Conference Interpreting: A Student’s Practice Book

Today’s post looks at what I consider to be one of the most important interpreter training resources to come out in recent years. It was my intention to write this review of Andrew Gillies’ new book, entitled Conference Interpreting: A Student’s Practice Book (Routledge, 2013) when it was first published last spring, but life had other plans for me, and so it is only now that I am finally able to sit down and tell readers what I like so much about it.

book review Gillies

For those students and trainers who haven’t yet had a chance to get their hands on a copy, let me just give you a brief idea of what you’ll find inside. As the title implies, Gillies’ new book is meant to help guide students as they practice their budding interpreting skills. It offers a compilation of over 300 different exercises targeting various aspects of the interpreting process. The exercises, which have been taken from a wide range of sources (all duly cited), are grouped into four main parts (A: Practice, B: Language, C: Consecutive Interpreting and D: Simultaneous Interpreting), and each of these parts is further divided into several sections (active and passive language enhancement, delivery, reformulation, split attention, etc.).

So far, so good*. But what makes Conference Interpreting: A Student’s Practice Book so indispensable that I have taken to packing it in my suitcase and pulling it out on every possible occasion to wave it under fellow trainers’ noses? For me, the appeal of this new book lies in the fact that it is based on a number of training principles that I hold near and dear to my heart, and it shows me new ways to apply them in my teaching. These principles may seem obvious to many readers, but I’ll briefly list them here anyway:

1 Interpreting is a complex process that can be broken down into a number of component parts or sub-skills;

2 To improve overall interpreting performance, you should work first on improving these component parts separately;

3 Effective learning is best achieved by setting clear, measurable, and above all obtainable objectives;

4 Learning can (and should) be fun!

Let me illustrate how Gillies’ new book promotes learning along these principles. Let’s say that we’ve got a couple of students having a hard time with their delivery in simultaneous: they’re speaking in a very monotonous voice, hunching over, and mumbling into the microphone. We’ve told them to liven it up a bit, asked them to record themselves and listen to their own performance, even suggested they place a little sticky note on the booth’s glass saying “DELIVERY!” or “KEEP IT LIVELY!”, but nothing seems to be getting the message across.

So we turn to Gillies’ book for some new ideas on how to encourage these students to communicate better in the booth. We flip to Part D: Simultaneous Interpreting, find the section on Delivery, and lo and behold, there’s not one but six new exercises to try. We decide to go for exercise D.2 Inverted conference, where Gillies suggests running a mock conference where the speakers sit in the booths and the interpreters sit at the main table. The idea is to demonstrate the simultaneous interpreting is also a communicative act, and that behaviour that would not be appropriate for someone speaking before a group – speaking in a monotonous voice, hunching over, mumbling – is also not appropriate in the booth. It’s the perfect exercise: it’s targeted (on communication skills), the impact is immediate and measurable (in the form of audience feedback), the students are bound to take the lessons learned back with them into the booth, and, last but not least, it’s probably quite fun.

The book is replete with ideas such as these that offer trainers new ways to address some of the most recurrent problems students face. Are your students wondering how they can improve their general knowledge, apart from reading the paper every day? Have them check out exercises B.1 to B.17, there’s sure to be something there that interests them. Do they need guidance on how to cultivate split attention? You’ll find exercises for that in C.131 to C.140. And the list goes on…

At this point, you may be wondering why it’s called “A Student’s Practice Book”, when all I have been doing is explaining how trainers can use it. I guess that just reflects my own personal bias – I see it first as a resource for trainers like me. But of course, students will also be able to make use of the ideas covered in the book. In particular, advanced students of interpreting will find plenty of ways to structure their group practice sessions and lots of new ideas to keep themselves and their classmates motivated. Beginning students, for their part, will want to read the sections on practice and feedback as early on in their training as possible.

It should be made clear, however, that the book is not a manual, to be read from start to finish, that will teach the absolute beginner how to become an interpreter (for that, you’ve got Gillies’ other main title, Note-Taking for Consecutive Interpreting: A Short Course (St. Jerome, 2005), which offers a step-by-step guide for beginners on how to develop a workable note-taking technique). Rather, Conference Interpreting: A Student’s Practice Book is a wide-ranging, diverse compilation of resources that students and trainers of all levels will want to have on their bookshelf and consult as the need arises.

As I see it, Gillies has spared us all the trouble of having to sort all those loose papers we’ve gathered over the years, all the photocopies we’ve received from training seminars, all the ideas we’ve scribbled on sticky notes after conversations with fellow trainers over coffee, because he’s just gone and done it for us. For this reason alone, I consider the book to be a major contribution to interpreter training. The added bonus in my case is that it has also allowed me to add some variety to my own training approach. After many years in front of a classroom, one runs the risk of falling into a rut and, worse, losing enthusiasm for the training experience. Thanks to Conference Interpreting: A Student’s Practice Book, it doesn’t look like that will happen to this trainer any time soon.

*For an excellent take on Gillies’ book, check out Barry Slaughter Olsen’s review “One Interpreting Practice Book to Train Them All”, published on the InterpretAmerica website.

The death of healthcare interpreting in the Netherlands

This is a reblog of a piece I wrote for the AIIC Blog. You can find the original post here.

When patients must provide their own interpreters, the healthcare system itself becomes ill. The ensuing social and personal toll is once again being ignored in the name of transient budgetary savings.

Most people with even a marginal interest in the interpreting profession will have heard about the events involving the UK Ministry of Justice’s changes to court interpreting procurement and the scandals arising from service provider Capita’s mismanagement of interpreter resources (if you haven’t, you can read a summary of events here and follow the interpreter response here). It will come as a sad surprise to hear that something even more worrying is going on in the Netherlands. There, healthcare interpreters have seen their profession effectively erased out of existence as a result of a government decision to no longer pay for interpreting services in healthcare settings.

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Man vs. Machine? The FIT World Congress 2014

It’s been a hectic summer for me, and it’s shaping up to be an even busier autumn. I won’t bore readers with details of what has been keeping me occupied lately (although I will include a few links at the end of this post for friends and family curious to know what has caused me to drop off the map). But at some point amid all the list-making and juggling this summer, it occurred to me that either (a) I manage to find a way to balance blogging with my busy schedule, or (b) it may be time to close up shop on the Diaries altogether. And since I’m not quite ready for (b), here is my attempt to get back in the blogging saddle.

 "Image courtesy of Tom Curtis / FreeDigitalPhotos.net".


“Image courtesy of Tom Curtis / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”.

I’d like to ask you all to cast your glances ahead to August, 2014. Just under a year from now, the International Federation of Translators (FIT) will hold its XX World Congress in Berlin. The topic for the 2014 congress is Man vs. Machine? The Future of Translators, Interpreters and Terminologists. Over three jam-packed days, there will be a trade expo, a job exchange and plenty of opportunities for networking, not to mention around 100 different presentations, panels and workshops held around the following four sub-themes (as listed on the call for papers):

• Translators, interpreters and terminologists – careers demanding a diverse range of expertise (e.g. translation technology, terminology work, research expertise, business competencies, translation and interpreting in a wide range of specialist disciplines, literary (book) translation, intercultural competency, post-editing, audiovisual translation)

• How translation and interpreting contribute to safeguarding human rights (e.g. community interpreting, intercultural understanding, court interpreting, medical interpreting, interpreting in crisis and war zones)

• Professional practice and the rights of translators, interpreters and terminologists (e.g. professional ethics, standards and norms, fees, copyright and intellectual property, security and freedom of expression for translators and interpreters, crowd translation, transcreation)

• Teaching and research in the field of translation, interpreting and terminology work (e.g. didactic methods, general education vs. specialist education, CPD, IT tools in training, TRAFUT, language industry studies)

Why am I telling readers about the FIT event almost a year before it is scheduled to take place? Because now is the time for prospective attendees to vote for their favourite presentations, panels and workshops from the list of all the proposals submitted. Only the top submissions will be invited to form part of FIT 2014, so the voting process is key to the success of the event!

I have to admit I’ve got a bit of a vested interest in getting people out to vote. If you scroll way down the voting list, near the end under the heading “Teaching and research”, you’ll see one proposal that bears my name. It’s for a panel discussion entitled “The future is now: Virtual learning environments and the digital revolution in interpreter education” and if all goes according to plan, I’ll be joining Suzanne Ehrlich of the Univeristy of Cincinnati in the United States, Della Goswell of Macquarie University in Australia, Andrew Clifford of York University in Canada, and Kim Wallmach of Wits Language School in South Africa to address this very hot training topic. Together, we’ll offer perspectives from around the globe on how virtual learning has been embraced in interpreter training.

But that’s not all there is for interpreters at FIT 2014. A quick look at the list of proposals reveals a wealth of potential sessions that could be of great interest to those in our industry. Here are just a few that caught my eye:

- a workshop on the use of smartpens in interpreting (Esther Navarro-Hall, aka @MmeInterpreter)

- an introduction to iPads in the booth (Alexander Drechsel, aka @tabterp)

- theatre improvisation techniques as a professional development tool for interpreters (Matthias Haldimann, aka @matthaldimann)

- a panel proposal called “Interpreting 2.0: Exploring the interface between interpreters and technology”  bringing together Navarro-Hall, Drechsel, Nataly Kelly (@natalykelly) Barry Olsen (@ProfessorOlsen) and Thomas Binder

- a presentation on interpreting in the European Parliament (Juan Carlos Jiménez Martín)

- a paper on Edupunk (Jonathan Downie, aka @jonathanddownie)

- A review of EU Directive 2010/64 on the right to interpreting and translation in criminal proceedings (Liese Katschinka)

- A panel on technology and interpretation at European and international Courts and Tribunals (Liese Katschinka, Christiane Driesen, George Drummond)

…and there are plenty more. The good thing is, you can vote for as many proposals as you want! So, if you want to support ongoing dialogue in the translation and interpreting community – even if you don’t think you’ll be attending FIT 2014 in Berlin next summer – please cast your vote for what you see as the hottest topics in our industry today (if you submitted a proposal on an interpreting-related topic but don’t see it on my shortlist, please tell me in the comments section and I’ll add it). If you think you can fit it in, try to plan a trip to Berlin for next summer. I hope to see you there!

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…so what have I been up to this summer? In addition to putting together this proposal for FIT 2014, I attended a summer school for researchers, co-planned and ran a CPD course for young interpreters, prepared two courses for the fall term of my favourite online MA program, co-designed and held a skills upgrade course for practitioners, and am currently busy putting together a seminar for trainers in Africa. If you’d like to find out more about any of these initiatives, just let me know!