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 enough..so 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 consecutive..my 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 simultaneous..so 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 reason..it’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 interpreting..it’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.



Marco BENEDETTI: What´s interpreting?

Unity in diversity: languages for mobility, jobs and active citizenship

“Signore e signori,

che questa conferenza sull’unità nella diversità europea si tenga qui a Vilnius in occasione della giornata delle lingue, è una felice coincidenza carica di significato. La Lituania è il centro geografico dell’Europa e possiamo dire che proprio nella sua lingua si riassume l’avventura linguistica europea. Tutti sappiamo infatti quanto la lingua lituana sia vicina alla protolingua indoeuropea delle origini e come nelle sue tanto antiche quanto ermetiche parole si trovino le radici di tutte quelle che fanno le nostre lingue. Se una così piccola lingua ha resistito al tempo e alla storia conservandosi quasi intatta per secoli, malgrado invasioni e oppressioni, è merito della gente che la parla e che ci offre oggi la testimonianza di una tradizione inestinguibile. Ha detto Joseph De Maistre che ogni lingua ripete i fenomeni spirituali che si operarono alle origini, e più una lingua è antica più questi fenomeni sono appariscenti. Il lituano è una lingua di poesia come lo erano tutte le nostre nel tempo in cui erano ancora capaci di parlare con il divino. Fuori dalle correnti del potere da cui sono state catturate altre lingue europee, resistendo alla razionalità dei tempi moderni in nome della poesia, il lituano ha conservato la liricità del pensiero elevato, distaccato dall’angustia del contingente e più capace di parlare oltre il proprio tempo. Altri oratori più eruditi di me hanno approfondito questi aspetti più propriamente linguistici nel corso di questa conferenza. Nondimeno, mi piace osservare quanto lo
spirito di conservazione del lituano sia un istinto positivo condiviso dalle tante culture e lingue che oggi fanno la nostra ricchezza. E da italiano non posso esimermi dal ricordare la curiosa leggenda che vuole che i lituani siano discendenti dei soldati di Giulio Cesare. Una leggenda nutrita dalle antiche somiglianze fra lituano e latino che derivano dalle loro comuni origini e di nuovo sono da attribuire alla sconfinata capacità di conservazione del popolo lituano. Una leggenda che nel XVI fu talmente popolare che qualcuno propose addirittura di introdurre il latino come lingua scritta in Lituania. Chissà, se fosse andata a quel modo oggi qui staremmo parlando latino! Nondimeno credo che conservare il lituano sia stata una più ammirevole impresa. Cui noi italiani abbiamo dato qualche piccolo contributo. Un grande linguista italiano, Giacomo Devoto, nella prefazione della sua Storia delle letterature baltiche pubblicata nel 1957, quando i paesi baltici sembravano scomparsi dalla storia, ebbe la lucidità di scrivere: “Al di fuori delle lotte politiche e dei regimi economici, i popoli non muoiono. A tutti gli uomini di lettere, in patria e in esilio, a tutti i loro concittadini, queste pagine portano una parola di solidarietà”. Una solidarietà che alla fine ha avuto i suoi effetti, se oggi possiamo ritrovarci qui, in un’Europa infine riunita e pacificata.
La Lituania celebra oggi, assieme ad altri nove stati un decennio di adesione all’Unione europea. Dieci anni che hanno consolidato l’appartenenza europea di una parte a lungo dimenticata del nostro continente e che hanno permesso il rifluire di idee e scambi fra le nostre culture. Per alcuni dei popoli europei che sono entrati nell’Unione con l’allargamento del 2004, una delle cose che l’adesione ha tratto definitivamente in salvo è proprio la lingua. Non dobbiamo dimenticare infatti che la lingua è al centro dei trattati europei. In essi ogni paese viene riconosciuto come membro innanzitutto attraverso l’espressione della sua lingua ufficiale.
