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The Impact of COVID-19 on Interpreting

March 16th, 2020 by John Demessemaeker

As we self-quarantine, we have time to reflect on the impact of COVID-19 (better known as the Coronavirus) on aspects other than our personal lives. Many industries are suffering because of the Coronavirus outbreak, but it should come as no surprise that video conferencing companies are thriving. Zoom for example saw their stock go up by 50% over the past month. Remote work and video conferencing has become the norm. The interpreting industry, however, has been initially reluctant to move operations online. Will the severity and the duration of this outbreak revolutionize interpreting forever?

Reluctancy to Innovate

Some say that COVID-19 will fuel the next wave of innovation. Supply chains will merge into more resilient ecosystems, digital bureaucracies will become mainstream, and mental health support will be provided at scale, digitally. However, the interpreting industry has traditionally been slow to embrace technological advancements. Even though the technology is there to support remote interpreting, many face-to-face assignments are being cancelled. Clients, schedulers and interpreters are often not familiar with the technology, and they worry that remote interpreting will lower the quality of the interpretation service.

Need for Innovation

These concerns are nothing but valid. With face-to-face interpreting, there is no technological barrier. The service is completely personal, the interpreter can pick up subtle cues and it is impossible for technical difficulties to get in the way of an effective and successful interpretation session. Be that as it may, as long as external circumstances prevent interpreters from going on-site, the show must go on. Language access is now more important than ever as citizens with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) desperately need medical language services. So language providers need to adapt quickly, not only to provide much needed language access, but also to remain economically viable. 

Future Benefits

Initially, providing interpretation services via video conference will take some getting used to. Clients, schedulers and interpreters need to familiarize themselves with the technology, they need to make sure they are technologically equipped, and they will need to work out a way to make remote interpreting financially viable for all parties involved. The major upside is that once the interpreting service industry jumps through these hoops, whether it is by choice or by force, it will be far better equipped for remote interpreting assignments in the future, because, let’s face it, the industry was always moving in this direction anyway.

Interpreter Intelligence Can Help

Many of our customers have already been using our VRI feature as a replacement for face-to-face assignments. If you provide interpretation services and are looking for remote interpretation solutions, get in touch with our team to learn how we can set up Video Remote Interpreting for your business

Real-Time Translation: Here And Now Please

February 17th, 2020 by John Demessemaeker

There is an increasing need for real-time translation. In today’s increasingly globalized world, language barriers need to be broken down, here and now. Real-time translation is no longer a luxury, but a necessity, and technology is catching up. From virtual assistants to smart cameras, today’s technology is helping to interpret and translate the world around us in ways that are almost seamless and in real time. For high stakes medical, legal and political exchanges, we continue to rely on skilled human interpreters, for obvious reasons. However, for casual use, or for people simply trying to understand the world around them, tech is here to help.

Hey Google

Google is one of the large tech companies that is making great strides in the field of translation and interpreting. As Google Translate translates over 140 billion words a day, its service is only getting better. Also, recently, Google introduced Interpreter Mode, which is now available on all Android devices. Google’s Interpreter Mode can handle real-time translation on your phone across 44 languages. Just say ‘Hey Google, help me speak French’, and your Google Assistant will automatically enter Interpreter Mode. Google’s new Pixel Buds, set to be released in the spring, should allow you to do this completely hands-free.

Moreover, through Google Lens, Google’s image recognition technology, you can simply point your camera at foreign road signs or menus to decipher the content. It’s a less than perfect feature, but it can be extremely helpful in parts of the world where you’re unfamiliar with the local alphabet. Google also recently announced they plan to release a live-transcription feature, which will effectively turn your phone into a real-time translator for long-form speech. 

Online Content

According to Google’s AI Director of Product, Barak Turovsky, half of the internet’s content is in English, but only 20% of the global population have any English skills whatsoever. In other words, there is a huge need for automatic translation of everything that transpires on social media, primarily from English to Chinese. With 2.5 billion users, Facebook is the biggest social network. And since more than half of those users post in a language other than English, Facebook has found itself to be one of the frontrunners in employing artificial intelligence to translate content. Since Facebook also owns Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp, that means more than 6 billions translations a day.

However, relying on AI to translate content can be potentially dangerous. AI models need data, and lots of it. There is a lot more data between Spanish and English for example, than there is between Burmese and Icelandic. Sometimes, an intermediary language such as English may be used, rather than a direct pairing from one less common language to another. One example of AI screwing the pooch was Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s name turning up as a curse word when Facebook posts were translated from Burmese to English, because the president’s name was missing in Facebook’s Burmese language model. So even though machine translation might not be used to translate doctor’s orders just yet, AI translation models are improving exponentially, and they will be indispensable to translate the online content boom.

