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What is Video-Mediated Interpreting (VMI)?

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.

This has also led to different modalities of distance interpreting, i.e. different methods of delivering interpreting services using video links or the telephone. These modalities can be classified in different ways.

Typology of Video-Mediated Interpreting

Based on the medium of communication on which they rely, we can distinguish between Video-Mediated Interpreting (VMI) and Telephone-Mediated Interpreting (see Figure 1). VMI would then be a cover term for Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) or Videoconference Interpreting (VCI).

Video Remote Interpreting (VRI), which refers to the use of video links to gain access to an interpreter in another room, building, town, city or country. In other words, the video link is used to connect the interpreter to the primary participants, who are together at one site. In a further variant of VRI, the primary participants themselves can be distributed across two or more sites, leading to a three-way or multi-point videoconference.

Videoconference Interpreting (VCI), which refers to interpreting in a setting whereby the participants themselves are distributed across two or more sites, and the interpreter is located at one of these sites. In the context of Public Service Interpreting it is sometimes useful to distinguish between two configurations of VIC, i.e. one whereby the interpreter is co-located with the speaker representing the authority and the other whereby the interpreter shares the location of the minority language speaker. This is particularly important in video links used in legal proceedings, e.g. between courts and prisons, where the interpreter can be located in court or in prison.

Many alternative classifications to the one shown above would be possible, e.g. a classification based on the distribution of the main participants and the interpreter(s) (see Figure 2).

Uptake in practice

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 and share elements of remote working.

The development of VMI 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. (See also the section on Research on VMI).

VMI has been used for simultaneous, consecutive and dialogue interpreting. 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.

Video-Mediated Interpreting or Bilingual/Multilingual Videoconferencing?

From a client’s point of view, the settings that have been outlined above would be settings of bilingual or multilingual videoconferencing, i.e. virtual meetings, legal proceedings of other events involving all of the following:

  1. participants who do not share the same language
  2. one or more interpreters
  3. a video link

and where the video link is used to connect the participants with each other or with the interpreter(s) or both. The common denominator of these settings is that they involve a combination of videoconferencing with bilingual or multilingual, interpreter-mediated communication. In our Handbook of Bilingual Videoconferencing we have elaborated on this for videoconferencing in legal settings.

A more comprehensive overview of Video-Mediated Interpreting is available in Braun, S. (2015). Remote Interpreting. In Mikkelson, H, & Jourdenais, R (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Interpreting (pp. 352-367). New York: Routledge.