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Remote interpreters increasingly common in Finland

Translators are in demand in Finland—but there is a shortage in some languages. Translation companies are looking to fill the gap through remote translation, in which the client and the interpreter are connected only through a screen—making the process more efficient and allowing each employee to serve more people.

Kätilö pukee vastasyntynyttä vauvaa.
Midwife Janita Tasa says that interpreters are a crucial part of her working life. Image: Yle

Finnish public services now need to be available in many different languages, and that means more business for translation companies. So much so that there’s a shortage of translators in some languages, and some firms are turning to technology to try and keep up with demand.

A-Tulkkaus Oy does around 70,000 hours of translation each year in the Helsinki region, and that figure is on the rise. Their main languages are Russian, Somali, Arabic and Sorani Kurdish. Letting interpreters work remotely helps them serve a greater number of clients in a short space of time.

"The most important thing is that the interpreter can be in one place, and doesn’t waste time travelling across the capital city region," says Susanna Taipale-Vuorinen, Managing Director of A-Tulkkaus. "That allows for many more interpretation hours in one working day."

Significant advantage

That’s a significant advantage when trying to get interpreters to jobs during office hours. In some languages there can be only one or two professional interpreters in the whole country, and they tend to have full schedules.

At Helsinki’s Kätilöopisto maternity hospital midwives are familiar with the challenges of multilingual healthcare provision. Midwife Janita Tase says that sign language is a crucial part of her job, but sometimes that’s not enough.

"Especially in situations where mother or child is not doing well, sign language is insufficient," said Tasa.

Children of immigrants can stand in as interpreters, but that’s a far from ideal solution.

"There are situations where a patient might not even want their relatives to know about the matter, or when the issue is very personal or difficult," says Taipale-Vuorinen.

Demand tripled

Many of those cases are already handled by interpreters working remotely. Semantix operates across Finland, but its interpreters don’t have to travel. That’s just as well, as the firm’s head of interpretation services Marja Lähde says that demand for translation has increased three-fold in the last year.

Lähde says that it’s not just a question of newly-arrived asylum seekers, as the number of residents whose native language isn’t Finnish, Swedish or Sami has also increased. Kristina Stenman of the Employment and Economy Ministry says that Finland has long been a multilingual country.

"And for example in the legal system there are clear rules on using your own language," said Stenman. "This means that language rights have quite a strong foundation in our constitution and our legislation."

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