Franz PÖCHHACKER: A conversation about research on conference interpreting

(We also include in this post a review of a seminar recently conducted by Franz Pöchhacker in Rome in January this year) :

Conference Interpreting: WHAT WE KNOW – A REVIEW

Published by Northern California Translators Association and their magazine TranslorialNCTA

It is not every day that one has the opportunity to meet a world-class researcher in conference interpretation. The International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), as part of its Training of Trainers series, sponsored a seminar led by Franz Pöchhacker for teachers of conference interpretation. Sessions were held in Rome, Italy, January 29 through February 1, 2016.

Franz Pöchhacker is an Associate Professor of Interpreting Studies at the University of Vienna. He has worked as a conference and media interpreter and has published articles and monographs on various domains of interpreting, including the textbook Introducing Interpreting Studies (Routledge, 2004/2016).

The format of the event-a mix of lectures and discussions – allowed coverage of a significant variety of topics on conference interpretation, training, accumulated knowledge, and exchange experience. So, what do we indeed know?

Quite a bit, actually. Research on conference interpreting started in the 1960s, but by psychologists measuring decalage (the lag between the original and its simultaneous interpretation) and not by interpreters themselves. Interestingly, recent research suggests that shorter decalage may be a sign of quality in interpretation, indicating that the interpreter is coping well with the source speech.

Several periods and schools can be identified, and various decades saw interest in different topics: the so-called Paris school in the 70s and 80s, for example, downplayed the significance of language-pair-specific differences in interpretation and argued that a specific language combination does not matter too much, whereas the Trieste Symposium opened the field of conference interpretation (CI) to empirical research that was then actively pursued from the mid-80s. For a while a “struggle”; was going on between the two `camps´; epitomized by the theorie du sens (deverbalization) proposed by Seleskovitch and the push for empirical research spearheaded by Gile, best known for his Effort Models.

An attempt was made to make CI research more interdisciplinary and to introduce insights and methods from cognitive psychology, but it proved difficult to involve psychologists in the actual research. The field of CI research is gradually becoming more internationalized – though not necessarily more interdisciplinary – and now reaches far beyond Europe. Integration and diversification made such domains as sign language interpreting, legal interpreting, and healthcare interpreting important areas of study alongside conference interpretation.

By 2004 the field of interpreting studies had become extremely broad, and in the past 10 years we have seen even more consolidation and integration in research. This has allowed us to take stock of our current knowledge about interpreting in the very recently published Routledge Encyclopedia of Interpreting Studies, edited by Mr. Pöchhacker himself – a very highly recommended tome.

Participants also discussed a variety of very practical topics: are there any exercises you can do to improve your memory? Hmm, not really, it all seems to be about prioritizing information correctly, and our memory capacity is pretty much hardwired in the brain and limited by default. Interpreters may, however, get the most out of their finite memory capacity by using certain techniques: chunking, note-taking, and visualization. Strategies in simultaneous interpretation: these certainly must be taught with a caveat that the combination of strategies you use is very language specific and that knowledge of strategies should be internalized; their use is automated by turning declarative knowledge into procedural knowledge. Don´t forget that proper preparation is a strategy as well, like any other!

A significant amount of time was devoted to discussing quality in interpretation and the results of various major papers, such as the pioneering survey by Buhler (1986) and a recent replication among more than 700 AIIC members by Zwischenberger (2010). It seems that these papers mostly agree as to which qualities are significant when CI is evaluated – from the interpreters’; as well as the customers’; perspectives.

All these discussions were facilitated by the brilliant presenter: eloquent, intelligent, and a true expert in the topics – a rare treat indeed.

by Cyril FLEROV.

Special thanks to ISCAP, and Marco FURTADO for the invitation!

 Routledge Encyclopedia of Interpreting Studies , edited by Franz PÖCHHACKER, Routledge 2015.


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