A survey
among 200 legal interpreters conducted by Braun & Taylor (2012a) shows a wide variety of attitudes
towards videoconference-based interpreting. Although many interpreters perceive the introduction
of videoconferencing and interpreting as a cost-cutting exercise, some also have positive views,
especially regarding the potential of videoconference technology to improve access to interpreting
services and fairness of justice. Moreover, the survey reveals links between the interpreters’
attitudes towards videoconferencing and the situation in the country in which they work, in terms of
the quality of the equipment and the general working conditions. This is similar to the observations
made by Ko (2006) and Lee (2007) in relation to telephone-based interpreting.
In the more recent past, encouraged by the European efforts to promote the use of
videoconferencing in legal proceedings, many European countries have implemented
videoconferencing facilities in courtrooms based on the ITU’s more recent H.323 standard for
videoconferences using the internet, which provides better video and audio quality than ISDN-based
systems. Together with high-end peripheral equipment such as cameras and microphones, these
systems can provide better support for videoconference-based interpreting than older systems. At
the same time, the availability of web- or cloud-based videoconference services providing varying
and unstable sound and image quality, and access to them on tablets and other mobile devices,
especially in healthcare settings, raises new questions about the feasibility of remote interpreting
using such systems.
3 Current situation, trends and issues
This section delves more deeply into current practice and research findings in different settings.
Section 3.1 specifically addresses the situation in supra-national institutions, focussing on
simultaneous conference interpreting in multilingual settings. In accordance with current practice
and research in relation to this setting, this section refers mainly to remote interpreting by video
link. Section 3.2 outlines the situation with regard to legal interpreting, showing the reasons for the
variety of configurations in this field, i.e. the use of both remote and teleconference interpreting,
mostly by video link. Section 3.3 then turns to the field of healthcare, where remote interpreting by
telephone is the most common method of technology-supported delivery. Section 3.4 gives a brief
overview of other settings.
3.1 Supra-national institutions
As was pointed out above, supra-national institutions have experimented with remote interpreting
via video link for some time now, and a number of studies were launched to explore the conditions
of interpreting in this setting. Whilst early studies focused on technical factors, two experimental
studies addressed the quality of interpreting and a range of physiological and psychological
variables. The ITU/ETI study (Moser-Mercer 2003) included six conference interpreters working from
English and Spanish into French, whose performance was sampled over several days of traditional
and remote interpreting. The study conducted by the European Parliament in 2004 (reported in
Roziner & Shlesinger 2010) included 36 interpreters working in several language combinations
whose performance in traditional and remote interpreting was sampled over a period of two weeks.
As well as investigating the interpreters’ performance, the two studies also surveyed the
interpreters’ emotional responses to remote interpreting, and measured stress indicators and
aspects of the working environment.
The performance analysis of the ITU/ETI study revealed, as one of the major differences between
on-site and remote interpreting, that the interpreters’ performance in remote interpreting declined
faster than their on-site performance, and this was explained by an earlier onset of fatigue in remote
interpreting (Moser-Mercer 2003). In the European Parliament study, the comparison of the
interpreters’ performance in the two conditions resulted in slightly lower rates for remote
interpreting but the difference failed to reach statistical significance, and Roziner & Shlesinger
believe that the differences “may be regarded as rather minor in practical terms” (2010: 241).
With regard to stress, the interpreters participating in the ITU/ETI found remote interpreting more
stressful, and their stress hormone values were higher in remote interpreting, although neither
difference reached statistical significance (Moser-Mercer 2003). The interpreters participating in the
European Parliament study perceived remote interpreting as being significantly more stressful than
on-site interpreting, but again no such differences were found in objective measures of stress in this
study (Roziner & Shlesinger 2010). In general, the most striking result of these studies seems to be
the discrepancy between objective findings and subjective perception. Roziner and Shlesinger
conclude for the European Parliament study that “*w+hereas the interpreters themselves were
significantly less satisfied with their own performance in RI, the objective judgments of a panel of
judges (two for each excerpt), based on 1,059 different judgments, point to almost no decline in
quality, with a possible acceleration in the rate of decline, compared with the rate in on-site
interpreting” (2010: 242).
A different, more technically-oriented approach was taken by the Interpreting Service of the
European Commission (SCIC) in 2010. The aim of a study conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for
the SCIC was to define the minimum quality of digital video and audio sources required to provide
on-site and remote simultaneous interpretation. A total of 36 conference interpreters underwent a
series of tests in which they rated, for example, different audio and video qualities, albeit without
performing any actual interpreting task. The so-called ‘human factors’, which were found to be
important in other studies (see above) were not included in this study. The findings resulted in a
comprehensive list of technological recommendations for video and audio transmission (see Causo
2012). Whether the use of the equipment recommended in this study will improve the interpreters’
subjective perception of RI during their interpreting task remains to be seen.
3.2 Legal settings
As outlined Court services and other legal institutions have turned to videoconferencing as a means
to make proceedings more efficient, to minimise security concerns arising from the transport of
detained persons and to support cross-border judicial co-operation. In many English-speaking
countries, videoconference facilities were implemented in courtrooms, prisons, detention centres
and police stations in the 1990s to create ‘virtual courts’, i.e. links between court rooms and prisons,
for example (for an overview see Braun & Taylor 2012b). This development has entailed a demand
for videoconference interpreting (as opposed to remote interpreting).
The 2000s saw a worldwide spread of videoconference technology in legal proceedings. In the
Netherlands, for example, videoconferencing has been used in pre-trial hearings since 2007, using
internet-based equipment (van den Hoogen & van Rotterdam 2012). All courtrooms with
videoconferencing facilities have the exact same equipment and layout to facilitate the work of all
involved. A similar approach is now taken by other jurisdictions. By contrast, in countries such as the
UK, where such equipment was implemented in the era of ISDN-videoconferencing, there are often
problems with videoconference interpreting. Fowler (2007) notes problems with the interpreters’
positioning in the courtroom and access to the microphone, as well as visibility of the video image.
She argues that these problems, together with the absence of a protocol, lead to frequent
disruptions, requests for repetition and misunderstanding.
A comprehensive feasibility study of videoconference interpreting in immigration proceedings was
conducted by Ellis (2004). In the examined setting, the immigration judge, the refugee protection
officer and the interpreter were together in the immigration office, whilst the refugee and his/her
lawyer were in another city. The findings are based on interviews with 14 immigration lawyers and
questionnaire responses from 25 immigration judges, 16 refugee protection officers and 17
interpreters. The lawyers were mostly sceptical about the suitability of video links, whilst the other
three groups were generally more positive. One of the major problems reported was that the
interpreter was not co-located with the refugee, leading to a weaker personal rapport between the
interpreter and the refugee, difficulties with the co-ordination of the communication and the sight
translation of documents presented by the refugee, and the impossibility of using whispered
interpreting. Judges felt that consecutive interpreting was disruptive, especially when they delivered
their final submissions. The hearings by video link also tended to be longer and were considered to
be more fatiguing than comparable face-to-face hearings. The interpreters were concerned that
body language and emotions were not transmitted efficiently and that this might undermine the
refugee’s credibility. The interpreters also felt that videoconference communication involved more
repetition and overlapping speech, which was difficult to resolve and impeded accurate
A study of immigration bail hearings by video link conducted by two British charities – Bail for
Immigration Detainees (BID) and the British Refugee Council – (BID 2008) came to similar
conclusions. Three applicants, who were separated from the interpreter and all other participants,
felt that they had difficulty following what happened in the courtroom and that only the questions
directed towards them and their answers were interpreted; they had problems seeing and hearing
the other exchanges in the courtroom.
The General Directors' Immigration Services Conference (GDISC), an informal network for European
collaboration on immigration issues, created an ‘Interpreters’ pool project’ in 2007, which was a
European-wide initiative to supply interpreters for asylum interviews by way of relay interpreting to
overcome problems with interpreter availability, especially for rare languages (GDISC 2007). (For a
discussion of relay interpreting, see Chapter 10 on conference interpreting.) The interpreter who
speaks the immigration case worker’s language was co-located with the case worker and the
applicant. The second interpreter, who speaks the language of the applicant, was located in another
country. The project ended in 2012, but it is an example of how the uses of videoconference
technology have evolved to go beyond the two basic distinctions between remote and
The most comprehensive study to date relating to videoconference-based interpreting in criminal
proceedings was conducted by the European AVIDICUS projects. AVIDICUS 1 (2008-11) assessed the
viability and quality of videoconference and remote interpreting in criminal proceedings (Braun &
Taylor 2012c). Based on the outcomes of a survey among 200 legal interpreters in Europe, designed
to identify the most pressing problems and the most likely settings for videoconference-based
interpreting, the project conducted a series of experimental studies to compare the interpreting
quality in traditional interpreting and in video links for some of the settings identified in the survey
(e.g. police interviews in the UK). The quantitative analysis of the data shows a significantly higher
number of interpreting problems and, like Moser-Mercer’s (2003) data, a faster decline of
interpreting performance over time in video links, suggesting greater difficulties for interpreters and
a faster onset of fatigue, and ultimately a higher cognitive load for the interpreters. This is
corroborated by qualitative analyses, which highlight lexical activation problems in the
videoconference setting (Braun 2013). They also reveal that many of the problems arising are
related. For example, overlapping speech was often followed by omissions. The findings suggest that
improvements in videoconference-based interpreting may be achieved through training (e.g. to
avoid overlapping speech, and the use of better equipment (e.g. equipment that provides ‘full
duplex’ sound to ensure that voices can be heard clearly even in situations of overlapping speech).
However, the data suggests that there are also deeper-rooted behavioural and communication
problems which may change the dynamic of legal communication and which warranted further
research (Braun & Taylor 2012c, Braun 2013). Based on these findings, the AVIDICUS 1 project
developed guidelines of good practice for videoconference-based interpreting in criminal
proceedings, and designed and piloted training modules for interpreters and legal practitioners.
Interestingly, Napier conducted a similar study for sign language interpreting around the same time
and came to very similar results, and presented similar recommendations (Napier 2012).
To follow up further on the potential impact of training and equipment and on the potentially
changing communicative dynamics in videoconference-based interpreting, the AVIDICUS 2 project
was designed to address two strands of research (Braun & Taylor 2014). The first strand replicated
the AVIDICUS 1 studies, involving the same interpreters but providing them with short-term training
in videoconference-based interpreting before they participated again. Moreover, better equipment
was used. The findings of this research create a complex picture, making it impossible to say without
reservation that training, familiarisation and the use of better equipment resulted in a clear
performance improvement. The second strand of research focused on the analysis of the
communicative dynamic in real-life court hearings that used videoconferencing and interpreting and
revealed differences in the dynamics of the communication between traditional and video-mediated
settings. Videoconference interpreting in court seems to entail a reduction in the quality of the
intersubjective relations between the participants and a greater fragmentation of the discourse.
AVIDICUS 3 (2014-16) is currently assessing the implementation of videoconferencing facilities in
legal institutions across Europe in terms of their fitness for the purposes of bilingual proceedings and
interpreter integration (see www.videoconference-interpreting.net).
Whilst the research conducted in AVIDICUS for the first time also included research into remote
interpreting in legal proceedings, the practice of remote interpreting in this field goes back, as
pointed out above, to the 1970s. At that time, remote interpreting by telephone was introduced in
Australia, followed by the US in the 1980s. The Telephone Interpreting Project of US courts started in
1989 but was never analysed systematically. Over time, remote interpreting over the phone has
gradually been replaced by video remote interpreting.
A well-known example of videoconference-based remote interpreting is in the 9th judicial circuit in
Florida, which introduced a central interpreter hub in 2007. The interpreter hub is in one of the
courthouses and serves all judicial locations that fall under the jurisdiction of the Ninth Judicial
Circuit from a single point. The interpreters’ workstations are configured to provide a combination of
remote consecutive and simultaneous interpreting (http://www.ninthcircuit.org/programs-
services/court-interpreter/centralized-interpreting/). The Metropolitan Police Service in London
introduced remote interpreting in August 2011, with interpreters working in consecutive mode from
centralised videoconferencing hubs linked to London police stations.
3.3 Healthcare settings
More homogeneous methods of interpreting are used in healthcare settings than in legal settings. It
is mainly remote interpreting that is required, and the interpretation is most frequently delivered by
telephone, although the advent of mobile videoconferencing devices is gradually changing this
(Locatis et al. 2011). As was pointed out in section 2, the demand for telephone-based interpreting
in healthcare has increased steadily since its introduction in the 1970s. A number of surveys on user
satisfaction have been conducted. However, empirical studies of interpreter performance, quality
and interaction are largely absent.
An exception is Hornberger et al.’s (1996) early study which compared remote simultaneous
interpreting with on-site consecutive interpreting. Hornberger and his colleagues found the former
to be more complete and accurate than the latter, although the use of two different modes of
interpreting may have made the comparison difficult. The findings from the survey-based studies of
remote interpreting in medical encounters using telephone and video link are also difficult to
compare because of a great variance in the conditions under which they were conducted. In a
review of these studies, Azarmina & Wallace conclude, perhaps somewhat optimistically, that “the
findings of the selected studies suggest that remote interpretation is at least as acceptable as
physically present interpretation to patients, doctors and (to a lesser extent) interpreters
themselves" (2005:144). In spite of the lack of any formal assessment of the interpreters’
performance in the studies referred to, the authors conclude that “*r+emote interpretation appears
to be associated with levels of accuracy at least as good as those found in physically present
interpretation” (ibid). They do, however, note that interpreters generally preferred face-to-face
interpreting and that they had a preference for video remote interpreting by to remote interpreting
by telephone. This is corroborated by more recent studies comparing the three methods of delivery.
Of the over 200 patients, 24 healthcare providers and 7 interpreters surveyed by Locatis et al.
(2010), the majority of both providers and interpreters showed the same preferences with regard to
the three methods. Patients found no difference between the 3 modes, but were only subjected to
one mode each. The 52 interpreters responding to a survey conducted by Price et al. (2012) in a
clinical setting found all three methods satisfactory for conveying information, but less satisfactory
for interpersonal aspects of communication. They favoured face-to-face interpreting and found that
video remote interpreting presented an improvement to remote interpreting by telephone.
A study on video remote interpreting currently being conducted by the Belgian Ministry of Health
takes account of the features of interpreted interaction and intercultural mediation, and makes
recommendations for behaviour in such video links. Based on initial results from the pilot, which was
conducted in four Belgian hospitals, the study highlights the importance of training, covering
equipment use as well as protocol (Verrept 2011).
3.4 Other settings
The use of remote and teleconference interpreting in business settings is not very well documented,
but some reports and the websites of interpreting service providers suggest that all methods of
technology-supported interpreting are used across different segments of the commercial
interpreting market. There may also be a greater variety of configurations than likely encountered in
legal settings. Solutions here tend to be more custom-made to cater to the specific requirements of
business clients, and they may combine the use of telephone and videoconferencing for
teleconferences with interpreters (Kurz 2002, Selhi 2004).
In the late 1990s, the ViKiS project in Germany investigated the possibility of integrating
simultaneous interpreting into a point-to-point videoconference between two clients. As with the
studies conducted in supra-national institutions, the project was developed on the back of the then
increasing use of ISDN-based videoconferencing, which had made videoconference communication
affordable for small and medium enterprises, allowing them to communicate globally. The project
designed a solution for integrating an interpreter into a point-to-point videoconference from a third
location. Using the ViKiS set-up. Braun (2004, 2007) analysed the adaptation of interpreters to this
(then) novel working condition. All participants in the study reported that the communication was
more fatiguing than face-to-face communication and that it was more difficult to establish a rapport
with the other participants. Due to the limitations of ISDN videoconferences, especially the low
sound quality, there were also a number of listening comprehension problems which, given the
other problems, were difficult to overcome. The one aspect to which interpreters were able to adapt
was the interaction. However, the interpreters felt that they were required to adopt the role of a
moderator, which posed a number of ethical problems, and led them to do more coordination than
in traditional bilateral interpreting assignments. Different stages of adaptation were identified. The
first stage was one of problem discovery and awareness raising, often leading to performance
reduction or the use of ad hoc problem solving strategies. With increasing experience, however, the
interpreter moved from problems-solving to avoidance and preventative strategies, based on their
understanding that the resolution of problems (e.g. turn-taking problems) is often difficult in the
videoconference situation (Braun 2004; Braun 2007).
4 Recommendations for Practice
AIIC (2000) has provided initial guidelines for the use of remote and teleconference interpreting in
the context of conference interpreting, although these have, in part, been superseded by practical
realities, for instance, the rejection of remote interpreting. Based on the studies conducted in supra-
national institutions, Causo (2012) outlines technical minimum standards for remote conference
interpreting by video link. Van den Hoogen & van Rotterdam (2012) describe minimum requirements
for the use of videoconferencing in legal proceedings. The AVIDICUS projects have developed
comprehensive guidelines for videoconference-based interpreting in legal proceedings (Braun &
Taylor 2012, 2014, www.videoconference-interpreting.net). Napier (2012) presents a set of
guidelines for the use of videoconference-based sign-language interpreting in legal proceedings.
Kelly (2008) and Rosenberg (2007) suggest protocols and have provided guidelines for telephone-
based interpreting. Moreover, some institutions have issued their own practical guidelines for
interpreters and staff working in teleconference or videoconference situations.
Given the variation in the use of remote and teleconference interpreting in terms of setting,
communication purpose, number and distribution participants, mode of interpreting and other
variables, it is difficult to make general recommendations for practice. However, it has become clear
that the viability of remote and teleconference interpreting depends on a range of factors, not only
on the technical quality of the equipment or the connection. The following points can be used as a
general guide for implementing and using teleconference and remote interpreting.
Institutions planning the implementation and use of remote and/or teleconference interpreting
facilities should, as a first step, specify whether these facilities are intended for occasional or regular
use, and whether they will be employed for a single purpose (e.g. a link between a courtroom and a
number of prisons in the vicinity) or whether multiple purposes are possible in the future (e.g. make
court-prison video links, as well as connecting an interpreter to a court room). All variables such as
number and distribution of participants, especially the possible locations of the interpreter, the main
communication needs and the mode of interpreting, should be considered carefully to determine
the requirements and the scale of investment. Interpreters should be involved in the planning
stages. An incremental introduction of new technology is recommended, i.e. any large-scale
purchase, implementation and roll-out of new equipment should be preceded by a pilot phase and
adjustments made to the original plans where necessary.
In relation to videoconference-based interpreting, the quality of the equipment and the connection
has received much attention. Although it has become clear that some of the main challenges of
videoconference-based interpreting occur regardless of the technology used (Moser-Mercer 2005,
Mouzourakis 2006, Braun & Taylor 2014), it is also understood that any form of remote or
teleconference interpreting should be supported by the best possible equipment and connection to
achieve an appropriate quality of service, including clear sound and image, lip synchronicity and
connection stability. AIIC (2000) states that the frequency bandwidth required for remote
(simultaneous) conference interpreting is at least 100-12.500 Hz. In the practice of videoconference-
based interpreting in legal and healthcare contexts and in telephone-based interpreting, other
conditions have been found to be satisfactory, but these methods mainly rely on consecutive
interpreting. Sound quality is an issue that is highlighted in almost all studies relating to remote and
teleconference interpreting. Full-duplex sound is required, allowing sound from both locations to be
transmitted at the same time without the sound ‘cutting out’.
Causo also highlights further conditions that may have an adverse effect on the sound quality and
comprehension of videoconference-based interpreting, emphasising that “videoconferences are
frequently linking standard offices unsuitable for this purpose, or have a poor set up, which means
sound reverberation [...], simple omni directional microphones integrated in the table, etc.”
(2012:229). Rosenberg (2007) and Kelly (2008) make similar points in relation to telephone-based
interpreting. They highlight the inappropriateness of using ordinary telephones and speakerphones
for remote interpreting. Ordinary telephones force recipients to pass the handset back and forth
between them, whilst speakerphones can elicit too much background noise. To resolve some of
these issues, Kelly recommends the use of dual-headset phones.
In videoconference-based interpreting, another question with regard to equipment relates to the
number of cameras and screens required. The answer will depend on the setting, i.e. for a small
group, it may be sufficient to have one camera and one screen per site to capture and display the
image of all participants. The involvement of a larger number of participants, however, requires
multiple cameras and multiple screens or a split screen showing the different participants. A
separate document camera may also be required so that text, diagrams and images are clearly
visible to the interpreter.
The distribution of cameras is also closely related to the visibility of the participants and the
interpreter. In remote conference interpreting, it is not normally necessary for the interpreter to be
seen by the delegates (an exception is the case of remotely located sign language interpreters) but in
healthcare, legal and business settings, reciprocity of visibility is recommended, i.e. all participants,
including the interpreter, see the other participants and are seen by all. The interpreter should also
able to see a small image of him/herself. This image is an important means of monitoring non-verbal
communication, allowing this interpreter, for example, to check whether important gestures such as
signalling a speaker to stop are visible on screen, although some interpreters report that they feel
disconcerted seeing themselves.
Similarly, there is little agreement over how much control the interpreter needs over the equipment.
This will again depend on the setting, but in videoconference-based interpreting, interpreters should
have a say in the choice of images they see; and in all settings of remote and teleconference
interpreting, interpreters should have their own microphone, which they should be able to mute.
They should also be able to adjust the volume of the remote speakers.
Such problems also point to wider issues regarding the working environment in remote and
teleconference interpreting. In connection with implementing videoconference equipment, it is also
necessary to consider the room layout, positioning and seating arrangements for the interpreter and
for the other parties. Van den Hoogen & van Rotterdam (2012) suggest, with reference to
courtrooms, that the use of a videoconference should not force the participants in the
communication to change their normal position. This may not be possible in all situations of
teleconference and remote interpreting, but when compromises have to be made, the situation of
the interpreter needs careful consideration. Kelly (2008) also highlights the importance of a quiet
and undisturbed working environment for the interpreter. She refers to problems that can arise in
call centres (or interpreter hubs) where interpreters may disturb each other, as well as problems
caused by background noise when interpreters work from home. Some telephone interpreting
providers therefore impose strict requirements on the workspace of interpreters who work from
home. Similarly, where necessary, the space in which the interpreters work should be ‘closed’
and/or soundproof where necessary to ensure confidentiality.
One issue for debate is the length of interpreter-mediated encounters that involve the use of
communication technology. Given that research shows a faster onset of fatigue in remote
interpreting (Braun 2013, Moser-Mercer 2003), an interpreter’s working turn in remote and
teleconference interpreting should be shorter than in traditional interpreting. The guidelines issued
by the Wisconsin court authorities, for example, recommend a maximum of 15 minutes
Teleconferences and videoconferences require thorough preparation, and any briefing that an
interpreter would normally receive should not be omitted because of the use of communication
technology. Similarly, institutions using teleconference or videoconference interpreting should
develop procedures for deciding whether or not these methods of interpreting are suitable for a
particular situation. Interpreters should be consulted where necessary. Furthermore, testing of the
connections between the locations is crucial, especially when the equipment is used only
Given the many challenges of remote and teleconference interpreting, interpreters and the users of
interpreting services should be trained to work with interpreters in situations of remote or
teleconference interpreting. The extent of the training required is not yet clear, but recent research
in a legal setting suggests that short-term training may not be able to solve all problems (Braun &
5 Future directions
To date there is no consensus about the quality of interpreting that can be achieved in remote and
teleconference interpreting compared to the quality of traditional interpreting in comparable
situations, and what exactly the relevant shaping forces are. The variation in settings, requirements
for quality and research methods means that the findings from different fields of interpreting are
difficult to compare. One of the most pressing questions for future research is to resolve apparent
discrepancies in current research findings (see section 3). Moser-Mercer (2005) and Mouzourakis
(2006) suggested that the condition of remoteness or the lack of ‘presence’ may be the most likely
common denominator for the problems with remote interpreting. The concept of ‘presence’ and its
effects are issues that will require a substantial amount of further research.
Furthermore, Moser-Mercer (2005) has raised questions about adaptation of interpreters to remote
interpreting, arguing that experienced interpreters may find it more difficult to adapt to the
conditions of remote interpreting because they rely on automated processes, whilst novice
interpreters, especially when they are subjected to new methods of interpreting during their
training, may have a greater potential for adaptation. Braun (2004, 2007) discusses adaptation and
its limits in three-way videoconferences. However, the interpreters who took part in experiments
with remote conference interpreting were able to maintain their performance, although not for as
long as in traditional interpreting (onset of fatigue). Roziner & Shlesinger (2010) argue the
maintenance of the performance quality over at least a certain period of time comes at a price, i.e.
that interpreters put more effort into the interpreting task and may suffer post-work exhaustion.
The issue of adaptation also requires further investigation.
A related consideration is how the physical separation and distribution of all participants and their
perception of the situation via telephone lines and/or video screens affects aspects such as the
processing of information, the communicative behaviour of the primary participants and the
communicative dynamic. Moser-Mercer (2005) outlines problems with multi-sensory integration in
videoconferences, which she believes prevent interpreters from processing the information and
building mental representations of the situation in the usual way. Licoppe & Verdier (2014) suggest
that distributed courtrooms change the dynamic of the communication and lead to fragmentation
of the communication. The sources and implications of this kind of fragmentation are not very well
understood yet and warrant further study.
In relation to these questions it will be necessary to investigate the possible short-term and long-
term effects of remote and teleconference interpreting on the interpreters, on the success of the
communicative event as a whole and on important societal issues such as the quality and fairness of
justice. Research needs to highlight the possible correlations between variables in order to show
how the likely increase in remote and teleconference interpreting, the further ‘industrialisation’ of
interpreters associated with this and the expectation that they are available ‘at the push of a button’
impacts on the interpreters’ working conditions, their status and remuneration. It will also be
necessary to highlight the potential links between this and interpreting quality.
Given the speed with which communication technologies develop and spread, the future is likely to
bring an increase and diversification of teleconference and remote interpreting. The latest
developments which are likely to be relevant for remote interpreting fall into two categories, i.e.
high-end solutions such as videoconferencing systems (HD and 3D ‘tele-presence’ or ‘immersive’
systems) and the merger of videoconferencing with 3D virtual reality technology to create
‘augmented reality’ communication solutions and low-end solutions such as web-based
videoconferencing services which were originally developed for the home market (e.g. Skype), and
video calls using mobile devices and apps. It will be important to investigate how the virtual spaces
that these technologies create are able to support the development of ‘presence’ and the dynamic
of the communication. Robust research methods are required to cover the potential impact of
emerging technologies on interpreting. (Also see Chapter 26 on technology.)
Legislative frameworks are likely to change and become more accommodating of remote work. One
recent example is the European Directive 2010/64/EU on the right to interpretation and translation
in criminal proceedings, which highlights the need for quality in legal translation and interpreting in
Europe and explicitly refers to the possibility of using communication technologies such as telephony
and videoconference to gain access to an interpreter. This is likely to lead to an increased demand
for remote interpreting in many European countries.
A crucial point for research and practice is collaboration. Assuming that technologies are here to
stay and that it would be a mistake to dismiss them cursorily, given their advantages, it will be
important that the main stakeholders, i.e. interpreter associations, interpreting service providers,
users of interpreting services, representatives of client groups (especially in public service
interpreting contexts) and researchers collaborate in the investigation and mitigation of the risks and
challenges of remote and teleconference interpreting and in designing, implementing and piloting
Given the insights into adaptability and its limitations, training of interpreters and those who use
their services is crucial (and the influence of training is another topic for research, see Braun &
Taylor 2014). European conference interpreter training courses, in collaboration with the
interpreting services of the European Commission and the European Parliament, have used
videoconferencing for simulations of interpreting for several years now (Virtual classes). Hlavac
(2013) points to the need to train and test future interpreters in their knowledge about remote
interpreting. The European project IVY (Interpreting in Virtual Reality) and its follow-up project
EVIVA (www.virtual-interpreting.net) evaluate different technological solutions, including
videoconferencing and 3D virtual worlds, for the simulation of interpreting practice to train
interpreters and their clients. Chen & Ko (2010), as well as the European QUALITAS project
(www.qualitas-project.eu), which develops certification procedures for legal interpreters, have
explored possibilities for remote testing of interpreters.
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7 Further Reading
Braun, S. (2013) Keep your distance? Remote interpreting in legal proceedings: A critical assessment
of a growing practice. Interpreting 15 (2), 200-228.
This article provides a qualitative and quantitative analysis of interpreting quality in on-site
and videoconference-based remote interpreting in the legal setting, drawing on police
interviews as a source of data and discussing the implications for practice and research.
Braun, S. & Taylor, J. (Eds) (2012) Videoconference and Remote Interpreting in Legal Proceedings.
This volume covers different configurations of videoconference-based interpreting in legal
proceedings. It gives an overview of current practice and research, and presents research
findings, suggestions for training and recommendations for best practice. It is of interest to
interpreters, educators, students and legal professionals.
Kelly, N., (2008) Telephone interpreting: A comprehensive guide to the profession. Clevedon:
This monograph provides an overview of the growing field of remote interpreting via
telephone covering healthcare, legal and other settings. The book offers information for
practicing and trainee interpreters, educators and users of telephone interpreting services.
Ozolins, U. (2011) Telephone interpreting: Understanding practice and identifying research needs.
Translation & Interpreting 3 (1), 33-47.
This article considers telephone-based interpreting in the context of changing technology.
Based on a review of previous studies into different configurations of telephone-based
interpreting, it identifies future research needs including research into practical issues such
as the set-up of, and the coordination of interaction in telephone interpreting.
Roziner, I. & Shlesinger, M. (2010) Much ado about something remote: Stress and performance in
remote interpreting. Interpreting 12 (2), 214–247.
This article discusses the aims, methods, conclusions and recommendations of the large-
scale study into videoconference-based remote interpreting conducted in the European
Parliament in 2005 and compares the findings this study to those of other studies into
remote conference interpreting.