Finally, I am binge-watching the last season of the delightful period drama Downton Abbey. As I’ve watched each episode, I am amused with the myriad of “new disruptive innovations” featured in the early 1900s’ drama and the characters’ reactions to them.
There were no less than seven innovations from electricity, to the bicycle, the typewriter, a sewing machine, the telephone, and an automobile featured. Each and every time the new-fangled novelty was met with skepticism. Actually, they were more than skeptical, they were afraid. The innovations challenged their comfort-zone and forced the characters to do things differently or simply be left behind. As Mrs. Patmore, the downstairs cook, exclaimed when she first heard the ringing of the telephone, “Oh my Lord, listen to that! It’s like the cry of the banshee! I wouldn’t touch that thing with a ten foot pole!” Yet with each subsequent episode the disruptive innovation became a way of life. Why? Each new device made their lives easier, more productive and efficient, and more enjoyable. It not only helped make their personal lives easier, it assisted in meeting the demands of the Manor.
So what does Downton Abbey have to do with the Language Access industry? Well, the industry is experiencing its own surge of exciting, yet intimidating, innovation.
Historically, scholars translated books or documents into languages others could understand. For personal or local language gaps, family and friends translated letters and interpreted for those that didn’t speak or read the language. And then, the first disruptive innovation happened. Phone interpreting was introduced about 34 years ago by a police officer that wanted to better serve his entire community, including those that didn’t speak English. A critical communication need was solved. By simply picking up a phone and asking for an interpreter in one of many languages, language barriers were bridged on demand. It was met with skepticism and uncertainty. But, phone interpreting literally opened the door to a new solution that is an integral part of the $40B language services industry.
Several years ago, technical advances in telephony allowed for the innovative Video Remote Interpreting service to be introduced. The interpretation session included a virtual interpreter, a face-to-face experience, combining phone interpreting with the benefit of video. It was cumbersome and expensive, technically inconsistent with poor video quality. This created quite a bit of fear and some reluctance to touch it with “a ten foot pole.” But now, video remote interpreting is a multi-million dollar business. The market is driving this transformation. Those that want to bridge language barriers are already tech savvy and accustomed to using applications that deliver video, text, and chat on a variety of devices. It’s an easier, more efficient and productive, way to communicate.
Interpreting is readily available on mobile phones, tablets, and laptops. GoogleTranslate, machine translation, offers easy translation in non-critical situations. But accessing a live interpreter in more complex or critical situations is just a phone call, or video call, away. When traveling, an interpreter app, like Personal Interpreter, can be used to ensure correct language is exchanged to prevent misunderstandings and possible costly mistakes. High-quality Video interpreting on an iPad or tablet can be accessed anywhere with an internet connection. Hospitals, hotels, retail stores, government agencies, schools and anyone can facilitate visual communication to ensure accurate language transfer and that cultural mores are respected.
We’ve come a long way in just a few years, from family, to over the phone, to the mobile phone and tablet. Language access is now just a button tap away from a qualified linguist to bridge the communication gap between a limited English or Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing person and those that wish to serve them.
I can just hear The Dowager Countess of Grantham from the Abby saying “Imagine that. Actually having a conversation, in a language I don’t speak, with the help of someone who is not even in the room. Who would’ve thought such a thing could happen?” Is it a disruptive innovation or simply a “modern” invention that revolutionizes our ability to communicate?