My Roman Holiday

Many readers will know that I have just come back from a whirlwind trip to Rome. I went there to attend a Training for Trainers seminar on “Research Results and Implications for Interpreter Training”. It was a two-day event organized by AIIC Training and given on this occasion by one of the leading lights in interpreting studies, Daniel Gile. Doesn’t sound like much of a holiday, you say?

Well, consider this: I managed to time my visit to coincide with the biggest blizzard the city has seen in decades, which blanketed the Italian capital’s seven hills with snow, made taxicabs scarce and metro queues endless, led to hot water shortages and flickering lights at my hotel, and covered the Roman cobblestones with treacherous ice. Add to that the fact that I was only there for about 36 hours, most of which I spent cooped up in a windowless room with no view of the Pantheon, the Colosseum, or anything else remotely Roman for that matter, and you may seriously start to wonder why I am calling this post “My Roman Holiday” and not “My Roman Ordeal” (hint: it’s not to compare myself to Audrey Hepburn).

It’s quite simple, really. For me, the trip was a wonderful experience. Firstly, it was only the second time in the seven years since my first child was born that I have “treated myself” to some time away from home for professional development purposes (not purely business travel).

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Spare a Thought for Your Interpreting Teacher (Part 2 – Simultaneous)

We all know that simultaneous interpreting is a great juggling act. Many readers have probably already seen the video that illustrates this in such an entertaining fashion. Others may have read this post by Dolmetscher-Berlin that so eloquently expresses the multi-tasking aspect of our job. Or maybe you’ve delved into one of the many papers and articles that describe the processes involved in the task (there are plenty to choose from: for a start, try checking here and here).

In any case, I think by now it’s clear that the task of the student of simultaneous interpreting is an enormous one. Students have to learn how to juggle all those balls, which include listening, understanding, analysis, synthesis, reformulation, production, monitoring of output – and if you ask Dolmetscher-Berlin, also include such minor matters as remembering to breathe, taking the occasional sip of water and jotting down terminology – without letting any of the balls drop.

Okay, so now put yourself in the place of the interpreting teachers responsible for monitoring the acquisition of these juggling skills. We not only have to be able to tell when a ball has been dropped (that’s the relatively easy part), but we also have to be able to determine why it fell and advise the apprentice juggler on how to make sure it doesn’t happen next time.

Put this way, it makes me want to abandon the whole business of teaching simultaneous right now and go take up knife-throwing, or tightrope-walking, or something considerably less nerve-wracking. But no, I’m an interpreter trainer, and so like it or not, my business is to figure out where the simultaneous interpreting process is breaking down and try to remedy the situation.

Of course, I already partially dealt with this in a previous (self-pitying) post on the related topic of the challenges of teaching consecutive interpreting. Today, I want to look at the same question from the standpoint of teaching simultaneous.

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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!