Interpreter Training: Is This a Game-Changer?

Even in this world of constant connection and information overload, every once in a while there is a story that stands out from the rest. Being a trainer of conference interpreters, it’s clear that my eye is most likely to be caught by stories and events in my field. What I want to talk about today would appear to be something of a game-changer for interpreter training, or at least a firm step towards bringing training into the 21st century.

We all know that post-secondary education is moving swiftly toward embracing virtual learning environments (VLE). You don’t have to look far to find the trailblazers: headlines were made around the world recently when Harvard, MIT, and other top US schools unveiled edX, a common platform offering hundreds of their courses online for free. Oxford has since responded with a weblearning initiative of its own, and others are swiftly following in their footsteps.

Readers may also be aware that there are more and more opportunities springing up for learning and practicing interpreting online. Here are a few good examples: the University of the Witwatersrand occasionally offers intensive courses in interpreting techniques that are part online, part face-to-face. The FTSK’s Internationale Sommerschule offers weekly not-for-credit online interpreter training sessions. Then there are AIIC’s training webinars, which expose a broad audience to the views of eminent trainers. I also know of a handful of colleagues who regularly teach and meet with students via Skype or get together to practice their technique in Google Hangouts.

However, to my knowledge at least, there has to date been no degree-level interpreter training course delivered 100% online. This is all changing, with the launch of the Master of Conference Interpreting (MCI) at the Glendon School of Translation in Toronto, Canada.

Glendon’s MCI is a complete, two-year postgraduate qualification. It’s not the first of its kind in this respect – indeed, in many ways it is modelled on more classical training models such as the European Master’s in Conference Interpreting – but what makes it new and different is the fact that Year One of the program is delivered 100% online via Moodle (a popular VLE) and Adobe Connect (a webconferencing tool). Successful completion of the first year, which includes modules in healthcare, legal and conference interpreting, leads to a Graduate Diploma in General Interpreting and is intended to prepare students to obtain certification and enter the community interpreting markets in their countries.

Year Two is delivered on Glendon campus and leads to a full Master of Conference Interpreting intended to be equivalent to the high-level training offered by the European Master’s and similar degree programs.

Why am I so excited about Glendon’s new Master’s program? First of all, because of the way it has embraced new technologies. Technology, in its many forms, has been part of the interpreting scene for some time now, but so far schools have been slow to catch up. Another big plus, as I see it, is that it brings together healthcare, legal and conference interpreters in a more holistic training paradigm, which should eliminate some of the tunnel vision typical of many training programs. And last but not least, the remote training approach breaks down geographical barriers, allowing trainers to come together with students regardless of where they are in the world.

Image courtesy of sheelamohan /

When I said at the start of this post that Glendon’s new MCI had caught my eye, I neglected to mention that this wasn’t something that happened just the other day. It was actually almost a year ago now that I first heard of the program. In late autumn of 2011, I saw their initial call go out for curriculum developers for the French<>English courses, and the idea started growing in my mind that this was something so new, so different, that I wanted to be a part of it. When a second call went out shortly after Christmas for developers of the Spanish<>English program, I didn’t hesitate. I contacted the people at Glendon and applied for the position of Curriculum Developer for the first-year Spanish to English conference interpreting course.

What ensued has proven to be one of the most enjoyable experiences of my teaching career so far. I became part of an international team of 25 or so curriculum developers based everywhere from Rio de Janeiro to Vancouver to Athens and beyond. Together, we built courses for Year One of the MCI, focusing on healthcare, legal and conference interpreting and covering Arabic, French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese and Mandarin Chinese. The courses are designed to be delivered completely online via Moodle and Adobe Connect, which students – and their teachers – can access from anywhere in the world.

At a professional level, I have benefited in many ways from my collaboration with Glendon. Not only have I enjoyed the challenge of adapting my own teaching practices to the virtual environment, but I have also learned a lot from exchanges with trainers from the healthcare and legal spheres (strike one against aforementioned tunnel vision!) and have benefited from the close collaboration with fellow conference interpreter trainers.

The experience has been personally enriching as well: names I had previously only known from textbook jackets or website bios swiftly became trusted colleagues with faces and voices, not to mention valuable views on various aspects of training. The group of developers grew quite close (and this considering we only ever met on discussion forums and virtual chats!) over the months that the project lasted. I even took some time out of a family holiday to Germany this summer to meet in person one Glendon developer with whom I had enjoyed a very fruitful online collaboration.

So what comes next at Glendon? The French<>English program has just started its classes, and I’m told that Glendon will once again be taking applications starting October 7th for the Spanish, Portuguese and Mandarin MCI courses, slated to start in early 2013. And if there is enough interest, Arabic and Russian could soon follow.

As for me, well, I’m just looking forward to the next chance to have this much fun working on a project!

