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Learning objectives of an interpreting class

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There is no golden standard for learning objectives of an interpreting class, because it depends on the level of your students, their previous courses, class size, available equipment and last but not the least trainer’s (your) professional background not only as an interpreter but also as a trainer. Being a great interpreter does not mean that you can teach well. And I am here to help.

As usual, my proposals in this article are based on my experience and assume the following:

Students have taken courses on consecutive interpreting and note taking skills. Students have passed a screening test with requirements as suggested in my previous article. You are an experienced conference interpreter – minimum five years in diverse settings and with multiple booth partners.

Now, passing a screening test does not qualify a student as a conference interpreter. Passing a two-semester course with high honours is a great indicator.

Here is a short list of learning objectives:

  1. Economy of words
  2. Managing synonyms and usage
  3. Constructing proper sentences
  4. Managing situations (body language, gestures, mimics, heated debates, etc.)
  5. Enunciation (pronunciation, syllable stress and intonation)
  6. Breath control
  7. Voice control (volume, pitch, rhythm and timbre)
  8. Accuracy
  9. Completeness
  10. Interpreting pace and concurrency
  11. Duration of interpreting
  12. Booth manners

Please allow me to discuss each of these 12 objectives briefly. You may want to focus on part of these skills during the first semester and others in the second semester. It would be great if the department offers a separate course on voice control, as it is broader then an interpreting course. As for the above 12, I hope to produce dedicated articles for each item some time in a not so distant future.

Economy of words:

It is the number one skill for any good writer, speaker, translator or interpreter and even a trainer. Better to be concise than wordy. Teach your students how to put wordy phrases on a ‘diet’. Otherwise, your students will miss numbers or dates and other critical details, have a hard time in keeping up the pace with the speaker and fail to construct clear and fluent sentences. Two semesters is enough to teach economy of words.

Synonyms and usage:

This is a lifelong exercise and therefore try not to scare your students by bombarding them with millions of synonyms. And also be more prepared than giving stereotypcal internet captions as examples – you can do much more. Encourage your students to build their repertoire and focus on a few industries, rather than jumping on to the first interpreting job offer.  Exercises on usage should be geared to improve eloquence of students, and NOT to make them terminology robots.

Constructing proper sentences:

Focus on splitting & merging sentences, show them the differences between verbal bridges and logical bridges and which ones to reduce while interpreting. Help them to develop sentence restructuring or even better sentence transformation competencies, because the last thing you want is to have your students superimpose the structures of their mother tongue into target language.

Managing situations

The first three skills should produce clarity and fluency on paper, that is for written translation. But interpreting involves reading the body language – gestures, mimics and posture – of the speakers, parties and sometimes the audience. Interpreters can also refer to a slide or may encounter idiomatic language on the spot. Therefore, in addition to the skills covered in the first three paragraphs, you need to show your students how to manage situations.

Clarity and fluency of an interpreter also depends on voice and breath control, enunciation, accuracy and completeness, on which I have more to say.

Enunciation and Voice Control

Start with pronunciation and continue with syllable stress. This part of the course should be a lot of fun. Managing pitch, rhythm and timbre come next. Monotonous interpreting is boring. Teach your students to re-build their voice in both their native language and also target language(s).

Breath control

This is about breathing exercises and self-awareness. Immediate outcome should be avoiding disturbing breath-outs on to the microphone. For advanced students, breathing techniques will help maintain health of their respiratory track, build their voice and is also a key to manage stress & anxiety level.

Accuracy & Completeness

Always start with Level 1 / 2 recordings or develop your own Level 1 / 2 readings. Be very cautious to introduce Level 3 and 4 unless you have a hard working class who practise every week if not every day on their own, and better not to show Level 5 to your students at all. When I mention Level, I am referring to the European Speech Repository recordings.   Level 5 is advanced and is not for under graduate students. Some students may manage some of the Level 5. But better to excel in each of the 12 skills first; understand how to manage different situations, deliver clear and accurate interpreting, develop strategies for different speakers or domains, and rebuild an impressive interpreting voice.

Practise in Level 1 – 2 for the first semester, move on to Level 3 towards the end of semester and invest the entire second semester on Level 3 and 4. Make sure that your students always complete their interpreting assignments with accurate translation, rich vocabulary and well-managed voices.

Pace and concurrency

This is mostly about distance to the speaker and also about economy of words and sentence transformation. Show your students examples on how to manage their interpreting distance. Also show students tactics when they are too close to or too much behind the speaker.

If you plan your course well and if your students are talented, you can teach them not to join the mediocre crowd. There are so many mediocre interpreters these days who blame the subject matter, the speaker, equipment, weather, ex-spouse and even God, but themselves.

Duration of interpreting

I would recommend to ask for 2 – 5 minutes of proper interpreting during the first semester and up to 10 minutes of excellent interpreting in the second semester. Longer durations are for professionals and your students must evolve on their own / under the guidance of their professional masters.

Ask them to do this properly, and to excel in the skills you have been teaching them, DON’T require them to give you 20 – 30 minutes mambo-jambo.

Booth manners

Booth manners make all the difference for professional interpreters. Keep your booth clean & tidy, assist your fellow booth partner, communicate with other booths, communicate with the technicians, event organizers, speakers. The booth is an interpreter‘s office. Teach them to respect and improve their office standards.

 

Well, this is all for now. Please share your comments so that I can learn from your ideas and write better articles.