Mind Your Manners!

Conference interpreters must be a very poorly behaved bunch. Why else would there be so many resources out there dedicated to teaching us proper manners? There are seemingly countless articles, slide presentations and videos explaining the dos and don’ts of interpreter etiquette, as well as the inevitable cartoons poking fun at those interpreters who don’t seem to have consulted any of the former before stepping into the booth. Today, I’d like to go through some of what’s out there.

To me, minding your manners as an interpreter should essentially be a matter of common sense: try to treat your colleagues how you would like them to treat you. However, for the novice interpreter, it’s not always clear just exactly how one would like to be treated, or what constitutes good and bad etiquette in the booth.

I still have vivid, and mostly painful, memories of some of my own slip-ups during my first few weeks in the booth. One day, I had to be reminded by a senior colleague not to munch my sandwich in full view of the delegates (“but I was on my break, what harm could a quick snack do?”). On another occasion, I was told never – NEVER! – to touch another interpreter’s console (“but your turn was over, I thought I’d just switch off your mike for you!”). Needless to say, these are lessons that I will never forget.

Fortunately, thanks to all of the resources available, interpreters these days should not have to learn the hard way. Let’s take a look.

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A Closer Look at Distance Learning

The other day I had the opportunity to participate in a videoconference organised through the distance learning project run by the European Master’s consortium (EMCI). It was the third such videoconference I’d taken part in, and I have to say that the experience is starting to grow on me!

The session used a live video link to bring together the students and trainers of the Master’s course (MIC) down here on Tenerife with a number of evaluators from the European Commission’s Interpreting Directorate (DG SCIC) in Brussels. Many videoconferences, including the other two I took part in, link universities with other training institutions, but in this particular case it was the SCIC at the other end of the line.

The session went more or less like this:

1) A speech was given by either a trainer in La Laguna or an interpreter in Brussels
2) One of the students in La Laguna provided a consecutive interpretation of the speech
3) Feedback was provided by the evaluators in Brussels
4) The whole process started over again, until four speeches had been done.

Basically, you could say that it was just another consecutive class – with the minor detail that there were some 3,000 km separating the students from the evaluators.

Right, so …

Why, you might ask, would one bother with all the fuss of setting up remote classes such as these? Well, there are a number of good reasons.

If you ask the students, I’m sure they’d say the best thing about it is the chance to get feedback from someone other than the same old broken-record teachers (and here I include myself) they hear from day in, day out during the course.

If you ask the participating universities, they’d probably say it’s a good way to deepen their cooperation and exchange knowledge while making the most of scarce training resources for certain less common languages (e.g. one speech yesterday was given in Greek).

And if you ask the SCIC (which I haven’t, although I imagine I could), I’d guess they’d say that it offers them an opportunity to contribute hands-on to the training of their next generation of interpreters (click here for more details of how the SCIC helps universities).

If you’d like to get a better idea of what such a videoconference class might look like ¡n practice, the EMCI has obligingly posted a number of past classes in the Pedagogical material section of its website (under the heading “Webstreamed classes”). One, a videoconference consecutive class between the University of Lisbon and Charles University in Prague, is very similar to the other two sessions I participated in, which linked the University of La Laguna with its counterparts in Ljubljana and Lisbon. If you have 104 minutes to spare and speak Czech and/or Portuguese, you might just want to click here to check it out.

Possibly more compelling for readers is the series of webstreamed interpreting master classes and lectures offered by the ETI in Geneva. Their channel is called “Live ETI / En direct de l’ETI” and can also be found on the Pedagogical material page on the EMCI site, but for the sake of convenience, I’ll just give you the direct link here. The next live master class is scheduled for February 24, 2012 (so mark your calendars!).

Live ETI also has a sizable archive of past classes, which constitute a valuable training resource. There, you can find such gems as the speech on “Neurological diseases, and a possible treatment for Creutzfeld Jakob disease using aminotiazols” as part of the class on Health Challenges for the 21st Century, as well as the much more boring-sounding session on social media entitled The Many Faces of Facebook. Many big names in the field of interpreter training, such as Roderick Jones, Barbara Moser-Mercer and Clare Donovan, can all be found on the lists of participants.

Haven’t Been There, Not Done That

So far I’ve been talking to you about the EMCI distance learning initiative, which I have been involved in directly. Of course, there are more interpreter training initatives out there taking advantage of new technologies to bridge distances.

One example that immediately springs to mind is the new series of online lectures on interpreting offered by the FTSK Germersheim. There is one series of classes is aimed at professional intepreters and another that targets beginners. Classes are held online once a week and run for 8-10 weeks through the winter term. To get an idea of what a class might be like, check out the course description for the introductory module on note-taking (all the information is in German only – sorry! – since the courses are meant for people with German as a working language).