Read what other members of Glendon’s curriculum development team have written about their experience:

Julie McDonough-Dolmaya 

James Nolan 

Gladys Matthews 


The ULL’s Interpreter Training Courses on the Social Media

Many of you will have noticed by now that the Master’s in Conference Interpreting (MIC) where I teach recently joined the social media. They’ve created a Facebook page, where they share photos and videos of what’s happening on the course, as well as useful links for aspiring interpreters. They’re also on Twitter at @MIC_ULL. And for those of you who have already made the leap over to Google+, you’ll find them there too, at the MIC ULL page.

So if you’re studying conference interpreting or thinking you might like to do so at some point, why not like, follow or circle the people at the MIC? I’m sure you won’t regret it!

If you’d like to know more about what we do down here at the University of La Laguna, then check out this video in Spanish by Carmen, a fellow instructor on the course. Or you can watch this video I recorded recently:

I’m told plans are afoot at the MIC to launch a blog and Youtube channel as well, so please watch this space (and the MIC pages I’ve given you above) for more news on that.

But that’s not all …

The MIC has a sister program, the EUTISC, that trains community interpreters. I’m pleased to announce that the Experto Universitario en Traducción y Interpretación para los Servicios Comunitarios has also jumped on the social media bandwagon. You’ll find the EUTISC on Twitter at @EUTISC. They’ve also created a Facebook page where they share resources for healthcare, legal and community interpreters as well as news on training.

To hear more about the EUTISC and the work of community interpreters or language mediators, watch the video by Marlene, the course coordinator:

To conclude, let me just say that if any of this has piqued your interest and you think you’d like to apply to either of these courses, applications and inquiries are now being taken for the 2012-2013 academic year.

See you in La Laguna!

Meet the Best-Kept Secret on the Interpreting Internet

Maybe you’ve already stumbled across it. Maybe you’re one of the few people who have already been tipped off about it by a colleague or acquaintance. Or maybe today will be the day that you discover what is sure to become one of the most valuable resources for interpreters on the internet.

I’m referring of course to, the new Q&A website run by and for the global community of interpreters. Until just a few days ago, the site was in beta testing mode and had only been accessed by a few dozen interpreters: those who had been actively recruited to bootstrap it as well as their friends, colleagues, neighbors and the odd innocent bystander who got swept up in the effort. This week, the site has been opened up to Google – and therefore, to the world – and so it’s time to check out what it has to offer.

By interpreters, for interpreters

A quick look at the “About” page tells us this:

This is a free, community-driven Q&A website about interpreting, i.e. spoken language translation.

The target community for this site is composed of professional or occasional interpreters, interpreting students, their trainers but also buyers and users of interpreting services and other stakeholders in the conference industry, such as event planners, convention centres, standardisers and equipment suppliers.

We invite each of them to contribute their questions and answers to the site.

The FAQ page goes on to explain:

There are many types of interpreting: business, community, conference, court & legal, escort, public service.

There are also many categories of interpreters from full-time freelance or staff conference interpreters doing simultaneous or consecutive interpreting at international events, to non-expert language brokers.

This Q&A site hopes to be of service to all of them.

For me, there are two fundamental aspects that make this new resource so interesting.

Firstly, is aimed at all types of interpreters. This means that it will hopefully contribute to breaking down some of those artificial, at times self-imposed barriers between different types of interpreting practitioners.

Secondly, the site (which is sponsored and hosted by AIIC) is 100% community-moderated. That means that all participants on this collaborative website can edit and moderate the questions and answers – yes, that means you, too! You don’t need to ask for anyone’s permission or have any sort of special status to join in the moderation.

Meet the enlightened guru pundit

If you take a look at the list of users, you’ll be sure to find a few familiar faces from around the social media. My own user profile shows that I have asked eight questions, given 19 answers, earned myself 910 karma points and been awarded 11 badges. Apparently, my fellow users have decided that I merit the titles of Enlightened, Guru and Pundit, among a few other choice epithets. The badge I really want to earn, however, is Necromancer, mostly because I think it sounds cool.

The karma point and badge systems, as I understand them, are meant to foster the sense of community amongst users as well as reward those who make an effort to offer valuable information to their peers by granting them extended moderation rights.

Now the fun starts

I have already learned a lot from just during the bootstrapping effort. I asked a few questions about training that got answered by fellow trainers, one about iPads apps for the booth that was answered by a techie interpreter colleague, plus a few others that were just niggling questions of mine, which garnered some insightful replies.

Even more interesting has been to see the type of questions that other users ask – and the wealth of information that is offered in response! Now that the website is open to the broader community, I look forward to checking in to see what new contributors have to offer.

In closing, let me just share with you the best bit I have found so far on The question “What are the best interpreter bloopers?” has received 16 answers so far. While some of the answers will be amusing only to interpreters (with our particular sense of humor), one of the answers is so funny that I still laugh out loud every time I read it. But I won’t give it away here: you’ll have to go explore yourself to find out what it said …