Memory Techniques: Test Your Knowledge

These days on the training course at the ULL, it’s all about memory. Students are spending their days desperately trying to improve their memory skills so that they can survive the first module of the course, during which they are trained to remember – without the use of notes – the substance and structure of speeches up to five minutes in length.

The question I am going to address today is not so much how one can go about improving one’s memory (although we’ll look at that in a minute), but why in Bog’s name it is considered necessary to have this introductory module in the first place. Test your knowledge about memory and interpreting by taking this brief quiz.

TRUE OR FALSE?

1) Memory exercises were invented by sadistic interpreting trainers as a way to make the first few days of their students’ training sheer hell.

2) Although having a good memory can be useful, it isn’t really necessary for interpreters, a good since note-taking technique will spare them having to remember information.

3) Memory exercises are intended to teach students how to memorize information.

4) Giving classes on memory is a good way to break the ice during the initial phase of an interpreter training course.

5) The first classes on memory techniques allow trainers to get a good idea of what their students are like and what they can expect of them over the course of their interpreter training.

6) Doing memory exercises helps students learn how to listen actively, and teaches them to identify and analyse the underlying structure of what they are hearing.

7) Reproducing a remembered speech helps students learn how to synthesize and reformulate discourse effectively.

8 ) If you don’t learn proper memory techniques first, you will have a very hard time ever learning consecutive and simultaneous techniques.

While readers are mulling those statements over, let’s look briefly at what is written about interpreting and memory. In response to a student’s query about what sort of background reading might be helpful when trying to hone memory techniques, I dug up this list of memory improvement techniques (courtesy of Interpreter Training Resources, which is the place I always go whenever I need to find something, since I know that if it is out there, they will have found it first!).

Bootheando has also written about memory in a post entitled Ejercitando las memorias. Another post of hers looks at how contact with nature can improve memory (that’s it, my next class will be held out on the campus quad!).

Anyone looking for a more academic approach to the same question might want to read this article on Memory Training in Interpreting, or this one on Working Memory and Simultaneous Interpreting. These are just two of the many scholarly articles that are out there on the topic. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to everything that is said about memory out there, at least the presence of these articles are testimony to the fact that the business of memory and interpreting is taken rather seriously – and not just by all those poor, sweaty-palmed students suffering through the first days of classes…

 

 

 

To the answers to the quiz, now. To me at least, all of the above statements are true except two – and if you can’t guess which two are false, you might want to sign up for one of my classes ;). As for the remaining six, I listed them in ascending order of importance. So the last ones on the list are what it’s all about, really.

Interpreting Myths: The Video

Yes, I’m still on holidays. By the time this post is published, I will have celebrated two family birthdays and engaged in some serious R&R, Canadian-style. Soon, I will be back at home and ready to get blogging again for real (just when everybody else turns off their computers for the summer and heads off to the beach – what’s wrong with this picture?).

Anyway, this week’s post looks at a video I did for Lourdes of AIB many moons ago (I’m guessing by the fleece sweater I’m wearing that it must have been filmed sometime around Christmas). In the video, I look at a number of common myths surrounding interpreter training. If you haven’t seen the video yet, then you might want to take 7:41 minutes of your time to do so.

Below, I am also including the original script that I wrote for the video. Anyone who is too busy to watch the video can skim the script for the main ideas. Readers interested in seeing how far an interpreter trainer can go off track when trying to improvise on a theme on the basis of written notes can compare the written and recorded versions of the speech. Also, students wanting to test their consecutive note-taking technique can try to take notes from the video, as it is pretty much in line with the kind of speech I would give in a consecutive class, in terms of length, structure and difficulty of the subject matter (although it might be lacking in figures).

Enjoy!

Top misconceptions about training to become an interpreter

1)   ANYONE CAN BE AN INTERPRETER

Many believe you don’t need any training at all, you just have to speak a couple of languages to become an interpreter. This misconception possibly arises from the fact that when you watch a good interpreter in action, it all appears so effortless. This may lead the uninitiated to think that anyone can do it that easily.

This is absolutely FALSE. It’s like saying anyone who can use a thermometer can be a doctor, or owning a pair of skis will make you a ski jumper. While the thorough knowledge of languages is absolutely essential to becoming an interpreter, it is not enough in itself. The reason why it all looks so easy is because the interpreter has spent years training and practicing the skills required to do his or her job.

2)   INTERPRETERS ARE BORN, NOT MADE

Here, the idea seems to be that some people are born with a “knack” for interpreting and others don’t. It is true that a certain number of “in-born” traits will make it easier for one to learn the skills required to become an interpreter. For instance, it helps to:

– be a good communicator
– have a quick and well-organised mind
– have the ability to concentrate and focus, especially in stressful situations
– have strong nerves
– have intellectual curiosity
– be adaptable to new situations
– be a people person (although not all interpreters are extroverts)
– be a team player
– show personal integrity

However, even having all of these things won’t automatically make you a “born interpreter”. In the ten years that I have been training interpreters, I have seen many a promising student show up on the first day with all of these traits, and still not make it as interpreters in the end. The fact is, if you don’t apply yourself and work hard to learn the specific skills related to interpreting, you will never make it.

Which brings me to myth number 3…

3)   INTERPRETING CAN’T BE TAUGHT

This one is actually a bit mystifying for me, since most people seem to agree that pretty much every other profession requires training. You want to build a skyscraper? Go and study architecture. You want to run a multinational? Sign up for an MBA. You want to become an interpreter? Apply to a postgraduate interpreting course.

The idea here behind the myth that interpreting can’t be taught would appear to be that since the whole interpreting process all happens so quickly inside one’s head, there is no way to actually figure out what’s going on in there and then teach the techniques required. This is particularly the case for simultaneous translation, where observers see the interpreter listening, mentally analysing and translating the message, and speaking all at the same time.

I’m pleased to say that this belief is also FALSE:

Decades of theoretical research into interpreting have led to well-developed theories of interpretation which show that interpreting is not just an instinctive activity that can only be “learned by doing”. Hundreds of academic articles and dozens of books have been published on the subject. All this has led to a theoretical and practical understanding of just how the interpreting feat is accomplished – and this is what is taught to aspiring interpreters.

During an interpreter training course, the interpreting process is broken down into different phases and skill sets. Each is tackled separately first, and then brought together to create the final product. I liken the process to learning how to juggle. It’s a matter of first learning to throw the balls separately, and then gradually managing to keep them all up in the air. Inevitably, a lot of balls will end up on the floor as the learning takes place, but the end result will be students who are able to do all of these skills apparently “at once” and perform the act of interpreting.

The whole process of becoming an interpreter, far from being impossible to learn, is actually very long and painstaking, and students themselves often complain that one year is not enough (this is the usual length of a postgraduate degree in conference interpreting). This stands in stark contrast to the views of laypeople, who seem to think that no training at all is required, or indeed, even possible.

If you are going undertake training as an interpreter, you had better make sure that you are at the right place, where the job is going to be done right.

Which brings me to my fourth and final myth about interpreter training:

4)    ALL INTERPRETING COURSES ARE CREATED EQUAL

This is simply not true. Just as I’m sure you would do a lot of research before applying to an executive MBA, I highly recommend prospective students research various interpreting schools before making their choice. They shouldn’t necessarily just pick the course closest to home, or the one at the university their friends plan to attend.

What to look out for? According to the AIIC (the International Association of Conference Interpreters), which has drafted a list of best practice for conference interpreting training programmes, a course should be at the postgraduate level, be at least one year long, be taught by conference interpreters, include an aptitude test, and teach both consecutive and simultaneous interpreting techniques.

The AIIC’s recommendations, as well as a number of other tips for prospective students of interpreting, can be found on the website of AIB, along with a lot of other useful information about the profession. AIB offers objective, useful information and debunks a lot of myths, including the four I have talked about today.

Related Post

“The Right Stuff?”

Franz Pöchhacker at the UPF

A few weeks ago, Franz Pöchhacker of the University of Vienna held a public lecture at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. My colleague at AIB, Mary Fons, was fortunate enough to be able to attend the lecture, and generously agreed to tweet the event using @AIBInterpretes.

Following the tweet report, there was a request that Mary publish a summary of the lecture for those who were not able to attend the talk. Since AIB doesn’t have a blog of its own (yet!), I offered to publish the report here on The Interpreter Diaries. So here it is! Thanks, Mary – and happy reading!

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Franz Pöchhacker, Interpreter Studies: Evolution and State of the Art – 30 May 2011, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona

Pöchhacker was an engaging lecturer with a sense of humor. He managed to cover the history and present trends in the field of interpreter studies quite comprehensively in the relatively short time available.

 I, on the other hand, will be unable to give a good summary of his presentation (I suspect reading his book is probably best). We interpreters may be good at multitasking, but frankly, tweeting AND summarizing AND asking questions AND followup questions is a bit too extreme for me to handle. So all you’re going to get is what struck my fancy and some ensuing thoughts.

Just Do It

First, I liked this quote: “Our primary concern [as interpreters] is being able to do [the job], rather than make interpreting an academic study, but the two should go together.” The first half of the sentence is the part that made me want to cheer, but that’s probably because I wasn’t persevering enough to complete the research section of the excellent trainer training course run by Barbara Moser which I attended back in the 90s. I enjoy hearing about research, reading conclusions and sifting the evidence to see if I agree, but actually doing research myself, and doing it properly, is not the kind of hard work I seem to excel at, since interpreting itself with all its adjoining tasks (studying, invoicing, record keeping, networking…) keeps grabbing my attention.

Interpreters In Ancient Egypt

A historical tidbit to bring up in conversations – the title “Overseer of Dragomans” was used in 3000-year-old Egyptian documents (6th dynasty, for those of you in the know). This means that not only did interpreters exist – they must have been around for ages, however informally, whether mentioned or not – but they existed as some sort of profession and, moreover, overseeing their work warranted a lordly title. Chairing a meeting of interpreters these days has been unfavorably compared to herding cats, but it’s got to be easier when the interpreters are, in effect, your slaves or subjects – perhaps we should ask some of those agencies we all love to hate.

As an aside, I wonder what the overseeing was like… for some reason I keep imagining Python-esque or Les Luthiers-like scenes in which the interpreter is either mis-corrected, beaten up as the bearer of bad news or required to interpret increasingly disparaging statements about himself. (Yes, it’s typically a “he” in these sketches.)

Theory: A Definition

The meat and potatoes in the presentation was Pöchhacker’s description of modern theory and research, with a historical overview followed by a representation of paradigms. Most interesting was the proposed definition of interpreting – “a form of Translation [please note capitalization] in which a first and final rendition in another language is produced on the basis of a one-time presentation of an utterance in a source language”. It’s based on the ideas of Otto Kade and worded to include signed interpretation – and live subtitling, for that matter.

Still, some things fell between the cracks. As the speaker explained, the definition leaves out the “fake consecutive” or “simultaneous consecutive” technique that involves recording the speech and then doing simultaneous interpretation from the recorded version. (I’d be terrified to try this without backup note-taking, being all too familiar with equipment malfunction!) I also add upon further consideration that it leaves out those situations in which we are asked to interpret videos for which there is no script and, in order to accommodate the client, we watch them once or several times over in advance to get the typically fast-paced content straight and hopefully filter out background noise or music. Anyone who tries to tell me that’s not interpreting is picking a fight!

What To Study And How

Pochhacker is quite rightly of the school that “Interpreting is interpreting” but of course differences have to be acknowledged and accounted for. Different techniques, different settings and power structures, different technologies, different locations and different degrees of language relatedness (my addition) have a bearing on how we work, live and are assessed or assess ourselves for accuracy and ethics. We do well to use research to learn about issues we have never consciously come across and consider whether they should have a bearing at how we go about our work. (For instance, a video of a relative interpreting for a patient and leaving things out is not altogether unrelated to the situation in which an intended off-mic utterance by a politician is not interpreted even thoug the mic is actually on.)

I really must bring this piece to a close, so I recommend reading Pöchhacker on the memes and paradigms that pervade interpreting studies. I do think it’s somewhat excessive to speak of paradigm shift in the Kuhnian sense when referring to the different perspectives brought to bear in interpreting studies – sociological approaches do not cancel out neuropsychological ones, abandoning either would be a great disservice to the profession and to science, and they all use the methods of long-existing disciplines. Ultimately, the main thrust of the presentation is that ideally we interpreters should be aware of current research trends and findings obtained from many different perspectives and involving many different manifestations of interpreting.

Walking The Talk

We all love to theorize, expatiate, and recommend, and often neglect our own recommendations when our roles are shifted. For instance, I shocked myself by instinctively tapping on the mic before asking a question! All through the presentation, which lasted a couple of hours altogether, a student interpreter was slugging away in a tiny booth. Someone tweeted that I should relieve her, but I didn’t see that tweet until later and it never occurred to me to step in that way, as her teachers were in the room. However, in hindsight I realize that I should have commented on the matter. After all, unless this was done deliberately as part of some interpret-till-you-drop-and-check-results research project, we do know it’s not a good idea to keep interpreting simultaneously for hours on end, and having students do it is probably a mistake on many levels. My midsummer resolution will be to point out this sort of situation in the future whenever I’m among the audience and not in the booth – especially when the interpreters are students.

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Mary Fons is a Barcelona-based conference interpreter, member of AIIC and one of the founding members of AIB. She is a regular contributor to Communicate!, the AIIC webzine.