Conference interpreting in the training of translators
We turn now to the teaching of conference interpreting. Here I'm interested in assessing the general components that are usually used in the teaching of conference interpreting. And I'm particularly interested in seeing how they might be applied in language education, if at all. Traditionally conference interpreting comes in two flavors. You do consecutive.
That is, after the speaker has finished a segment, you then respeak: you present that segment in another language; simultaneous is when you speak as the speaker is speaking. And there is a third variant which is called sight translation, sometimes bundled into the training as an exercise. And that is when you get a written text and you speak it in the other language. So you're translating and interpreting as you go. And that mixes the oral and the written. The others written, oral, oral, oral, oral, spoken, spoken.
The teaching of conference interpreting is really a fact of the 20th century. The use of conference interpreting is itself something born of the 20th century. First in consecutive, very much because the interpreters who were working at the first major conferences, for example, in the League of Nations, which preceded the United Nations. And the large international events would get up and would present the discourse in another language and would be the focus of attention, and did so very, very well. Many comments can be found in the histories of how the interpreters were far more succinct and coherent than the speakers themselves. Or how a certain interpreter and covered every particular point and had prodigious memory skills.
There was that heroic age of. interpreting, which was consecutive. Simultaneous interpreting was used. I think back in the 1930s. It became headline news with the Nuremberg trials. And it was used after 1945, but was originally looked down on by the stars of consecutive interpreting who regarded simultaneous interpreters as a telephone operators as this magic trick that doesn't really work as being vastly inferior.
But it has since become the, I think, most prestigious frontline image of the translation and interpreting profession. If we think of interpreting a conferences, we think of the person in the booth using the microphone and the headphones and doing something rather magical. The basic model of training developed differently in different countries. But in the West, the most influential model I think, is the one developed by Danica Selekovitch in Paris at the ESIT called the Paris School. And it has been very much a master-apprentice type model where the person teaching is the master at this art and at least taught as an art where some basic principles are especially in Seleskovitch. She had the capacity to formulate very easily understood pedagogical principles.
And then the rest was practice. Practice in the presence of a master who would give several pointers as to how to improve and who would assess the gifted students who would proceed and enter this realm of minor stardom. So in this, it's been rather different from the teaching of written translation, where one would not generally have stars who seek to replicate themselves. The basics of interpreting are, I think, independently of the star quality or the master apprentice model. It is an area of translation where there is not a lot to be taught. In terms of knowledge, there is something, but the knowledge base is not extensive.
There is, however, lots of practice. If you want to put it in terms of learning outcomes, there's not much "knowing that". There's a **** of a lot of "knowing how."
And because of that, the only way you can get some sequencing going is through changing the nature of the input. If you want a behaviorist model, the texts that people are working from, in this case, the speech can go from general to specialised, from simple to difficult, and often how fast: from slow to fast, you increase the difficulty by modulating the input. If we tried to just map the learning outcomes involved, you might get these things and these are the things to be learned and to get better at. The interpreters should be able to begin appropriately in simultaneous mode.
And this is the ear-voice span, the time between when the message comes in through the ear and the point where the interpreter speaks. Judging that is the main trick in simultaneous interpreting. Short-term memory is obviously key in consecutive and simultaneous will be at in different ways in order to complete the task. One has to compress discourse, radically so in consecutive, but compression is also necessary in simultaneous.
If not, you cannot get the information across. You have to be able to take notes in consecutive in order to enhance or jog your short-term memory. And if you're working in a specialized domain, you have to be able to prepare it.
That is, I usually go through some texts. I prepare the terminology that's going to come up so that when these things appear in the conference or in the speech, It's no surprise. You have it there somewhere available for you, usually these days in some quick electronic format.
Those are things you have to be able to do. That is, you know how. Knowing that, yes, Professional Ethics and there are certain best practices that have to be observed. I don't know if... What I've now done is I've looked around the web and I found a whole lot of information on how to teach conference interpreting and consequently how to learn. This is one of the best.
It's quite wonderful. This is your whole course. And each of those books, you click on them and you get into the lesson with interactive learning activities. So if you want to become a conference interpreter, you just go in there and click on this and do the activities and you'll have the basics. Don't tell anybody, no need to pay the University of Melbourne or Monash or anyone else.
It's all there for free. And it's good. It's very good. The problem is it's basically between European languages. And someone could do worse than adapt this to English - Chinese. Anyway, I just want to show the way it's broken up. The first module here is listening and public speaking.
You learn how to listen. You learn how to speak. Now that's interesting. Then consecutive, simultaneous, the research skills that I mentioned and a few extras: resource evaluation and keeping calm, which is nice and big, big letters. And making feedback work is really how to learn to learn and how to accept feedback and not get upset by it too much. Okay, now that's a fairly traditional structure actually for training conference interpreters.
As I mentioned previously, a sequencing problem is consecutive and simultaneous. I had a student who wanted to test whether one could reverse that order. Whether simultaneous was actually going to be more pedagogically useful if done first. And it's been impossible to test that. So this bit of it is sort of imposed by tradition.
Okay? But I'm very interested in these two up here, for example, which should be of interest not just in all translator training, but also surely in all language education as well. And perhaps some of these other things can be of interest. Now what I want to do here is get the rough learning outcomes that I just mentioned and take the modules that we have found in the actual course and see how they relate.
So this is what I think should happen, just a theoretical construct here. And this is what the experts from the University of Leeds, in this case, are proposing. The University of Leeds developed that wonderful website with all the learning materials. Now it seems to me that if we try this simple mapping operation, we get one big learning outcome, which I'll call "extracting sense". And the term "sense" refers back to Seleskovitch whose main theory was the theory of sense "théorie du sens" in French.
"Sens" can be "meaning" or it can mean "sense". The normal translation into English has privileged "sense". And her ruling metaphor for training interpreters was "l'écoute du sens" that you had to listen to the sense of what was coming in and not the words.
That you have to go beyond the words and grasp what is happening in the discourse and then work from there. And this is actually a very, very productive metaphor. Now if you look over here, the extraction of sense would mean compress the discourse.
That is, you can put the same basic sense in fewer words and then taking notes in consecutive is helping you to do the same thing. Now if we look over here where that happens, we find that the listening activity is indeed that. You are taught to listen to a text and to observe the basic structures by which meaning is being created. Meaning or sense. But the sense
is on the level of the discourse, of the way concepts are being connected in the speech rather than the meaning of words. Okay? And those listing activities are really teaching people to pay attention to the structure of a speech and the way the speaker is interrelating the ideas. So it's a macro level thing.
It's not a sentence level thing, very much a textual discourse analysis type activity. Then obviously compression, there's lots of activities for that under simultaneous, sorry, and taking notes, lots of activities for that under consecutive. So you've got a bundle of things there that could be put together, and we'll call that "extracting sense". My question is, can this be used in language teaching? My answer is: very, very much. I see my son in his English class being, taught how to construct a text, how to construct a speech, how to do a presentation, or how to look at the text and bring out the main points.
And these are very, very useful skills across the board. And I'm very much interested that these same skills are being worked on in conference interpreting. It's not, if you look at it on that level, it's not this very independent magical domain, It's using things that can be used in all kinds of language education. Let me move on to the things that are rather more germane to conference interpreting. And that is what we had over here, the voice ban, the use of short term memory. This is worked on a lot with a lot of practice in consec and simul.
And then down here in the additional research skills on additional... What do they call them? Extra skills or something. Keeping calm is one of them.
It's a personality attributes that one can develop hopefully. And it's very important to actually keeping calm or keeping arrogant also helps. Now those things can be bundled together, and I would assume that they are not of general interest in language teaching. Short-term memory is key to this particular activity, but it is not something that we generally need in our life as users of language. So let's keep all that stuff over in the specifics of conference interpreting.
Although teaching people to keep calm is pretty good across the board, I must admit. Another one we have here is something, I'm just scrolling, preparing a speech. So when you're doing the preparation for a conference and you're doing the terminology work. And I read a few papers in the area concerned I am preparing what I'm going to do.
And that preparation is very much part of public speaking. And those skills there are attached to professional best-practices, preferring the assignment and your research skills. Okay? Now those things can be connected, and I think they are very much a part of language education. Where after all, we teach people how to speak in a language, but also how to inform themselves in a language and how to construct a discourse on the basis of a certain knowledge.
So that part, I would say, yes, of great interest to language education, picking up the things that are left. One of them is obviously, is learning to learn, since interpreters get better at it throughout their life. There are many, many stories around about conference interpreters, but what are the things mostly noted is their perennial curiosity that moving into any domain or any new country or any new sphere of life, they will be picking up the words for these things and learning about it. Absorbing knowledge, absorbing language as well.
That's part of learning to learn or lifelong learning as well. All of that there with professional best-practices surely is a part of anything we do, we do with language, all mediation as well. Motivation and curiosity.
When I do this thing. The one thing that seems to be missing that, so I haven't looked for it. Hard enough is professional ethics. I really didn't find it in the modules that are proposed there, but it must be there in some hidden niche that I haven't reached yet. However, I'll just note it along the way.
The codes of ethics that we have for translation and interpreting are supposed to apply to conference interpreting, so they should be dealt with there somewhere. Now I want to finish with two activities that are used in the training of conference interpreters. That not specific learning outcomes because they're not really in the professional skill set. Although the second one might be there, used specifically to enhance the neuro-linguistic capacity of the interpreter. And the first one is traditionally called shadowing. I prefer to call it re speaking because shadowing, if you look in the literature, you've got the shadowing of interpreters is when somebody goes around and checks how well they're doing in a hospital, for example.
Anyway, shadowing or re-speaking, means saying in your language usually your A language the one you want to develop a text in the same language. So for me we would have somebody speaking English and I begin to say what they say. And I say it in English, but I have to say it at the same time as then do you see what I mean? So if the shadowing metaphor is not too bad, i'll be just a little bit behind them and I'm developing the neuro-linguistic skills. In this case, the capacity to exploit gaps in the speech and the capacity to memorize what has been said that short term. And the third capacity is the one to anticipate.
I have to begin speaking the sentence before they finish the sentence. So I have to have an idea of how they're going to finish the sentence. And usually if you know the field, if you've done the groundwork, especially if you've seen the person speak before. This is quite possible. So it's an activity that everybody can have fun with and try and find it rather difficult at the beginning. But you get better as you go on and you find it quite tiring because you using Particular neuro-linguistic skills that you don't usually use when this activity is done.
It's a training activity, right? It's one for developing. One paper says about 80% of the neuro-linguistic skills required of a simultaneous interpreter developed here, you can use it in a way that is sequenced. You can change the initial lag. You can get people to start a couple of seconds after the beginning of the sentence.
Or you can reduce it to half a second and make it very, very difficult for them. So they have to anticipate a lot more. You can adapt this activity two consecutive. That is, you get the person speaking the sentence in English. Then I have to say the same thing in English straightaway or starting just towards the end of the sentence. That is, they would pause.
And when you do that consecutive re-speaking, you would then force the, force the interpreter to reduce the discourse. And you would say, well, you should say the same thing in fewer words automatically. Or you can make so many syntactic transformations and you might oblige them to make one or two syntactic transformations per sentence or to reduce by 30% as they speak.
So it becomes quite a demanding mental activity. What can be done is to force compression, as I said. And then the, the basic tool of sequencing here is to increase the text difficulty as you go along.
Okay? And this is the basic tool for all pedagogy in conference interpreting enhance text difficulty. I now turn to a second activity that is also justified as enhancing neuro-linguistic skills. It's a pedagogical activity used in the training of a conference interpreters, although it can be used professionally. So it's not like shadowing or re-speaking.
This one actually is used in the field. It's just when you translate or interpret as you read. Ok, so we might be over here. The person has a document in Chinese and they're speaking in English.
Okay? So it's a combination of the written and the spoken. And if you like, it overlaps with in written translation. For that reason, this is called sight translation. It might be called site interpreting, but tradition has it that it's a sight translation. It develops neuro linguistic skills because you're supposed to keep a steady output as you go. And you have to use the compression skills than the anticipation skills that you would use.
Also in general conference interpreting, the sequencing is the same. You increase text difficulty and people get better at it. Now, the thing is that people are trained in this in conference interpreting Because it's a pedagogical activity, but also in public-service interpreting or what we call spoken mediation because it is actually used. For example, here, the doctor has given a medical report and the interpreter has to render that into the other language while she's looking at it in front of her.
Not when it's done like and it does happen in conferences, but rarely this disastrous. If you've got a person reading, you just can't do it. But if it's a front view, you couldn't use it to follow in a fairly rough way.
No, this, some of this activity has been enhanced by speech to text technologies. This is particularly the case in depositions in legal settings where the person is giving a statement, an official statement, what counts legally is the written record. So you'll have a person taking the oral thing, let's say in English, and then it goes into electronic format in English. And then the interpreter, even though they're physically present, would read that English output immediately and render that the other language. So even though they're, they're physically with the people and there is a person speaking, it's legally more appropriate and less risky for them to work from the written to the spoken. So the speech to text technologies, but also if it's an official person making the written record there who's present mean that this site translation activity is in some areas growing in importance, but it is high risk.
And I think the one point I want to make here is that it's less high risk if you're in that situation where the interpreter can pause and there's no constraint on them too to deliver a free-flowing text. They can make one-point read some more, make another point read some more. And it can be checked because they can ask the specialist or they can check that the patient here has understood. So that reduces the risk. But if there is a compulsion to deliver a continuous spoken speech, this is a very risky activity indeed, that I'm far happier to see it confined to a pedagogical exercise.
Alright, so much for sight translation. To summarize, I find in conference interpreting some skills and knowledges. that is, learning outcomes that could be of general interest. I think that extracting sense, that is getting discourse structure and learning compression is of great use in all language education. Preparing speeches is similarly of great use. And for rather similar reasons.
We tend to make far more sense when we speak to someone than we do when we're writing a text in front of us. And I'm really think we should work more on that it all language education. This is also why I think these skills should not be left just to the training of conference interpreters. They should be used in all translator training as close to the beginning as possible.
The capacity to speak clearly and calmly is of use in general life, not just for conference interpreters. The other skills there, the what I call the neuro-linguistic skills, the short-term memory, the ear-to-voice ban, all those skills are not generalizable and I would not make a claim that everybody has to use them. However, conference interpreting has a certain star appeal.
As we said, there's Nicole Kidman in a film called The Interpreter. People, I suggest, would like to engage in these skills to see if they can or they can't. Many of them find that they can even that is enjoyable. You get a certain kick out of it, you get adrenaline running. It can be a fun activity, not just in the training of all translators where I think it should be used, but why not put some in all language education just for the fun of it?