As social distancing requirements remain in effect due to COVID-19, courts across the U.S. have switched to virtual hearings to uphold justice and protect participants. Judges, attorneys, and clients are logging on and dialing into virtual courtrooms every day. Yet parties who have limited English proficiency (LEP) or use American Sign Language (ASL) also need remote interpreters to ensure justice is served.   

Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) or Over the Phone Interpreting (OPI)?


When it comes to remote interpreting, you have two options: video remote and over the phone. So, which should you choose? The answer is: it depends.

VRI offers several advantages over OPI because it:

  • Allows you to verify the identity of the court interpreter and other parties involved.
  • Makes it easier to determine which participant is speaking.
  • Allows the interpreter to evaluate facial expressions and body language.
  • Allows an ASL interpreter to assist a deaf participant remotely.

However, VRI isn’t always the right option. Here are two scenarios where OPI is likely your best bet:

  • The participant who needs an interpreter doesn’t have a smartphone or computer to log into a video conference. If they call in with a traditional cell phone or landline, a well-trained interpreter will have no trouble assisting over the phone.
  • You’re located in a rural area and the internet connection doesn’t meet the bandwidth and speed requirements to conduct a video conference. Although a frozen screen or time lag may seem like just an annoyance, it can affect the interpreter’s ability to accurately translate between languages.

Once you decide which type of interpreting to use, you may need to determine how to provide parties with virtual spaces to communicate privately.


Addressing Privacy Issues in Virtual Hearings


As with hearings in the courtroom, virtual hearings require varying levels of privacy between parties. The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) suggests two ways of creating it in a virtual courtroom:

  • Set up a waiting room for participants who have logged in, but don’t need to join yet. This lets you to decide who enters and when. Let’s say a witness needs an interpreter. Both parties can log in and stay in the waiting room until called.
  • Set up a private chatroom for an attorney, their client, and the interpreter. This will allow the client and lawyer to step out of the virtual courtroom and have a private conversation.

If an attorney’s client is incarcerated, the judge should send a notice to the jail to request a confidential hearing. That means the client should be moved to a private area while participating.


The Future of Virtual Hearings


Although virtual hearings are new in many jurisdictions, participants have discovered they’re more efficient for certain types of cases. While courtrooms work out the details to provide a better experience, remote interpreters are well prepared to assist in a virtual setting.

For more information about court interpreting, contact Boostlingo today.

The work of a remote interpreter sometimes involves dealing with a variety of factors that can stress our minds and bodies –  from never knowing what to expect on the other end of the line, to having to remain seated for long periods of time. And now, more than ever, it’s important for us to practice self-care so that we can make sure we are helping ourselves as well as helping others through our work. Read on for some easy and practical ideas! 


  • Organize Your Space 

If you’re working with video, you’re already taking care to maintain a professional appearance and to have a neutral background. How about the space in front of you? In addition to all of your necessities such as a computer, headset, and pen and paper, are there some things around you that make you happy? It might be a potted plant, an essential oil diffuser, a picture drawn by your child, or a photo of your dog – there’s room for whatever makes you smile! And, don’t forget to keep a bottle of water within easy reach to keep you hydrated. 


  • Stay Connected

Social distancing rules coupled with the solitary nature of remote interpreters’ work can make you feel isolated. So reach out! Get connected through Skype, Facebook Messenger, Zoom, Whatsapp, Telegram, or Facetime! Have a cup of tea (or a glass of wine) with your friends. Read a bed-time story to your niece or nephew. Teach your grandparents how to make video calls. Arrange to have a workout session with some friends and take turns selecting exercise videos. Start a group chat with fellow interpreters. You might be in quarantine, but you’re not alone! 


  • Take a Break 

You might find that you need a break after a particularly intense session. Or perhaps you’ve been sitting down for a while and now have a crick in your neck. Get up and look out of the window. Do a short meditation. Do some stretches. In fact, you don’t even have to get up to do this cool deskercise routine.

  • Stay Informed (within reason)

Consider limiting your time reading the news and stories related to the COVID-19 pandemic. While it’s important to stay informed on measures people should take to limit the spread of the virus, reading every article you see can contribute to the increased stress and anxiety many of us are experiencing in these difficult times. 


  • Acknowledge Difficulties 

Whether you’re struggling to process a difficult interpreting encounter or face anxiety over financial issues, it’s ok not to be ok. Whether you need to  debrief or simply to vent, find a person to talk to and let it all out (just make sure to protect the confidentiality of all parties involved and never to disclose PPI (personal protected information) when you’re debriefing. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, reach out to a professional. Services like TalkSpace  allow you to connect to therapists without leaving the comfort of your home, which is especially relevant now. Another useful resource is this podcast on interpreting through stress and anxiety for language professionals working through COVID-19. 


As a remote interpreter, you are doing the vital job of helping people communicate, often during critical situations in their lives. However, there is somebody else who needs your help – you. Help yourself by practicing self-care and being kind to yourself. Stay safe and stay well! 

Many patients who are deaf or hearing-impaired rely on American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters to communicate with healthcare providers. Bringing someone onsite is usually ideal, but not always possible. A local ASL interpreter may not be available. Or in some circumstances, such as the Coronavirus outbreak, you could be endangering the health of the patient or the interpreter.


Telehealth and ASL Interpreting


Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) is a telehealth platform that connects patients, healthcare providers, and interpreters. Patients can use it to book virtual appointments for minor ailments, and healthcare providers can use it onsite when a local interpreter isn’t available.

While VRI offers deaf patients a great alternative to in-office appointments, it’s often fraught with technical and communication issues

when used onsite. Some patients have even reported that it negatively impacted their care, according to the National Association of the Deaf.

So, in order to ensure a deaf patient has a positive experience with VRI, you’ll need to follow some guidelines.


Best Practices for Video Remote Interpreting for ASL


Here’s a brief overview of some (though not all) of the best practices the National Association of the Deaf recommends.


  • Connect to a dedicated high-speed, wide-bandwidth internet connection or wireless connection. This ensures the video is clear and won’t lag or freeze.


  • Use a flat-panel LCD computer monitor with a minimum screen size of 19.5 inches (measured diagonally from corner to corner) with adjustable height options. A smaller screen may make it difficult for patients to interpret signs or facial expressions.


  • All cameras (yours and the ASL interpreter’s) should provide a minimum video resolution of 720p to support a high-speed transmission. The ideal resolution is 1080p60. Cameras should also use progressive scan to preserve the smoothness and clarity of the image.


  • If possible, take the patient to a private room. This minimizes visual distractions and helps improve the quality of VRI communication.


  • Place the video screen no further than two feet from the patient. If the patient is also visually impaired, you may need to move it closer.


  • Ensure the room has optimal lighting. There shouldn’t be any backlighting on the patient because it can affect the ASL interpreter’s ability to clearly read the signs.


  • Test your microphone to ensure the ASL interpreter can clearly hear you. Also try to keep background noise to a minimum with any noise cancelling features.


  • After you start a VRI session, check in with the patient periodically to ensure they aren’t having issues with it.


The Rise of Telehealth and VRI


Over 70% of healthcare providers use telehealth tools to connect with patients, and that number is expected to rise. As the Coronavirus pandemic reshapes the way people from all backgrounds receive care, it’s essential that deaf patients have access to platforms that meet their needs. This will not only build trust within the deaf community, but will improve healthcare outcomes.

For more information about video remote interpreting for ASL, contact Boostlingo today.


Writing at the end of week 1 of my social distancing period, I think I am finally able to calm myself down to write something about COVID-19. I thought it was going to be easy. I was so wrong about it. What do I know? What’s going on? The only thing I know it started with an virus outbreak now it is a pandemic. Governments announced shutdowns on a lot of things, hoping to slow down the spreading of the disease. A lot of people started panicking. I am among these people. I don’t know why. But I want to know how to process this. What is better than a rewind of my memory?

Early in January of 2020, I heard about in China people catching a kind of acute and contagious pneumonia due to some ferocious virus. I didn’t know much about viruses (and I still don’t). I didn’t even know the difference between a virus and a bacteria. However, I remember the SARS outbreak (2002-2004) in China. During that time period, I worked as a TEFL teacher at a public high school in a small but affluent town in Guangdong province. Always head counts in the morning and make sure that no one arrive school sick, the school principal addressed daily. Put the right measures in the right places. No quarantine was needed in our town. Lucky me, I was not in the epicenter of the outbreak. Before I knew it life went back to normal. I wanted to pat myself on the back –  I have survived SARS.

Approaching Chinese Lunar New Year, I heard and read more about the contagious pneumonia, from WeChat messages sent by close family and friends living in mainland China. “No worries. Everyone’s safe and sound and we don’t go out at all.” City by city, province by province, the Chinese government-imposed lockdown and quarantine. The severity of situation had surpassed SARS, I thought.  It’s interesting that I only heard about someone talking about someone else going into self-isolation after a trip to China. Second or Third handed experience of COVID-19 had created a safe distance.

Toward the end of February, I started reading more about COVID-19 through my volunteer translation work for a non-profit organization. The health department of the city sent out notices about the disease and recommended self-care preventive measures. I asked, “Is it here yet?”   Shortly I got to talk with people who were affected by COVID-19 on Boostlingo.

One Saturday I helped a health facility nurse check in on someone in self-isolation. Throughout the call time, no one mentioned COVID-19 or disease or even sickness. They talked about taking temperature twice a day and the readings. The temperature was normal. Both parties were optimistic about the outcome. “Three more days and I am free,” exclaimed the client.  The nurse chimed in, “Yes, three more days. And you can leave your house.”  It’s quite a relief. I could feel the good spirits. I could even imagine the smiles they were wearing on their face after the call ended.

Another time, a university campus coordinator called in to ask for interpretation assistance. An international student was planning to apply for a special accommodation, which would help ease emotional burden caused by the COVID-19 situation back home in China.  The coordinator was very professional, caring and empathetic. The call lasted for an hour. The wonderful staffer made several calls on behalf of the student to assure the right appointments could be scheduled in and good arrangements could be made as soon as possible. The student expressed the anxious feeling but felt grateful that someone who was a stranger a couple of hours before the meeting would go out of the way to help. This call ended. But it left me feeling warm and fuzzy in heart. I felt lucky that I talked with warm and kind people.

It is March now. The month is going to end soon. COVID-19 has officially landed in North America as we may all agree.  The future is full of unpredictable factors. And challenges are be ahead. We may also see the good and the opportunities. We know we can do something instead of letting nature run its course. We individually need to be aware of the safe physical distance. And we need to believe we are in it together. There is always hope. Hope gives you warmth. Do share the warmth whenever you can. After so much worrying and panicking, you can always do something. That is what I am thinking now

Tip #1: Find Your Community

Being a freelance medical interpreter, especially when you’re working remotely, can feel lonely. But don’t despair – you can still be part of your professional community. Approach fellow interpreters when you’re out on assignments, make new connections when attending professional events – or build a virtual community using social media (scroll down this blog article for some medical interpreter Facebook group ideas), and connect on professional apps like Slack, or messengers like Telegram. From debriefing after a difficult assignment to getting help with a tricky term, having the help and support of your peers is invaluable. 


Tip #2: Keep Honing Your Skills 

Whether you’d like to become a more efficient note-taker, get better at simultaneous interpretation, or brush up on your sight translation techniques, the options for learning are numerous – from webinars to in-person classes. There are also some things you can do on your own. For honing your simultaneous interpretation skills, try shadowing which involves listening to somebody speak and trying to repeat it verbatim. This will help you get used to having to listen and speak at the same time  and develop fluency. You can try shadowing YouTube videos, podcast hosts, or characters on a medical TV show. For practicing sight translation, try bilingual patient education materials like those on MedLine Plus. Once you find your practice material, take a minute to preview the text. Then, record yourself sight-translating it. Compare your recording with the translated version of the text. While your translation doesn’t have to be identical, it will give you a good idea of where you need to improve. 


Tip #3: Keep Updating Your Glossary 

Nobody knows every single medical term  – not even medical providers! There’s always something new to learn, either in preparation for an upcoming appointment or after an encounter when you jotted down some terms you had difficulty with. There are many ways to maintain a glossary , from keeping a paper notebook to a cloud-based spreadsheet (e.g. Google Sheets) to apps like Quizlet, which also lets you study your terms with built-in exercises and tests. 


Tip #4: Practice Self-Care 

Whether working onsite or remotely, medical interpreters may have to deal with many stressors – from the unpredictability of our schedules to emotionally difficult encounters, and having to sit down for long periods of time. While it’s hard to take time off when you feel like you need to be working, it is essential that we take the time to look after ourselves even if it’s just a short meditation exercise or a quick chat with a friend. If we want to keep helping others, we must also remember to help ourselves. 


Tip #5: Learn about Infection Control 

Even when there isn’t a pandemic, medical interpreters work in settings where they could be facing potential exposure to harmful microorganisms. Knowing infection control protocols will not only keep you and your loved ones safe, but it will also protect patients, some of whom can be vulnerable to infections. Many hospitals require interpreters to do infection control orientation, but if you’d like a refresher, you can take this free infection control course from MasterWord and read this detailed and well-researched article advising medical interpreters on how to disinfect their phones.



Ours is a wonderful profession, but it comes with its share of stress. In addition, working remotely or on a freelance basis can be lonely. To combat that, make sure to practice self-care and to surround yourself with supportive peers – whether in real life or virtually. Another thing about being a medical interpreter is that there’s always more to learn – from skill development to medical terminology, so keep learning!