Symbols: dos and don’ts

When note-taking for consecutive interpreting is mentioned the first thing that student interpreters ask about are symbols. And although it is true that knowing a reasonable number of very useful symbols can make our lives much easier, please don’t forget that symbols are relatively unimportant and certainly not a panacea for consecutive interpreting problems. If you don’t have a structured, consistent and meaningful note-taking system then no amount of symbols is going to help you.

This film explains why we use symbols in the first place; what you might want to replaces with symbols; and how to use symbols effectively.

Andrew GILLIES is interpreter trainer, coordinator of AIIC Training and author of Conference Interpreting – a Student’s Practice book.




Language enhancement exercises for conference interpreters

“At advanced levels, where grammar has been more or less mastered, the main difference between foreign students and native speakers is that the latter have been exposed to their language for many years, over thousands and thousands of hours. As a result they have a wider cultural and contextual understanding of the language, a wider vocabulary and a commands of a wider range of registers. Constant contact with the language and the subjects that are discussed in that language mean that native-speakers have a huge head start on foreign learners.” (From Conference Interpreting – a Student’s Practice book, Andrew Gillies)

Interpreting students therefore have to make a continued effort (over and above the long periods of time spent in the countries where their foreign languages are spoken) to expand their knowledge of their languages, not just in terms of technical vocabulary but also in terms of register and cultural knowledge. In this film Andy Gillies presents 3 exercises, which, if done regularly, can help you to catch up with native-speakers.


Intonation in simultaneous interpreting


“Intonation is not a luxury. It’s a crucial part of communicating well. Getting it wrong in languages with little or no verb conjugation or noun declension (like English) can lead to being understood less well.  The moral of the story… make an effort to speak normally and with normal intonation patterns when in the booth. Record yourself onto a dictaphone to check how you’re doing”.                                                                                                                                                     Andrew GILLIES

The extract below is taken from: Intonation in the production of and perception of simultaneous interpretation. Shlesinger, Miriam. In Lambert and Moser-Mercer (Eds.). Bridging the Gap. Empirical Research in Simultaneous Interpretation. 1994 Benjamins.

2. Procedure and Apparatus

Ten excerpts were taken at random from the recorded, real-time output of professional interpreters in actual conference settings. Each excerpt was approximately 90 seconds long (15-20 typed lines). Six were in Hebrew (interpreted from English); four were in English (interpreted from Hebrew). Two of the English excerpts were the output of non-native speakers, whose Hebrew (native-language) interpreting output is also included in the corpus; i.e., the ten passages were the output of eight professional interpreters.

2.1. Production: Isolating the Salient Features

Repeated listening to the interpreted output revealed a set of features which seemed to differ markedly from those of spontaneous discourse. To validate the intuitive judgements on intonation in the interpreted passages, elicitation of the same passage by the same speakers in a non-interpreting setting was called for; i.e., ideally, it would have been useful to obtain the same texts from the same informants. Since it was not feasible to elicit these in the form of spontaneous speech, a second-best option was chosen: the passages were transcribed, and each interpreter was asked to read “his/her” passage aloud. It should be noted that a minimum of three years had elapsed between the actual interpretation and the experiment in Question; only two of the ten interpreters recognized the passage – and this only as a result of marked lexical cues. Thus, it may safely be assumed that that the reading, for all intents and purposes, was prima vista, was in no way expected to reveal those features which typify intonational interpretation.

2.2. Perception: Effect of Interpretational Intonation on Comprehension and on Recall

Once the features characteristic of simultaneous interpreting production had been pinpointed, their effect on perception could be assessed. Towards this end, recordings of three passages were played to two groups of subjects (eight in Group A and seven in Group B), matched for fluency in the languages concerned, and for familiarity with interpreting.

Both groups of judges listened to recordings of the same three passages. Group A listened to the interpreted version, whereas Group B heard the read­aloud one. Since the text, the speaker (interpreter/reader) and the format (a recording) were identical for each passage, it was assumed that the sole distinguishing factor would be the intonation, and that by comparing the test results of the two groups, it would be possible to establish the differential effect of interpretational intonation.

After each recording had been played, three questions on each of the three passages were presented in written form to each of the two groups of judges. (The same nine questions were presented to both groups.) The nine questions were meant to determine the effect of the mode of delivery. The passages did not lend themselves to inferential questions, but rather to a straightforward test of recall and comprehension, given that they averaged no more than fifteen lines and were presented out of context.

3. Results

3.1. Production

The salient features of interpretational intonation, described in the analysis below, have been grouped into four broad categories: (1) tonality – the distribution of an utterance into distinctive contours, or information units; (2) tonicity – which syllable carries maximum pitch prominence in the tone group; (3) tone – the means of marking the opposition between certain and uncertain polarity. If polarity is certain, the pitch of the tonic falls; if uncertain, it rises (Halliday 1967); (4) prosody – duration and speed.

All but one of the features described below – acceleration – was found in the output of at least four different interpreters; i.e., only one of the three features was possibly idiosyncratic. Moreover, although languages (and: even dialects) do differ in various aspects of intonation (Ladd 1990; Cutler 1987; Rameh > 1985), the features which came to the fore in the present study’ seemed to cut across (at least these two) languages.

The data below refer to occurrences of the given feature in the interpreted passage only; i.e., whenever the feature appeared in the read-aloud mode as well, it was not counted. It should be noted that each of the interpreted texts in the corpus was longer in duration than its read-aloud counterpart; i.e., the interpretation was slower (took more time) than the reading.

Passage 2 and passage 6 were produced by interpreters who, although working into English, are native speakers of Hebrew. The same two interpreters also produced the Hebrew passages 1 and 7, respectively. The data below do not reveal a significant pattern of differences between the two passages in the case of either interpreter, though further study is needed to determine whether directionality does in fact play a role in interpretational intonation.

3.1.1. Tonality (Chunking, Pauses, Division into Tone Groups). The range of grammatical structures which pauses tend to separate is relatively small and constant (Crystal 1969). Functional pauses serve to divide discourse into tone groups and organize it into information units (Halliday 1985; El-Menoufy 1988). Nonfunctional pauses caused by hesitations, on the other hand, tend to lower the congruence between chunking and syntax, since the ensuing junctures are nongrammatical.

The data below would seem to indicate that pauses within grammatical structures are by far the most salient feature of tonality in interpretation; i.e., interpreters are prone to introduce a disproportionate number of pauses in “unnatural” positions, which are liable to impede understanding (Alexieva 1987).

As for pauses at the clause or sentence boundary, while the interpreted passages did generally include pauses at sentence boundaries (in conformity with the original), these tended to be tentative rather than final, and were often coextensive with a low-rise intonation (pitch movement 3). Tentative pauses are frequently used in the middle of a primary contour, usually serving a parenthetic function (Ladd 1975; Pike 1945); thus, a high incidence of such pauses in nonparenthetical position is anomalous. Moreover, since the tentative pause correlates with an attitude of uncertainty, the cumulative pragmatic effect is bound to be altered. As in other instances of introducing an element which runs counter to the listener’s expectations, understanding is likely to be affected.

3.2. Perception

A test was devised to determine the extent of comprehension and recall by each of the two groups of subjects. The same test was administered to both groups. It consisted of three questions on each of three passages (a total of nine questions). The total number of correct answers in Group A (8 subjects) was 17 out of a possible 72 (21 %) and in Group B (7 subjects) 26 out of a possible 63 (41 %). The difference between the proportions of correct answers in the sample was 20%; i.e., the proportion of correct answers in the second group was approximately double that of the first.”

Analysis exercises for consecutive interpreting

‘Analysis’ is often cited as one of the most important skills in consecutive interpreting but it’s one that is less often practised in isolation. In this film Andrew Gillies suggests 3 exercises aimed at practising your analysis skills. The first exercise, based on newspaper headlines, will train you to look beyond what is said explicitly and bring to the forefront of your mind all of the implicit information on a given subject. This will help you put what is being said in any speech into some context and better understand it.