On-Demand Interpretation

The professional interpretation industry is not immune to the increasing demands of consumers. Face-to-face interpreting is becoming a thing of the past as customers increasingly request interpreters through video chat. It is faster, cheaper and often more convenient for the parties involved. In 2020, VRI and OPI (Video Remote Interpretation & Over the Phone Interpretation) are the key to growing your business. If you are a language service provider, contact Interpreter Intelligence to see how our platform’s video and phone interpretation features can help you instantly connect the right interpreter to your customer. 

Empowering The Deaf Through Tech

January 28th, 2020 by John Demessemaeker

As society becomes increasingly accessible for the hearing impaired, which we already briefly touched on in a previous blog post, tech is making great strides to help close the gap. Here are a few examples of recent technologies specifically designed to make the lives of the deaf easier.

Google Sign Language AI Turns Hand Gestures Into Speech

Google Sign Language AI Turns Hand Gestures Into SpeechGoogle has developed software to turn sign language into speech. Their prototypes allow the user to film the hand gestures, after which Google’s AI engine transforms those gestures into speech. However, the technology still finds itself in its infancy. “For now, there is only a limited number of gestures we can reliably detect. We are working hard to make the technology more reliable and more robust.


Haptic Gloves That Translate Sign Language

Haptic Gloves That Translate Sign LanguageIn a similar vein, one 25-year-old developer in Kenya has built a pair of haptic gloves that translate sign language to an Android application, which reads the text out loud. The idea is obviously similar, but the approach is completely different. Google’s solution does seem more promising though since it would be easier to scale once the software is optimized. 


App Transcribing School Lessons

App Transcribing School LessonsAs part of a competition run by AWS (Amazon Web Services), schoolchildren in England have developed the ‘Connect Hearo’ app, which transcribes school lessons for deaf people or people who have hearing loss. The app transcribes what the teacher says into his/her microphone. As prize winners, the children’s app will be developed by AWS and rolled out for use in schools.


Solar Hearing Aid Batteries

Solar Hearing Aid BatteriesMore than half of the 360 million people worldwide with hearing loss live in low- to- middle-income countries.  The cost of hearing aids and batteries has often been beyond the reach of the poor. Solar Ear is a solar-powered hearing aid battery that costs a fraction of what traditional batteries cost, and lasts for 2-3 years (rather than one week).  The company also offers complete hearing aids at greatly reduced prices.



Do you know of any deaf technologies we haven’t mentioned? What do you think is next in store? Let us know!

14 Essential Productivity Tools for Small Businesses

January 21st, 2020 by John Demessemaeker

1. CRM (Salesforce / Hubspot / Pipedrive)

If you have a business, you have customers. To manage your company’s interactions with those customers, you need software that allows you to improve business relationships with those customers, focusing on customer retention and ultimately, driving sales growth. The biggest Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool out there is Salesforce. It is the CRM tool par excellence and has the most integration options of any CRM tool. Hubspot, originally a marketing automation platform, now also has CRM. Hubspot is typically used by small to midsize companies whereas Salesforce tends to be used by bigger corporations. If you are a purely sales-focused organization, tools like Pipedrive might be better bang for your buck.

2. Scheduling (Google / Calendly / Doodle)

Instead of emailing back and forth, use a tool to conveniently schedule meetings and improve the overall productivity of your workplace. If your business operates through Google Suite, then simply using Google Calendar should do the trick. If not, tools like Calendly and Doodle are fairly popular, with Calendly regarded as arguably the more professional of the two. Bear in mind that consistency is key in scheduling. When you schedule meetings with your employees or with your customers, schedule it in the same way, with the same tool, or productivity will go down instead of up.

3. Video Conferencing (Google / Zoom / GoToMeeting)

Video conferencing is a popular way to have quick meetings with coworkers or clients, to share your screen to walk through problems or illustrate your product, and to organize webinars for large audiences. Again, if your business operates through Google Suite, you can use Google Hangouts to host  video conferences. However, if you are hosting a webinar for more than 10 participants, Zoom or GoToMeeting might be the recommended options since Google Hangout is not as equipped to support many participants. Zoom and GoToMeeting do require a quick install on your computer, and they offer different payment plans for SMBs.

