Spare a Thought for Your Interpreting Teacher (Part 1 – Consecutive)

Teaching consecutive interpreting technique is hard. If you think mastering the art of note-taking is a challenge, try teaching it sometime!

I think that part of the challenge of teaching consecutive note-taking is that there is no single “right” way to do things. Some ground rules do exist, of course (see Rozan’s seven principles as a starting point), but ultimately every interpreter will develop his own way to take notes, and – here’s the rub for the teacher – whichever route that takes the student to the final goal must be considered valid. It’s not about leading students down the high road, the low road, the garden path, or even the road less travelled. It’s about helping them explore the terrain until they discover their own personal route to where they need to go.

Country road, take me home ...

Another challenge to the teacher lies in the fact that each student will face different obstacles on the way. If a teacher is to be able to address an obstacle effectively, she first must identify what it is. In the case of consecutive interpreting, this is not always obvious at first glance.

Some students will struggle with comprehension or analysis, others will find they have a hard time getting the ideas reflected on the page, and yet others will suffer with reformulating and presentation. Yet the student’s actual performance in class might not reveal exactly where the process is breaking down. So teachers have to be constantly investigating, asking questions, guessing and second-guessing, and proposing different solutions – and this in an individualised manner, for up to 12 students at a time.

Now, I’m not looking for anyone’s pity, here. The reason why I ask you to spare a thought for your poor consecutive interpreting teacher is that I think that an exploration of the difficulties related to teaching note-taking can ultimately offer valuable insight to those who are learning the technique. To illustrate this, I am going to share with you an exercise I did with my students at a recent seminar.

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Videos on Interpreting: The Masters Series

I’d love to write a post introducing the interpreting profession to newcomers, another looking at the basics of consecutive note-taking, and a third giving tips to students starting out in the booth – but why bother, when there are three excellent videos already out there covering precisely those topics?

I’m referring of course to the videos done by Dick Fleming, conference interpreter and trainer, for Lourdes de Rioja, producer of the Lourdesaib channel on Youtube.  I don’t believe either of these individuals requires an introduction, but just in case there is somebody out there who hasn’t heard of them yet, allow me to do the honours.

Dick Fleming is a former staff interpreter with the European Commission’s DG Interpretation (DG SCIC) and was the organiser of the Commission’s in-house interpreter training course (“stage”) that produced so many excellent interpreters in the years that it was running. He has been involved for many years now in training for trainers as well.

Lourdes de Rioja is a freelance conference interpreter for the European Insitutions and a Key Trainer at interpreting schools in Denmark and Spain. In her spare time (!) she also produces videos on the interpreting profession, which she shares on her Youtube channel and which have proven a big hit amongst the interpreting community (by the way, this channel just got a facelift, so if you haven’t visited it recently, I recommend you check out its new look).

What I want to share with you today is a series of videos that Lourdes and Dick produced together. Many of you will have already seen them, or at least one or two, but I thought it would be useful to bring the three videos together in a single place, for anyone who might have missed out.

The first video in the series, “The eloquent detective”, looks at the interpreting profession in general terms, and draws some interesting parallels between the work of the interpreter and detective work.

The second video, “Consecutive note-taking”, looks at how best to avoid the potential pit-falls of poor note-taking.

By the way, that video has been selected as the basis for discussion at the upcoming Interpreting Journal Club chat on consecutive interpreting. The title for the chat is “Consecutive is dead! Long live consecutive?” and if you have any views about the future (or lack thereof) of the consecutive mode of interpretation, you’re welcome to join the chat tomorrow (more details here).

The third and final video, “Starting simultaneous interpreting”, offers some basic tips to students just starting out in the booth. This was the topic of the training session Dick held with my students in La Laguna this week, and is also related to the Training for Trainers seminar he ran for the ULL’s trainers on Tuesday, which looked at techniques for teaching simultaneous (very useful seminar, it was – I’m still digesting all the information!).

So there you have it, my “Masters Series” of videos on interpreting. Enjoy!

There’s a long weekend starting now in Spain, so I’ll be tuning out for a few days, but I’ll be back soon enough with more interpreter training fun…

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: