Top 10 Lessons Learned in Rome (6-10)

When we last met, I’d been telling you what I’d learned at the Training for Trainers seminar organized by AIIC in Rome. Having run out of time and space, and probably stretched the acceptable limits of length for blog posts, I decided to break off halfway down my list of top 10 lessons learned in Rome. Here comes part two of that list.

6) In Rome, as we ploughed relentlessly through the results of study after study, I was struck by the fact that the field of interpreting studies (IS) appears to be both very small and extremely vast at the same time.

One the one hand, we were assured that IS is indeed very small. We had Daniel Gile, the researcher running the seminar, telling us that there were “only a few hundred” researchers actively involved in the field of IS at any given time, discounting the MA and PhD students who don’t further pursue IS research following their studies. Also, the point was made a number of times that sample sizes used in studies are also small, since there are so few working conference interpreters to draw on for research (with no more than several thousand worldwide). Also, the few conference interpreters who are out there are apparently notoriously hard to convince to do their bit for the advancement of science – to the point where some researchers have had to resort to paying their test subjects to participate in studies (!).

On the other hand, Daniel quite blithely informed us that in the past five years, a hundred or so studies had come out that might be of direct interest for interpreting trainers. After all, he explained, we were attending a seminar on the “Implications of Recent Research on Interpreter Training”, so we didn’t want to go too far into the past, did we? I shudder to think how many studies, papers, or findings he would have dug up if he had been asked to cover more than the most recent research! (But here’s an idea: a quick glance at the extended reading list Daniel gave us at the end of the seminar reveals no less than 500 titles, if my first quick calculation is correct.)

I have to admit that all this gave poor little me cause for despair, as I’m sure it would give any trainer with a nascent interest in research. How is it possible, in a field of research so purportedly small, that there could be so much ground to cover? And more importantly, how in God’s name can one ever know where to start? And this is leaving aside the question of when exactly a working interpreter is expected to find the time to read it all (this coming from someone who spends an inordinate amount of her time whiling away the hours at 10,000 m altitude).

Thankfully, there is the CIRIN bulletin, a handy little publication that comes out once every six months and offers a nice, tidy overview of recent research in interpreting studies. And since it is edited by none other Daniel Gile himself, then I have to believe that it will be a good place to start.

7) There were a few surprises in the research results that were reviewed in Rome, and no top 10 of lessons learned would be complete without a quick review of a few of them.

For example, it would appear that research done into remote interpreting (RI) has not proven conclusively that RI is the root of all evil, as some would have us believe. Of course, the jury is still out as to the effects on interpreter performance (and health!) of RI and new technologies such as videoconferencing or telephone interpreting, but initial findings have not shown that, for instance, that someone who is interpreting from a different room with only a video feed (or less) necessarily does a worse job than someone who present is in the meeting room. It’s clear that more needs to be done there.

Another shocker relates to client expectations. We interpreters tend to assume that clients want to receive the best possible interpretation, but apparently, studies have shown that their standards for what they consider an acceptable service are much lower that the standards we interpreters set ourselves. It’s probably better like that than the other way around, but still.

Then there are the results of a global web survey that showed that 96% of conference interpreters who responded had worked into their B language. I knew that this practice varied a lot by market and country, and that it is more common in some places than in others, but I had no idea that the overall figure for working into B would be so high. This puts people like me, who work only into their mother tongue and have no B, into a very small minority.

8) I was left with a number of unanswered questions after the seminar. Had I but world enough and time – not to mention a certain top interpreting researcher’s undivided attention – then I would ask all those questions that I didn’t have opportunity to raise in Rome.

My first question, and probably the most important one, would be to ask for recommendations for general introductory reading in the field of interpreting research. What I need right now is something along the lines of an “Interpreting Studies for Dummies” that will walk me through the basics of IS and give me a base for future learning. I had heard that Franz Pöchhacker had written an introductory reader, but I thought there must a couple of other good generalist books out there as well.

As chance would have it, just a couple of days ago a post went up on the Facebook page Interpreting the World that gave me a good start on finding an answer to that question. What luck – now here’s hoping all these books are available for e-readers …

My other big question: I also would love to gain some insight on the role that theory might have to play in the classroom. I don’t mean how trainers can apply theory in the classroom situation, but rather whether students should be consciously exposed to the underlying theory as a way to help them learn the technique at a practical level. I know some feel that this is not at all necessary (“as long as they can do the job, they don’t need to understand the theory behind it”), but I would have liked to hear other participants’ views on this in Rome. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough time to ask the question.

I have plenty of other unanswered questions as well, but this post is getting too long again and I’m only on number eight! So I’ll move right along to …

9) I have to say that my experience in Rome reaffirmed my belief in the power of interaction in the classroom. This time, of course, I was on the receiving end of the teacher-student dyad, and I experienced first-hand just how much could be learned by allowing for informed discussion and debate among all participants.

Instead of running the sessions as a monologue, Daniel would present a topic, run through the relevant research, and then put out a question for us to discuss and sit back and watch the show (things got very animated, I can tell you, and at times I couldn’t help but wonder if we were actually being used as guinea pigs in some secret behavioural psychology study on group dynamics in enclosed spaces).

I think this approach is very conducive to learning, and I try to remember to encourage this type of interaction from students in my own classes, although I know I sometimes forget and just end up lecturing at them. Anyway, it was nice to be at the receiving end this time, as I said, and to benefit from the open exchanges between group members in Rome.

And last but not least …

10) Rome whetted my appetite for more. Professional development, lifelong learning, call it what you will, but I would definitely like to have more of it. Fortunately, the people at AIIC Training are a very active bunch, and there seem to be plenty of training options coming up.

To start with, there are those two webinars on interpreting research scheduled over the next few weeks, which can be followed online and look very promising. The first webinar will be on “The making of a skilled interpreter: What we know about expertise development in interpreting” and the second event is entitled “What use is theory in interpreter training?” (hey, wasn’t that on my question list?).

Then there is the Training for Trainers seminar with Dick Fleming being held in Budapest in April, which will look at techniques for teaching consecutive. Having attended training sessions with Dick on a few occasions, I can assure you that they are very useful indeed, and that anyone who decides to go to Budapest will not regret it! But I can’t make it this time myself, unfortunately.

Anyway, if any readers know of any other opportunities for training for interpreting trainers coming up, please let me know. I would just love to be able to repeat my Roman holiday!

But next time without the snow, please


4 thoughts on “Top 10 Lessons Learned in Rome (6-10)

  1. “We interpreters tend to assume that clients want to receive the best possible interpretation, but apparently, studies have shown that their standards for what they consider an acceptable service are much lower that the standards we interpreters set ourselves.” = hélas, je l’ai constaté maintes fois, sur le marché portugais dans les années 90. Les organisateurs demandaient juste que l’interprétation “coule” comme l’eau quand on ouvre un robinet. Tant qu’on entendait quelque chose qui ressemblait à de l’anglais, du français ou une autre langue, pas de problème! Il faut dire qu’un marché gris/noir très actif les avait habitués à un résultat très éloigné de la perfection, où travailler dans une langue B ou même C était la règle. Bizarrement (ou pas) ce qui était mal perçu, c’était les pauses dans l’interprétation. Pour eux, un “bon interprète” était celui qui ne s’interrompait jamais, même pour mettre un point à une phrase! (Ceci dit, mon expérience date d’il y a 15-20 ans, j’espère que les efforts de formation ont porté leurs fruits et que le niveau d’exigence des clients s’est amélioré…)

  2. Thank you Michelle for the summary. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and having taking part of other DG seminars I could fully picture the scene.
    Here are my reactions:

    It’s true that IS is a small discipline with few researchable subjects. However, sometimes I think that we look so much at that so that we don’t see all the exciting things we can do with exactly that. After all, the subjects who are willing to participate are very positive and size is not everything.

    I’d love to lay my hands on your reading list! But the truth is also that not everything is readable for all of us (e.g. Chinese and Japanese), and also that not all the studies are necessary to read for everyone. It is the usual story of research, it is like this huge 5000 piece puzzle and you have to patiently put one piece next to the other and hopefully in the end you will see a picture, if not you have to start again. The sick mind of the researcher is that we like being just one of those 5000 pieces 🙂 When it comes to reading up on the topic, you will get far by just reading Pöchhacker’s two volumes (the reader with Miriam, and the Introducing) and the other titles in Andrew’s Facebook post.

    There ARE very few surprises in research in general, most of the time we just prove what people already know, but that’s important too. Coz otherwise it would be so easy for those quasi researchers to say – “it has been proved that e.g. interpreting can be done by any bilingual”.

    On clients’ expectations: Luckily we are better judged to tell a good interpreter from a bad one! The client will be happy with the best he or she has experienced. An MEP is likely to be much more demanding than a refugee with a very rare language. Therefore an interpreter cannot just judge from what the client says (very interesting research by Ülle Leis on that). We have to set the good example, we have to show extraordinary interpreting,but we also have to listen to our clients and understand what they like (such as accent, fluency and so forth). Very interesting research from Collados Aís for those of you who read Spanish or German (I had to go see her in order to get it, but I’m happy I did).

    About the web survey: 96 % of those who answered, yes. But if I remember correctly (I was at his Viva) he didn’t know WHO answered. I.e. most of those who answered COULD have been interpreters working only on the private market where we know there are much more A-B interpreting. But (at least in Europe) that market if much smaller than the institutional.

    And finally YES we need much more theory in the classroom, but for that we need course books adapted for students, we cannot expect them to read only research reports. So far there’s is (as far as I know) only Roderick Jones, James Nolan and Valerie Taylor Bouladon and these are good books but written by practitioners with a practitioners view. Without criticizing that view we also need the researchers’ perspective.

    Ouch, this was a VERY long comment, but it was triggered by your interesting post! Thanks again!

  3. I have to thank you, again, for your posts and tweets on this seminar. I started looking for some of the papers mentioned, cause it all seems so interesting 🙂 And I can relate to what Tolken said on research, it usually doesn’t reveal completely new and unimaginable things like in medicine or pharmacy, but it really is important to confirm what is intuitively thought or guessed. It also confirms and reaffirms interpreting as a proper discipline and should therefore also be included in the classroom. In the right dosage, at the right time, in the right way … Anyway, I am still in my early stages of interpreter training and research, so I can’t suggest any other basic interpreting literature (maybe you already mentioned this link which states some literature

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