L’Europa è quindi fin dall’inizio un progetto politico di popoli che sanciscono la loro diversità linguistica e culturale come un fondamento distintivo ma che in essa riconoscono una matrice di unità. Questo riconoscimento politico che l’Unione europea conferisce alle lingue di tanti popoli rimasti intrappolati negli strascichi della Seconda guerra mondiale ha ridato fiato a culture a lungo soffocate, ha rilanciato l’editoria e la traduzione di opere rimaste sconosciute per decenni, ha riaperto le porte delle accademie, rilanciato l’interesse per la ricerca linguistica e ridato consapevolezza identitaria a lingue soffocate dall’oppressione. L’adesione all’Unione europea in tutti i nostri paesi ha comportato un aumento delle necessità di traduzione e ha parallelamente dato maggiore spessore a tutte le nostre lingue. Più una lingua è tradotta, più si fa conoscere nel mondo. Più traduce, più conosce il mondo. La traduzione è sempre stato uno strumento di dialogo fra le culture europee ma da quando esiste l’Unione europea essa ha assunto anche un ruolo politico. L’ufficialità delle nostre lingue in ambito europeo ha in qualche modo istituzionalizzato il loro dialogo, ha reso universale la nuova concettualità scaturita dall’inedita esperienza politica europea, ha creato un’orizzontalità di contenuti che impercettibilmente contamina il nostro comune sentire e lo rende più consistente. Di fatto, se le nostre lingue continuano a essere diverse, sempre di più esse ricalcano parallelamente un’unità di intenti e di significati.
Le nostre istituzioni sono sempre state ben consapevoli della grande importanza che rivestono le lingue per lo sviluppo di un’autentica cittadinanza europea. E’ in questa prospettiva che la Commissione europea si è data una politica per il multilinguismo. Con i suoi diversi strumenti, finanzia progetti educativi e formativi di vario genere, integrando le politiche degli Stati membri in uno spirito di dialogo interculturale e di integrazione.
Nella nuova Europa liberata lo studio delle lingue si sta diffondendo sempre più assieme alla domanda di maggiore varietà di insegnamento linguistico. Conoscere le lingue apre nuove possibilità di lavoro, non solo perché offre maggiori sbocchi grazie ad una maggiore mobilità, ma anche perché le lingue di per sé sono un mercato. Il multilinguismo non è soltanto diffusione delle conoscenze linguistiche, ma anche sviluppo di competenze professionali nel campo delle lingue e nuova opportunità economica.
Per questo alla Direzione generale Interpretazione siamo da sempre impegnati nella formazione di interpreti, professionisti indispensabili per il funzionamento della grande macchina delle istituzioni europee dove ogni giorno si tengono centinaia di riunioni fra delegati di tutti i nostri paesi. La Commissione europea è il più grande servizio di interpretazione al mondo. Dà lavoro a 550 funzionari e a 400 free-lance ogni giorno dei quasi 3000 che ha accreditato per soddisfare i bisogni delle discussioni e dei negoziati in cui delegati di tutta Europa si incontrano per un totale di 12.000 riunioni l’anno.
In effetti, così come per il cittadino europeo dovrebbe ormai diventare un dovere civico essere in grado di esprimersi in almeno un’altra lingua, allo stesso modo resta un suo diritto inalienabile il potersi esprimere nella propria lingua madre nell’ambito delle istituzioni europee che per la loro natura e per la loro missione appartengono a tutti i nostri popoli.
In questi cinquant’anni, diverse generazioni di interpreti si sono succedute nelle nostre cabine. Un servizio che all’inizio lavorava in quattro lingue, oggi ne usa ventiquattro, con una moltiplicazione incessante delle riunioni derivante dalla crescita dell’Unione e del campo di attività delle sue istituzioni. Gli interpreti sono forse i pionieri della costruzione europea, non solo per il fondamentale ruolo di mediazione che da sempre svolgono nelle nostre istituzioni, ma anche per la loro formazione e per la loro esperienza di vita. Sempre a cavallo di lingue e culture diverse, gli interpreti sono forse quelli di noi più consapevoli della forza della nostra varietà linguistica e culturale e anche della comune corrente sotterranea che la nutre.
L’assoluta parità linguistica che l’Unione europea si è voluta dare non ha precedenti nella storia ed è unica fra le organizzazioni internazionali. In nessun’altra infatti esiste un multilinguismo così assoluto. Le ragioni di questo fatto vanno ricercate nella natura stessa dell’Unione europea che, come afferma la Corte di Giustizia, rappresenta “…un ordinamento giuridico di nuovo genere nel campo del diritto internazionale, a favore del quale gli Stati hanno rinunziato, anche se in settori limitati, ai loro poteri sovrani, un ordinamento che riconosce come soggetti non soltanto gli Stati, ma anche i loro cittadini”. Mentre le altre organizzazioni internazionali agiscono esclusivamente a livello intergovernativo, l’Unione europea assume decisioni di carattere legislativo che incidono direttamente sui cittadini ed è per questo motivo che tutta la legislazione adottata dall’Unione deve essere disponibile in tutte le lingue ufficiali e che ogni cittadino deve potersi rivolgere nella propria lingua alle istituzioni europee. Non sarebbe ammissibile che i cittadini si trovassero ad essere titolari di diritti e doveri espressi in una lingua diversa dalla propria e costretti a parlare una lingua imposta per esercitarli. Per questo motivo tutte le lingue dell’Unione sono ufficiali e hanno lo stesso valore giuridico.