4. Invoicing (Quickbooks / Freshbooks)

Any business has to keep the books. Companies like Quickbooks and Freshbooks offer software that allows you to easily accept business payments, manage and pay bills, and generate the reports you need to run your business. By automating certain elements of the payroll process, you can save time on bookkeeping and paperwork, and you will get paid faster. Quickbooks can also be modified to fit the unique needs of your business and it can integrate easily with Microsoft Office and ACT.

5. Email Marketing (MailChimp / SendGrid)

Contrary to popular belief, email marketing is not dead. With tools like MailChimp, you can send mass emails, manage email lists and subscribers, setup autoresponders, create email templates, target subscribers, and split test your campaigns. Most tools are free, depending on the amount of emails you send out each month.

6. SMS Marketing (Twilio)

Where there is email marketing, there is SMS marketing. Tools like Twilio allow software developers to integrate phone calls, text messages and IP voice communication into your web. You can finally rid your business of messy telecom hardware and streamline your telecommunications directly through the web. With Twilio, you can send out mass text messages to customers, prospects, or employees, often at a better deal than conventional telecom providers.

7. Password Management (LastPass)

How many different passwords do you have for different websites? With tools like LastPass, you can manage all these passwords in one place. On top of that, LastPass encrypts all your passwords using a security key (or master password) that only you know. In other words, you can have all your passwords in one convenient location, with an additional layer of security to make sure nobody gets access to your information.

8. File Sharing (Google / Microsoft / Dropbox)

Sharing files occurs on a daily business within any business. Instead of attaching offline files to emails, use cloud-based services to manage your files in one location, have them update in real-time, and control who has access to what. If you use Google Suite, you can use Google Drive to manage your files, but Microsoft’s OneDrive and Dropbox are also viable options. However, Google also offers Documents, Spreadsheets, and Presentations, which do not consume any storage space on your cloud.

9. Internal Communications (Slack / Teams)

To communicate with your team, rather than scrolling through mile-long email threads, it is recommended you use tools like Slack or Microsoft’s Teams. These tools can replace email, text messaging and instant messaging and keep all team communications limited to one single application. With both desktop and mobile versions, Slack can help your team coordinate and collaborate no matter where they are. Most tools also integrate easily with most Google and Microsoft products.

10. Task Management (Google Keep / Todoist / Evernote)

Ever find yourself drowning in work? Prioritize your to-do list with tools such as Google Keep, Todoist or Evernote. Manage anything from a shopping list to major work projects. Share your lists with others and blast through items more efficiently, and more effectively. Configure the setup of these tools as simple or as detailed as you like. Most tools also integrate easily with Gmail, Outlook and Postbox.

11. Graphic Design (Adobe / Canva)

To make images and designs for web and print, graphic design tools are indispensable. Adobe has a great range of products, from Photoshop to Premiere, that allow you create great content from scratch. However, Adobe’s products are pricey and require a bit of training. If you are looking for an easy-to-use and free tool, we recommend using Canva for quick designs. Canva also offers paid packages, but its free plan should offer plenty of functionality for your small business.

12. Project Management (Smartsheet / / JIRA)

To manage large projects, there are some great tools out there for you to use, depending on the type of business you have. Smartsheet offers a platform that allows you to collaborate, manage, and report on work in real time, automate workflows, and deploy new processes at scale. On, your teams can plan projects, assign tasks, track progress and collaborate easily. These are general project management tools. If your business is active in software development, you might be familiar with Atlassian’s JIRA. JIRA is primarily used to track issues and bugs related to your software and mobile apps. 

13. Time Tracking (Clockify)

A good time tracker can do more than just log your tasks – it becomes an extension of your work and makes the workflow that much easier. With Clockify, you get more than what you sign up for: it tracks time, lets you create schedules, time blocks, and timesheets. You’re able to mark hours as billable and non-billable for more accurate, client-friendly reports. The reports also give an overview of your workflow, detailed or summarized, to help boost your productivity. Both freelancers and teams can work on several projects at a time with Clockify, and managers get a great overview of the progress.

14. Social Media Management (Hootsuite / Buffer)

For your business to have a presence on social media, you need to regularly post content. This can require a lot of work, but there are tools like Hootsuite and Buffer that allow you to manage all social media in one place, and schedule content in advance. This way, you only need to allocate a certain amount of time to social media each month, but it will seem like you are posting content on a regular basis. Hootsuite and Buffer both have a free version, but also offer a paid plan with more functionality.

Interpreter Management Software

If you are a language service provider, you can have the first half of this list combined into one single platform. Interpreter Intelligence allows you to manage your interpreter and customer database, schedule assignments, set up video remote interpreting, integrate with Quickbooks, configure email and SMS communications with your interpreters and customers, and manage all user accounts in one single, secure and cloud-based platform. Have a look at our product features for more information or contact us to schedule a demonstration of our platform.

Are there any important productivity tools we forgot to mention? What productivity tools do you use to support your business? Let us know!

Dangerous Delays on War Interpreters’ Visas

January 14th, 2020 by John Demessemaeker

US troops in the Middle East often recruit local interpreters to support their military operations. These war interpreters have proven to be critical to the success of US military operations. They help establish a rapport with the local population and they help gather crucial intelligence. In doing so, the interpreters put themselves and their families in grave danger as they are often seen as traitors by their co-nationals. As the US military recedes, some interpreters are rewarded with US citizenship, but the visa application process can take months or even years, putting the lives of many interpreters at risk.

Last week, Afghan interpreter Ziaulhaq Ghafoori made headlines when he became a US citizen after serving as an interpreter on the front lines for 14 years. Ghafoori’s road to citizenship was long and hard, but he managed to get himself and his family to safety. “I decided to take my family and get out of there because our life was in danger in Afghanistan, especially for those allies that worked with the U.S. Army,” Ghafoori said. Ghafoori’s citizenship may be a success story, but there are still countless interpreters struggling to obtain their US visa.

Interpreters can apply for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) if they have served the US military for a minimum period of 24 months. Beyond that, the interpreters also have to be recommended by US service members and they have to pass extensive background checks. It already is a long and arduous process, but now, interpreters may have less time than ever. With the escalation of the Taliban’s threats, Trump is calling for a US withdrawal from Afghanistan. US troops suddenly withdrawing from the region may leave many interpreters to fend for themselves. 

Unfortunately, the long visa application process for interpreters in conflict zones is not an unknown issue. Back in 2014, in the HBO show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver already addressed the topic, but not much has changed since then. A few organizations advocate for the needs of foreign interpreters. No One Left Behind was founded in 2013 to help war interpreters with their move to the US and the Interpreting Freedom Foundation provides much needed support during the visa application process.

California’s AB5 Bill Taking Its Toll

January 8th, 2020 by John Demessemaeker

January 1st came and went, but interpreters and translators have still not been exempted from CA AB5, the bill that has reclassified all independent contractors in California as employees. Despite months of heavy protesting from the translation and interpretation community, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the sponsor of the bill, seems to be turning a blind eye to everyone’s concerns.

Interpreters Losing Jobs

Many California-based interpreters have been losing business, not only to LSPs (language service providers) in California, but to LSPs across the world, since most – if not all – interpreters are listed with multiple agencies at the same time. On Twitter, interpreters have shared several examples of agencies telling them they can no longer work with them. “Unfortunately, due to Assembly Bill 5, we’re unable to work with freelancers based in California. If you happen to move out of California, please let us know.” Basically, interpreters in California now have three options: close up shop, move to a different state, or engage in a costly restructuring of their business, essentially becoming an LSP themselves. Obviously, none of these options are ideal. AB5 may offer much needed protection in some cases, but for interpreters, it seems like the bill is doing the exact opposite.

LSPs Losing Business

For LSPs, it does not make financial sense to hire full-time interpreters for every language on the market, and because they can no longer work with California-based interpreters either, it means they can’t offer the same range of services they used to, causing them to lose important business. With the rise of remote interpreting, however, LSPs can hire interpreters outside of California to try to fill that gap. Ironically, this would hurt the people AB5 was designed to help: independent contractors in California. Regardless, the technology that supports remote interpreting exists to increase language access, and not as a back-up to correct political mistakes.

Reduced Language Access

Speaking of language access, AB5 going into effect does not bode well for California residents with Limited English Proficiency (LEP). The Trump administration is already planning to dial down language access (Trump vs. Language Access) and AB5 is only making matters worse. Since LSPs can’t offer the same range of services they used to, hospitals, courts and schools can’t offer their services in multiple languages anymore. Note that these government institutions are required by law to do so, so AB5 is only going to put an additional strain on language access in the US.

Get Involved

If you feel passionate about this issue, you can get involved by looking up your state lawmaker and their local district office (you can do that here), tell your story and how your profession serves the community, explain why AB5 threatens your livelihood, and ask your lawmakers what they will do to address this issue. If you need more guidance during this process, you can get in touch with The Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California (CoPTIC) at, or you can donate to their cause.