Closer to home, the postgraduate course in community interpreting (EUTISC) offered by the University of La Laguna now offers part of its coursework via the virtual platform Moodle. The idea is to make the course more accessible to people who work during the day and can’t attend classes on a regular basis. Finally, a great deal further from home (mine, at least) is the recently announced online interpreting course in Virginia in the United States.

What other distance learning opportunities have you heard about in the intepreting world? What do you think about teaching interpreting at a distance? Take a moment between bites of turkey this festive season to drop me a line and let me know!

Portrait of a Conference Interpreting Course

This week, classes started on the Master’s in Conference Interpreting at the University of La Laguna. By now, students will have received the course outline and schedule, met their fellow students and some of their teachers, and will have a rough idea of what to expect over the next nine months.

Since the next several entries in my blog are going to discuss various aspects of interpreter training using mainly this course as my reference, I thought it might be useful to share some of this basic information with my readers. What I’m going to do today is offer a general outline of the Master’s in Conference Interpreting (or MIC, as we like to call it). This “portrait” of the course will be more like a pencil sketch than a full-blown, life-sized portrayal, but my intention will be to add colour and detail to this sketch over the next few months.

The MIC started this past Monday and will run for 33 weeks, stopping only for Christmas, Easter and a couple of bank holidays. The first four weeks will be dedicated exclusively to memory exercises, after which there will be a five-week introductory module for consecutive interpreting. The introduction to simultaneous technique comes in the last week of November, and from then on classes will alternate between consecutive and simultaneous technique. The (non-eliminatory) mid-term exams for consecutive are held in February and the mid-terms for simultaneous are scheduled for April. The finals will be held in the first week of June.

Each week, a different topic will be the focus of the speeches and exercises given in class. This is to help students broaden their general knowledge and learn preparation and terminology-building skills. Topics range from such “light” matters as tourism, education or culture in the first few weeks to the “heavier” fields of science and technology, energy, trade, fisheries and agriculture nearer to the end of the course.

Every year, the MIC also includes a trip to Brussels to visit the EU institutions, student mobility exchanges with other Master’s courses in Europe, and classes and lectures by visiting trainers from the EU, UN and private markets.

A Week in the Life of the MIC

Classes on the MIC run from Monday to Friday, starting each day around 9 a.m. and running until lunchtime (which in Spain means around 2 p.m.). An average week will include classes in consecutive and simultaneous technique from all of the students’ passive languages into their active languages, as well as a lecture on the European institutions (first term) or Economics (second term). This year, I will also be running a monthly lecture series that I launched last year which looks at different aspects of the theory and practice of interpreting (you will be hearing more about that in future posts, I can assure you!).

Afternoons will generally be spent on self-study, either individually or in groups. This will be guided by teachers in the beginning, but students will increasingly be responsible for organising this self-study on their own.

The Student Body

The MIC generally accepts 16 to 20 of the 100-odd candidates who apply to attend the course in any given year. This year, there will be 19 students. The majority of students at the MIC work in the Spanish booth, but other booths (such as English, German and Italian) have also been trained at the MIC. This time around is no exception: I will have four English booth students to work with (picture Michelle rubbing her hands in anticipation)!

The passive languages offered on the course vary from year to year and depend on the students’ language combinations. This time, we will have German, French, Spanish, English, Italian, Portuguese and Greek; in other editions, the MIC has covered passive Polish, Slovene, Dutch, Danish, Czech and others.

An interesting note: the vast majority of students on conference interpreting courses are women, but this year there will be five men on the MIC, which means they will represent more than 25% of the total. That’s got to be some sort of record! Without wanting to reveal any personal details of individual students, I will add that the age range for this crop of students is between 22 and 41, with five students over the age of 30 (if you’re wondering why this matters, read this post I wrote on when to study). Also, the academic backgrounds of three of the students are in fields other than language studies or translation/interpreting.

One Portrait Among Many

Now that I’ve told you about the Master’s in Conference Interpreting at the University of La Laguna, I want to hear from you about other training courses. I know many of my readers either study or teach on similar courses around the world, or have done so in the past, and what I would like to know is what those courses are like. As you were reading the above description, what did you notice was the same as or different from the way things are done on your course? Please share your observations in the blog comments section below (or on my Facebook page, if you prefer).

On a related note, Lourdes, the conference interpreter responsible for the video series on interpreting to be found on YouTube at Lourdesaib, just recently interviewed one of the senior instructors on the MIC. Here’s the video, for those readers who might have missed it: