Educational and personal discomfort in interpreter training

by M. Haldimann

Two prolific bloggers have weighed in on our discussion of interpreter training didactics sharing their own experience as interpreting students and teachers. In Elisabet we have found another champion of a more modular approach in order to practice specific sub-skills or certain interpreting situations such as exams. In her post she points out, however, that most interpreting courses lack the funding to provide a more diverse curriculum with enough teaching time, a lower student-staff ratio and good connections to outside experts. Jana, on the other hand, cautions against giving students too much time in the comfort zone as the freelance interpreting market will not cut them any slack either. On that note, I would like to get closer to the core of this fuzzy term ‘comfort zone’ by introducing the distinction between educational discomfort and personal discomfort.

By educational discomfort I simply mean the frustration when struggling to master a new skill. It cannot be helped and is part of any learning process. I am sure many will agree that this particularly applies to learning simultaneous interpreting. As much as you might practice shadowing and sight translation beforehand, you will never quite be ready to tackle your first few weeks of actually practicing in the booth without feeling some measure of frustration.

However, after a while our neurons will ideally have aligned to the demands of their new task(s) and we will gradually become more comfortable while interpreting. I think it is this easing of educational discomfort that Brian Fox warned us about in his speech at the DG Interpretation – Universities Conference back in March. He described his experience of teaching students as a very comfortable routine. He would always read the speeches the same way, the students would always sit in the same booths, they would always discuss their performances following the same pattern and so on. It is this comfort zone, this protective bubble he asked us to leave constantly stimulating our neurons with new challenges in order to prepare ourselves better for EU accreditation exams and, as Jana has pointed out, indeed for the demands of our professional practice in general. As a case in point, Andreas’ recent post about his first assignment perfectly illustrates the fact that interpreting in the real world is fundamentally different from interpreting in your final exams.

I completely agree that we should embrace educational discomfort as a sign of our gradually improving interpreting skills. We should leave the comfort of our cosy classroom routine more often. However, this should not come at the cost of the underlying positive and reinforcing atmosphere in class. Educational discomfort should not be confused with personal discomfort. Nor should the need for the former serve as an excuse for creating the latter.

I was rather taken aback by one particular comment during the Q&A after the second day of the DG Interpretation – Universities Conference. One head of department mentioned Brian Fox’ call to chase students out of their comfort zone as vindication of the austere classroom regime their department was traditionally notorious for. Judging by the amusement this comment caused in the other participants I am sure it must have been an ironic jibe. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to make sure we all agree that interpreting class need not be living hell.

As Elisabet has pointed out, interpreter training is traditionally tough. The question is to what extent this image has emerged because of the inevitable educational discomfort and to what extent because of an excess of personal discomfort: The fear of failure, feelings of inferiority, humiliation.

I think we can all agree and might even have experience ourselves that if not properly managed educational discomfort can lead to personal discomfort. Equally undisputed, I think, is the fact that personal discomfort is a huge obstacle to progress in any interpreter’s training. In my view, the resources to manage educational discomfort and to avoid excessive personal discomfort can be found in the people involved in interpreting class themselves, students and teachers alike, and in their relationships to each other. Students can be brought to explicitly reflect on their educational discomfort learning to appreciate it as a sign of a healthy learning process. Together, teachers and students can create a reinforcing classroom culture that values mutual support over competitiveness. In the psychology of the interpreting classroom trust is not an abstract concept but can be systematically built and put to use in order to boost progress in learning.

I am not only hypothesising here. During my own training I have seen these resources tapped into, though more often instinctively than strategically, and yet it made all the difference. However, I have so far not found any research to back my ideas. My guess is that the concepts I have touched upon are well established in educational psychology and didactics but have never been specifically discussed in how they apply to interpreter training. For the time being, I would submit that properly harnessing the dynamics of interpreting classroom psychology considerably reduces personal discomfort in interpreting students thus helping them develop their skills faster and more thoroughly.

Graduation exams evaluation

by J. Mermod

The time has finally come. The time of my graduation exams. 

After two and a half years of study and 8 weeks of intense preparation I am ready to get past the last hurdle and leave uni behind me. I guess most of our readers passed their exams quite some time ago and may not recall the horror and nervous break-downs one goes through. Lucky you!

There is just one thing I want to ask you, dear readers: there is vast literature on how to test one’s aptitude for conference interpreting, from entry exams to interviews to psychological exams (remember the #IntJC on MBTI?) - how come there is hardly any literature and/or research on how to test a students’ abilities in their graduation exams? Do we just assume, that all universities and exam jurors apply the same standards (I daresay the don’t)?

There is research on the evaluation criteria of an interpreting performance, yes. But there is still no consensus yet. In the aiic Workload Study the performance of several interpreters gets evaluated as follows: Each interpretation was evaluated by two jurors, professional interpreters having the same languages as the interpreter. The parameters evaluated were: error rate, omission rate, addition rate, grammatical mistakes, word choice, phrasing and delivery. (source). I can actually see the two jurors before my inner eye trying to listen to the original and the interpreted output, while following the printed manuscript with a red marker, wildly crossing out omissions, circling errors and noting odd word choices. I find listening to two speeches in different languages, reading, writing simultaneously and keeping track of the actual meaning a piece of cake. Especially judging the quality of the delivery in terms of intonation, breathing and prosody is extremely easy.

So, in order to harmonize the evaluation criteria in graduation exams in the academic landscape in Europe the AIIC promoted in cooperation with the EU the installation of the EMCI, European Masters in Conference Interpreting. Since, compared to other professions, “conference interpreter” as occupational title does not enjoy legal protection (at least not in Germany) I really appreciate all efforts aiming at a harmonization. But even the EMCI website states as evaluation criteria ”[…] the mastery of their target language(s), comprehension of their source language(s) and on their interpreting skills […]. They must demonstrate sufficient competence to be able to join a team of professional conference interpreters.”  It could hardly get any more vague.

(Addition: there is of course a catalogue of more precise criteria)

The AIIC has some further proposals on what is important in graduation exams assembled in its “Best Practices" overview. We learn: it is also important who is assessing the student. It should (of course) be someone experienced in the profession itself. And: "Candidates should understand the assessment criteria.".  

If the assessment criteria is "sufficient competence", then yes, I understand the criteria. And I understand that they lack transparency. 

A couple of months ago the German TRANSFORUM society held a meeting in Heidelberg, where Sylvia Kalina explained her new research results on the evaluation of interpreting performances. Her main argument is that the quality of a performance can’t just be assessed on the basis of the amount of errors and omissions the interpreter made (the so-called Bühler parameters from 1986). One should also take other factors into consideration. Kalina describes them in her highly recommended article in trans-kom (unfortunately in German). Have a look at the last few pages for a checklist! Kalina’s criteria (or what she calls parameters) are subsumed under the “process model”, which distinguishes pre-, peri-, in- and post-process criteria. They all need to be considered when evaluating someone’s performance.

All I can say is that I am a big fan of this model. Particularly, because it is the only model that goes beyond the actual performance on site, but takes into account the preparation time, how accustomed one is to the topic, the public speaking skills of the speaker and so on.

If graduation exam assessors were to use the process model for their judgement, it would 1) be far more transparent and 2) could lead to a true harmonization of interpreting courses worldwide. 

Update: don’t miss the comments to this post!

Poetry slam

by J. Mermod

Have you ever heard of Poetry Slam? Matt and I are huge fans of so-called Slam Poetry, a form of art where several poets enter the stage and recite a self-written piece of literature, a poem or a short story. This may sound boring at first, but the clue is that this is a competition (a slam). The poets have to stick to certain rules (e.g. no singing) and are given a time limit. Their performance is then judged by the audience (by the means of applause) and the best poets get to the final, where they again battle each other. Their performances, as diverse and different in mood and format they may be, all have something in common: they are built on the mastery of language, on the witty and smart usage of words, homophones and metaphers, on - the pure joy of words and language.

The poetry slam craze kicked in in 2007 in the German-speaking area of Europe, according to Google Trends, even though it has been practiced since the 90ies. A German Championship is carried out since 2003, and you can see the latest finalists on ARTE tv.

And here comes the connection to interpreting: there are not just monolingual, but also bi- and even trilingual slamming events! Have a look a this German-French bilingual Poetry Slam event organized by ARTE tv. The two artists seemingly have to communicate in English! Now this is Europe… languages intermezzo.

If you were asked to interpret at such an event - would you do it? Which leads to the question: is poetry interpretable?

Chernov says no. Quote:

(…) simultaneous interpretation of poetry is impossible because of the very low level of objective redundancy in poetic language. Even SI of prose is barely possible if the stlye is literary. (Chernov 1994:95)

I think we all agree that this also applies to consecutive interpreting, especially given the speed of the presentation and the inevitable loss of the mood.

So all we can do is to sit back and enjoy. ;-)

16th DG Interpretation - Universities Conference
"Tradition & Innovation"
15. - 16. March 2012, Brussels

Day 1 twitter transcript @ chirpstory 
Day 2 twitter transcript @ chirpstory
(big thanks to Glendon Translation, Barry S. Olsen, MIC-ULL, Clara Guelbenzu, Esther Navarro-Hall for the coverage!)

Webcast available in English, German and French

— PROGRAMME —
DAY 1 : Thursday 15 March 2012 
13.30  Registration of participants 
14.30  Welcome :
- Claude Durand, Head of Multilingualism and Interpreter Training 
Support Unit
14.45  Opening address :
- Androulla Vassiliou, Commissioner responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
15.00  Statement :
- Marco Benedetti, Director General, DG Interpretation 
15.15  Contributions :
- Olga Cosmidou, Director General Interpretation, European Parliament 
- Patrick Twidle, Director Interpretation, Court of Justice
15.45  The impact of technological advances on teaching conference 
interpreting  
-  Andrew Gillies, ISIT Paris
16.15 Coffee break
16.45  ORCIT project with Lithuania
 -  Sophie Llewellyn Smith, University of Leeds;  
 -  Dalia Mankauskiene, University of Vilnius 
17.15  Discussion and Q & A
—
DAY 2 : Friday 16 March 2012
09.30  Remote Interpreting – The Council experience 
 -  Hilde Vereycken, Deputy Head of Programming of Interpretation Unit 
 -  Marc Berthiaume, DG Interpretation 
10.15  Trends in interpreting 
 -  Brian Fox, Director Provision of Interpretation 
10.45 Coffee break 
11.15  The Leopoldo Costa Prize 2012
11.45  SCIC and Social Media – Status report
 -  Ian Andersen, External Communications Adviser 
12.15  Final discussion and close of proceedings 
13.00 Lunch
—-

16th DG Interpretation - Universities Conference

"Tradition & Innovation"

15. - 16. March 2012, Brussels


Day 1 twitter transcript @ chirpstory 

Day 2 twitter transcript @ chirpstory

(big thanks to Glendon Translation, Barry S. Olsen, MIC-ULL, Clara GuelbenzuEsther Navarro-Hall for the coverage!)


Webcast available in English, German and French


PROGRAMME

DAY 1 : Thursday 15 March 2012 

13.30  Registration of participants 

14.30  Welcome :

- Claude Durand, Head of Multilingualism and Interpreter Training 

Support Unit

14.45  Opening address :

- Androulla Vassiliou, Commissioner responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

15.00  Statement :

- Marco Benedetti, Director General, DG Interpretation 

15.15  Contributions :

- Olga Cosmidou, Director General Interpretation, European Parliament 

- Patrick Twidle, Director Interpretation, Court of Justice

15.45  The impact of technological advances on teaching conference 

interpreting  

-  Andrew Gillies, ISIT Paris

16.15 Coffee break

16.45  ORCIT project with Lithuania

 -  Sophie Llewellyn Smith, University of Leeds;  

 -  Dalia Mankauskiene, University of Vilnius 

17.15  Discussion and Q & A

DAY 2 : Friday 16 March 2012

09.30  Remote Interpreting – The Council experience 

 -  Hilde Vereycken, Deputy Head of Programming of Interpretation Unit 

 -  Marc Berthiaume, DG Interpretation 

10.15  Trends in interpreting 

 -  Brian Fox, Director Provision of Interpretation 

10.45 Coffee break 

11.15  The Leopoldo Costa Prize 2012

11.45  SCIC and Social Media – Status report

 -  Ian Andersen, External Communications Adviser 

12.15  Final discussion and close of proceedings 

13.00 Lunch

—-