The other two exercises train a different type of analysis, namely that of breaking speech down into it’s component parts. Students can often see a speech as an indivisible mass of words and that can be very daunting. In actual facts speeches are usually made up of small manageable (and inter-related) sections that can be portrayed on paper, or in your minds-eye.

For an interesting blog post about analysis seeJust what is analysis anyway?” 

To find out more about Andy Gillies click here

Andy Gillies is interpreter trainer and coordinator of AIIC training.


Pues así, sin darnos cuenta, había llegado la semana de la visita a Bruselas. La semana que todos (yo desde luego sí) imaginábamos mientras enviábamos nuestros documentos de inscripción para la prueba de acceso al MIC. Ya estábamos allí, con nuestros trajes y nuestras libretas. Con la señal de “novato, aprendiz de intérprete” en la frente.

Yo desde el primer momento ya iba con nervios, la semana imponía. Ya me imaginaba toda la situación: intérpretes estirados, preparados para tirar de látigo y mandarnos de vuelta a casa. Nada más lejos de la realidad. Lo que más me sorprendió y lo que más quiero destacar de la visita fue la cercanía y la simpatía con la que nos recibieron. Uno puede pensar que personas con tanto talento como los intérpretes que conocimos, que son el reflejo de nuestras propias metas como estudiantes, se lo van a tener un poco más creído. Y de nuevo, nada más lejos de la realidad. La humildad de todos ellos era aplastante.

El primer día fue el más intenso, nos recibieron Natalia Sánchez, jefa de cabina española del SCIC y Alicia Lázaro. Alicia nos hizo una presentación general del trabajo del SCIC con la Comisión y con las diferentes instituciones. Fue especialmente interesante el tema del futuro de la interpretación en las instituciones y las nuevas tecnologías.

También nos hablaron de las pruebas de acreditación de intérpretes del SCIC y José Iturri nos dio una pequeña charla sobre comunicación especialmente divertida. Podéis encontrar una similar en el canal de Youtube de la DG Interpretación (How to Speak in Public).

Esta primera jornada dio para mucho. Por la tarde hicimos un simulacro de examen de acreditación. Pudimos ser testigos directos de la deliberación del jurado, ver cómo evalúa las prestaciones, a qué le da más importancia y todo ese tipo de cuestiones que normalmente se debaten entre bambalinas.

Los dos siguientes días, que pasamos interpretando en cabina muda en el Consejo, fueron los días más emocionantes. Tuvimos la suerte de que nos acompañara Carlos Hoyos, que nos atendió de maravilla y se aseguró de que todo saliese a la perfección. Al llevar poco tiempo practicando simultánea, nos vimos un poco verdes en las cabinas, pero fue una experiencia sin igual de la que pudimos aprender muchísimo, tanto del feedback que nos iban proporcionando los intérpretes que nos escuchaban, como de aquellos que trabajan en las demás cabinas. Por primera vez veíamos de primera mano el impacto del trabajo de los intérpretes en la comunicación. Los delegados españoles, por ejemplo, dependían por completo de la cabina española.

La parte más agridulce llegó con la visita al Parlamento. Desde nuestra llegada habíamos podido ver cómo el ambiente alrededor de las instituciones estaba un tanto cargado y cómo se había extremado la seguridad. Esto quedó especialmente claro en el Parlamento, donde la visita fue demasiado escueta.

Por último, visitamos el Tribunal de Justicia en Luxemburgo. Fue la parte más sorprendente del viaje, tanto por la institución en sí como por la ciudad, que supuso todo un descubrimiento. Una pena que no pudiéramos ver en directo las vistas orales del Tribunal, pero sí que pudimos andar a nuestras anchas (vigilados de cerca) por las elegantes instalaciones de la institución más temida por los intérpretes.

En todo momento quedó patente la buena disposición de quienes nos recibieron. Se volcaron en responder nuestras preguntas y en intentar que nos quedáramos con buen sabor de boca.

Y así llegó el final de nuestra visita. Volvimos a Tenerife con los pies en la tierra y la cabeza en las nubes. Me quedo con una cosa y es que la perfección es imposible. Eso sí, aquí, en La Laguna seguimos trabajando para estar un poco más cerca, si no de la perfección, de la apasionante profesión del intérprete.

Muchas gracias, de parte de todos los alumnos que pudimos disfrutar de la experiencia este año, a Julia, a Marlene y a Lourdes por organizarlo todo y por asegurarse de que aprovecháramos la visita al máximo.

Ana Venzal Cantavella es alumna del Máster de Interpretación de Conferencias, MIC, de la Universidad de La Laguna, promoción 2014-2015.

CONSEC DEMO EN-FR: Plaisir du soleil?

Hi Felix.

First of all, congratulations for accepting to take part in this public exercise. This is certainly good practice for stress management and an excellent preparation for exams or tests !

Then a few comments about the speech. It is relatively long (over 6 minutes) and relatively easy : the speaker – who is a native- is clear; the structure of her speech is pretty straight forward and  the pace not too fast (although not as slow as you would think just listening to her..)

As far as your note-taking is concerned, I was struck by the considerable time-lag with which you note. It’s good because it helps you grasp what the speaker’s intentions are and pre-process the information before you actually note it down. Beware however of being too far behind the speaker, especially in case of enumerations. There are such enumerations a couple of times during the speech and each time you left out part of the items. Your time lag should be more elastic (just like your ear-to-voice span in simultaneous). In other words, you should be able to adapt it according to needs.

Otherwise I haven’t much to say about your notes, it took me some time to decipher them but that’s not an issue. Your notes are for you and you only and what matters is that you can read them easily. As for this last point, I would recommend that you anticipate more than you currently do. In other words, your eyes should always be an idea further down on your note pad than the passage you’re interpreting. This would help you get rid of hesitations, pauses…Remember, your performance should always be shorter than that of the speaker !

This speech is also a good example of how important general knowledge is even when the topic is as general as the one here. Ovid was not a problem for you, nor was Coco Chanel or Josephine Baker. You could therefore use abbreviations (C. Chanel; Joseph Baker for instance)and expand your notes when you interpreted (Coco Chanel, Josephine Baker). Ceruse was more of a problem although the message came across.

A last comment on your body language : the eye contact was OK (when you will know how to anticipate reading back your notes – see above – it will further  improve) but you should be careful with your left hand which you tend to use a little too often to emphasize what you are saying.

I hope this helps and wish you all the best



Captura de pantalla 2015-03-03 a las 18.29.44

Why consecutive learning is important?

“Although I’m retired from the Commission now I still do a bit of training now and again and I sometimes get asked why students of conference interpreting on university interpretation courses spend so much of their time learning how to do consecutive interpreting when practically all the work they’ll do later as a conference interpreter- assuming they get that far- will consist of simultaneous interpreting..the difference as I’m sure most of you know being that consecutive (as the name suggests) is done after the speech, using among other things your memory and the notes you have taken during the speech to be interpreted whereas simultaneous is done in a soundproofed booth wearing head-phones while the speaker is talking..which is probably how most laymen see interpreters and also how most professional interpreters might see themselves.
It’s certainly how I spent most of my working days at the EU’s headquarters in Brussels..sitting in a booth wearing headphones which is why I never use headphones or earphones now..I thought 35 years was I’m now very happy to go jogging without music.
Yet, as I said, I spent most of my interpreting days in the booth which means that I spent some not in the booth but doing consecutive interpreting in the same room as the experts, diplomats or politicians meeting usually in small groups. And not only in the same room, sometimes in the same field, farm or factory, even down the same mine..all in own personal list of the times I’ve had to do consecutive is pretty long but I don’t wish to bore youthe point I’m making is that from my own experience consecutive interpretation is an essential part of a conference interpreter’s tool box- he or she has to know how to do it, since it is a conference interpreting mode that is still used, even if much less so than simultaneous interpreting.
And it can happen when you least expect it..let’s say the simultaneous equipment breaks down or the nuclear fuel committee decides to split into two smaller working groups..or the mayor of the town you’re visiting decides to make a welcome speech..or you’re having a great time enjoying a free meal with your delegates somewhere (oh do come along there won’t be any interpreting required..they said) and then someone feels moved to address the assembled company and duly taps his glass with his fork.. the dreaded sound of cutlery on cristal, signifying consecutive. And you have to do it. You can’t say you’re not on duty or plead incompetence on the grounds that you’ve had a glass of wine or two..and you’d  better do it well because everyone will notice it if you don’t as they will if you do it brilliantly..much more so than if you’re hidden in the booth, because consecutive is very high profile with your own and the profession’s reputation under the public gaze. If you like, it’s our visiting card.
So there are plenty of practical and professional reasons why conference interpreters should be able to do a decent consecutive interpretation which means that you have to learn how to do it.
You might well say what about the first consecutive conference interpreters who worked at the Paris Peace Conference at the end of the First World War and later at the League of Nations..they didn’t study consecutive at an interpreting school because there weren’t any then… the first one, Geneva, wasn’t founded until 1941. Well, these were exceptionally gifted men who taught themselves to do decent consecutive on the job over a period of several years..even the famous Jean Herbert admitted to feeling ashamed about one of his early assignments as a consecutive interpreter.
Nowadays it’s much easier to learn to do it properly at an interpreting school. Having said that, I still haven’t answered the question of why so much time is spent on it on most interpreting courses (usually at least half of the hours spent interpreting) and why most schools insist on starting with consecutive before moving on to simultaneous.
The answer that most- but not all- teachers of interpreting would give is that by learning consecutive you learn how to interpret and that consecutive is a useful stepping stone to learning how to do simultaneous interpreting. This argument is based on the premise that the interpreting process is similar in both cases, consecutive and what is that process. Well, it involves LISTENING, UNDERSTANDING, ANALYSIS of what is being said, SORTING it into chunks of meaning, LINKING those chunks together and STORING all this somehow somewhere before REFORMULATING it in another language.
The obvious difference between the two is that you have to perform all these operations virtually simultaneously in the case of simultaneous whereas this is not the case with consecutive where the last stage in the process- REFORMULATING– comes later. Another difference is that in consecutive, given the time-lag between listening and reformulating, you need a memory prop for the storage part of the process..and this is achieved by taking notes during the listening phase, whereas in SIM the  interaction of short and long-term memory is all done up here. Given the problems students often have with their notes you might well say that consecutive is just as difficult but that’s not the point. The point is that in consecutive reformulation is put off until later thus slowing down at least part of the interpreting process. This has the advantage of allowing to student to concentrate on certain parts of the process, rather than all of them at the same time.
Indeed, one of the basic principles of learning is that you should learn to crawl before you learn to walk and walk before you learn to run. Don’t get me wrong- consecutive interpreting isn’t child’s play. Which is why interpreting courses don’t start with consecutive either. They usually break down the component parts of the interpreting process even more. They start with work on separate skills such as active listening, understanding, discourse analysis and public speaking. As students progress in these separate areas they gradually move on to combining them, after a while combining the listening to a mental analysis of a simple speech with the reformulation of the basic ideas in that speech, either into the same language or into another one..what you could call rudimentary consecutive interpreting. Notes come later since they might interfere with listening if introduced too early. When they are brought in they are best eased in and this can be done easily again by separating them out from the listening process..instead you can take a text of a speech, read it, analyse the way it’s constructed and try taking notes which will reflect that structure, will be a useful prop for your memory and will help prompt appropriate reformulation later on even if you don’t actually do the reformulation at this stage.
So there are different ways of introducing these component skills individually and then in various combinations and most teachers of interpreting would argue that this gradual approach including the combination of skills in full consecutive interpreting tends to develop the student’s listening and analytical skills and also- and this is a crucial point- to prevent him or her falling into the trap of literal reformulation from one language to another.
You see when students start off with simultaneous there’s sometimes  a tendency to go for the simple solution…the literal one with for example a public house being rendered into French as “une maison publique” or one I remember saying myself, “le glacier” becoming “the glacier” when my teacher was in fact referring to the ice-cream man playing his jingle loudly outside. I wasn’t thinking because I was confronted with a new unfamiliar situation..that of sitting in a booth with headphones on.
It’s to avoid that temptation as much as possible that students are taught to listen, think and analyse before and during consecutive interpretation practice when everything is slowed down and separated out before we try and put it all together in SIM and where the reformulation phase is sufficiently distant time-wise from the listening phase to prevent the source language contaminating the reformulation or target language.
Ideally, even when SIM is introduced we can still separate out the problems and skills involved. We can work with texts we are familiar with in order to remove one of the inherent difficulties of SIM which is not having the big picture of the whole speech before we start interpreting, something we do have with consecutive. We can work with short and simple texts. We can work on specific skills such as abstracting, summarizing, paraphrasing and anticipation.
So the point is that skills can be isolated and taught separately before being combined and most teachers prefer to teach their students the slowed-down or dragged-out version of such a combination that consecutive amounts to.
Consecutive also gives students more time to think about and judge what they are doing right or wrong and to listen to what their peers are doing right or wrong..they even have some evidence on their note pad to check whether they were listening or analyzing properly. So although it may not be any easier to do a brilliant consecutive than a brilliant simultaneous the whole process is laid bare for the student to observe and this should make the learning process easier. So, easier to learn and self-assess.
At the same time laying bare the whole process makes it easier too for teachers to assess what their students are doing and thus easier to teach..some interpreters have said teachers prefer teaching CONS for that’s simpler, less teacher-intensive and less equipment-intensive, but as I see it there’s nothing wrong with that. If it is easier to teach than SIM surely that’s a good argument for starting with it.
I would add that since it’s easier to judge an interpreting performance when it’s done in consecutive, examination panels, particularly in the European Union, tend to set great store by the ability of candidates to perform well in consecutive even if they know they will probably do very little of it once recruited. That’s more of a Realpolitik argument in favour of learning consecutive properly rather than a pedagogical one.
Another argument in favour of achieving a high degree of proficiency in consecutive is that it can- if you’re lucky- be the conference interpreter’s passport to fast-track career development since you might be chosen to accompany high-level delegations on important trips abroad, particularly if you have a retour language as well.
Finally, I ought to point out that although I’ve concentrated on the teaching of conference interpreting we shouldn’t forget that most of the interpreting done every day world-wide is not conference’s public service or community interpreting done in hospitals, courts, immigration offices or police stations. There simultaneous interpretation is virtually unheard of and a mastery of consecutive interpretation even if not always strictly necessary..with a lot being done sentence by sentence…would be a major asset.
So to sum up: students at interpreting schools spend a lot of their time learning how to do consecutive interpretation.
because it is still an essential part of a conference interpreter’s range of professional skills which can actually help to further his or her career.
Because most teachers of interpreting consider it to be not only an end in itself but also a good lead-in to SIM interpreting and a more transparent and observable way of learning to interpret in general, and because-precisely as a result of its greater transparency- test panels at many major employers of conference interpreters still insist that candidates be proficient in it.

Having said all that, it appears that there is as yet no conclusive empirical or research-based evidence to prove that achieving proficiency in consecutive before moving on to simultaneous interpreting actually improves your simultaneous, so perhaps it’s time that someone tried to come up with the evidence- to prove or disprove it, either way.
In the meantime, for those of you who are students of interpreting I hope very much you will enjoy learning to do a decent consecutive.

Should students learn CONS before SIM?- most would agree, although Stephen Pearl at UN said it was “absolutely crazy” and Pat Longley at PCL started both at the same time. Hong Kong had separate SIM and CONS interpreters”.

Dick Fleming is a former staff conference interpreter and trainer at the European Commission, Brussels.