La lingua nell’Unione europea non è dunque solo espressione culturale ma anche strumento di esercizio del proprio diritto. Questo è il principio che la Direzione generale Interpretazione ha seguito sviluppando in collaborazione con la Direzione Generale Giustizia un progetto per la formazione e il riconoscimento degli interpreti giurati. Il multiculturalismo, l’emigrazione esterna e la mobilità interna europea rendono sempre più frequenti situazioni in cui un cittadino è chiamato a esprimersi davanti a un tribunale che non parla la sua lingua. Per tutelare i suoi diritti e garantire un equo trattamento, è necessario l’intervento di un professionista che riunisca nelle sue competenze sia quelle giuridiche che quelle linguistiche. Così si sta sviluppando sempre più la figura professionale dell’interprete giurato. Questo è un ulteriore esempio di come le lingue siano produttrici di nuovi mestieri e la loro conoscenza sia portatrice di progresso sociale. E di come esse costituiscano la dimensione più profonda di una cittadinanza responsabile, capace di infondere autentica appartenenza e di incoraggiare quella coesione sociale, quella comunità di progetto che è il presupposto indispensabile per un’integrazione rispettosa dell’unicità di ogni individuo.
Le nuove tecnologie in questo campo aprono altre frontiere ancora. Oggi la formula dell’e-learning si presta particolarmente allo studio delle lingue e dà nuove prospettive a lingue di piccole comunità che ritrovandosi su internet possono coltivare la loro lingua e la loro cultura ed anche attirare nuovo interesse. Il sapere linguistico acquisisce nuove forme e nuovi metodi di insegnamento servono anche le necessità suscitate dalla nuova dimensione del dialogo interculturale. Un’Europa che diventa terra d’accoglienza di migranti venuti da ogni parte del mondo non può chiudersi alle loro culture ma deve con esse instaurare un dialogo che necessariamente si fa anche attraverso la condivisione delle conoscenze linguistiche. Sempre più, grazie alla diffusione delle lingue, la cultura diventa il terreno in cui si gioca l’influenza e anche nuovo campo di attività economica. E noi che siamo portatori di una varietà culturale immensa, noi che siamo i custodi di giacimenti culturali che hanno fatto la storia del mondo, dobbiamo essere in grado di valorizzarla e di farne un polo di attrazione ma anche una vetrina del nostro modello di civiltà.
Oggi la costruzione europea è a una svolta. La crisi economica e finanziaria ha messo in luce le debolezze di un’unione a metà e ci ha aperto gli occhi sulla necessità di adeguare il nostro progetto politico alle nuove sfide della modernità. Oggi un rafforzamento dell’unione politica è possibile anche grazie alla più grande consapevolezza delle nostre società che nella comune difficoltà vedono più chiaramente la loro comunità di destino. Gli europei conoscono meglio l’Europa, si rendono maggiormente conto che solo insieme possiamo avere un futuro e un peso nel mondo. Dobbiamo adottare un nuovo passo, mollare gli ormeggi e abbandonare le reticenze. Maggiore unità non vuol dire diluizione delle nostre diversità. Al contrario, approfondendo la nostra conoscenza reciproca daremo un nuovo respiro alle nostre culture, nuovi orizzonti per la loro espansione, maggiore riconoscimento del loro valore. È questo il momento più opportuno per mettere in pratica la forza della nostra diversità, per farla uscire dal mare protetto della semplice protezione e alzare le vele verso il largo. Dobbiamo avere il coraggio e l’orgoglio dell’assoluta originalità del progetto europeo e della tranquilla rivoluzione che esso rappresenta nella storia dell’umanità.
In fin dei conti, l’esempio da seguire è proprio espresso qui, nell’anello di paesi piccoli ma antichi che si affacciano al Baltico e che sulla carta sembrano così fragilmente esposti alla massa di potenze che hanno attorno. La forza che ha consentito loro di conservare intatta la loro lingua e la loro cultura è stata proprio la più improbabile, la più inattesa: non la chiusura ma l’apertura. L’apertura al cambiamento, al confronto, la capacità di guardare lontano con la consapevolezza delle proprie origini, la disponibilità ad accettare l’altro proprio come modo per non lasciarsene sopraffare. Un’idea che esprime molto bene il poeta lituano Justinas Marcinkevičius quando scrive:

Coi borghi e i fiumi,

le città e i laghi,

coi nomi mi rendo visibile.

Come un vocabolario Fisso alla lettera L,

così aperto sono io.

Un’immagine di tranquillità e di forza, da cui emana tutta la potente serenità di un uomo che si sente parte di una comunità solidale, padrone della propria cultura, della propria tradizione e soprattutto della propria lingua. Con il vocabolario aperto alla lettera L della sua Lituania, in segno di sfida, di orgoglio ma anche di accettazione della diversità e della varietà delle tante lettere di cui è fatto il parlare umano, Justinas Marcinkevičius va incontro al vasto mondo. Lo stesso dovremmo fare noi nella costruzione del nostro progetto europeo, aperti come il vocabolario delle nostre ventiquattro lingue alla lettera E, che è per noi tutti l’iniziale di Europa.”

Speech by Director General Marco Benedetti
EUROPEAN DAY OF LANGUAGES 2013 VILNIUS, 25-26 September 2013.

Garbled ramblings on a life of clear speaking

One of the questions I was asked when I said I was retiring was: “And would you do it all again, if you were starting out now?”

One of those questions it’s impossible to answer, of course. I’d be tempted to follow the example of the man who, when asked which way it was to Tipperary, (or was it Steenokkerzeel? Or Chipping Sudbury?), replied: “If I was you, I wouldn’t be starting from here.”

Because a lot has changed before I took my first, almost accidental steps as an interpreter. In fact, it was hardly a conscious decision, more a feeling that having invested all those years – and all that money – into learning languages, I wanted to use them. Especially as they seemed to be the only thing I was good at, and enjoyed. And since I couldn’t face the thought of going straight back to school as a teacher, having only just emerged from it and not having found the experience totally pleasurable – it being one of those old-fashioned grammar schools with public-school pretensions, somewhat on the model of the film ‘If…’ – I thought I should try for one of the language professions.

A thought which took me eventually to the translation and interpreting course in Bath, from where I was recruited – more or less directly – by the European Commission as an interpreter. This was in 1976, when the UK and Ireland had only just joined the EEC and there was a desperate need for English interpreters. So you could say that I never really decided to be an interpreter; it just happened. Though I did make one decision: I was also offered a job as a translator by the European Parliament but turned it down, a decision I find rather surprising now as I’d always been a rather shy retiring person and not obviously cut out for standing up and making a fool of myself in front of other people. But there it is.

And having got there, was I happy in my work? I suppose you can say I must have been, since I stayed there for 37 years. It is an odd way to earn a living, though: for a start, it’s not a nine-to-five job – your working hours depend largely on the people you work for so that you start when they start and go on until they finish. And it’s a strangely detached, almost irresponsible kind of existence, which doesn’t mean that interpreters don’t do a responsible job, but rather that you’re not the one making the decisions or doing the negotiating, or even organizing the meeting. At the end of a good day you know you’ve helped people communicate and enabled them to do their work properly, but it’s their work, not yours, somehow. The upside of that is that when you go home in the evening you don’t take their worries with you. In the meantime, you’ve been paid for performing mental gymnastics, using your knowledge and abilities to do a difficult job under significant pressure, and the job satisfaction lies in knowing you’ve done it well – or as well as possible under the circumstances.

For some people, it’s the ideal way to earn a living and they stay with it all their lives. For others, like me, it didn’t seem enough at some stage so I went into management while still continuing to interpret. Whether that gave me the best of both worlds, or the worst, I’m still not entirely sure.

And would I do it again now? As I said, a lot has changed in the meantime. We’ve seen new technologies arriving, like remote interpreting, which have taken the interpreter one step further away from the customer. In a consecutive meeting you’re part of the group; in front of a screen you’re still performing a vital function, still using your skills, but without the human interaction. And customers are more demanding, partly because if the interpreter is in a box somewhere he or she becomes part of the technical equipment and is expected to perform as flawlessly as a computer, but also, and increasingly, because the customers’ language knowledge is vastly better than it was. Whereas thirty years ago very few delegates in continental Europe spoke English, nowadays it seems most of them do – or at least believe they do – and they are in consequence more critical of interpreters’ performance.

And yet…there are very few other professions which give you the opportunities to use your languages as interpreting does. Or to be privy to what’s going on behind the scenes. Or to travel. Or not to have to turn up at work at the same time in the same place every day. Maybe it’s not something to do for the rest of your life, but if it’s something you think you’d enjoy, don’t be put off by the prophets of doom – there’s still work out there.

David Smith, retiring Head of the English Interpreting Unit at the European Commission.

My consecutive kit

Consec Test Speech: Boudica

A consecutive demo: Boudica

Test speech analysis: Boudica

Note-taking in consecutive interpreting. On the reconstruction of an individualised language.

Kurt Kohn & Michaela Albl- Mikasa.


MIC 2013: Visita a la Comisión Europea y Tribunal de Justicia de la UE


Hace unas semanas los estudiantes del MIC emprendimos un viaje de cuatro días al centro neurálgico de la interpretación en Europa (y, por qué no decirlo, de las cervezas y el chocolate). Hicimos la maleta meticulosamente, con cuidado de no olvidar la grabadora, la libreta, los cascos o el disfraz de intérprete. Sin embargo, nada ni nadie podía prepararnos para lo que nos esperaba en aquel lugar.

El lunes a primera hora de la mañana cruzamos el control de seguridad del edificio Albert Borschette para pasar una jornada en la Comisión Europea conociendo a distintas funcionarias del SCIC y practicando la interpretación consecutiva. Sorprende la cantidad de altos cargos ocupados por mujeres, aunque en un ámbito como la interpretación lo contrario sorprendería incluso más. Para rematar el día, cuatro valientes voluntarios se sometieron a un simulacro de examen de acceso a la UE con un tribunal de lujo en el que estaban las jefas de las cabinas española, alemana y una intérprete de cabina inglesa del equipo de formadores del SCIC. Incluso los meros espectadores estábamos como flanes, pero dejaron claro cuál es el nivel del MIC de La Laguna. Lo más destacable del día fueron las caras que se nos quedaron al echarle un vistazo a la documentación que nos dieron para la reunión del Consejo de la UE que interpretaríamos al día siguiente en cabina muda.

Para bien o para mal, no pudimos asistir a ninguna reunión con tintes más políticos así que el martes y el miércoles los pasamos viviendo en nuestras propias carnes lo que es estar en cabina durante una reunión técnica, rebuscando entre los documentos el párrafo exacto que estaban leyendo los delegados y quedándonos fascinados con el trabajo de los intérpretes de esas reuniones. La verdad es que por mucho que se diga de las reuniones de pesca y de la gallineta nórdica, no podemos subestimar la dificultad de una reunión sobre la armonización de los niveles de ruido de los vehículos. Tuvimos la suerte de conocer a Paco, intérprete del SCIC que hizo de guía turístico por el edificio Berlaymont y nos llevó a tomar una cerveza con varios intérpretes que nos contaron de primera mano cómo es formar parte del SCIC.

El miércoles por la tarde, tras un día de cabina muda en el Consejo de la UE, en el tren hacia Luxemburgo pudimos disfrutar de un rato de descanso, muchas risas y alguna que otra sorpresa.

Finalmente, el jueves pasamos el día en el Tribunal de Justicia de la UE, donde tuvimos la oportunidad no sólo de presenciar una vista oral, sino también de ser testigos de las prestaciones de los intérpretes que trabajaron solamente para que los estudiantes del MIC pudiésemos escucharlos. Comprobamos que, a pesar de ser la misma profesión, el trabajo que realizan los intérpretes de la Comisión Europea, o del Consejo Europeo, y los del Tribunal de Justicia de la Unión Europea es completamente diferente.

El viaje fue una oportunidad para conocer el funcionamiento de diferentes instituciones europeas desde dentro, para escuchar de boca de sus intérpretes cómo es la profesión, para tener nuevas perspectivas, ver la interpretación desde un punto de vista distinto y para darnos un empujón de cara a las semanas de formación que nos quedan. Y por qué no, para disfrutar de las tormentas de nieve que tanto escasean en Tenerife.

Los alumnos del MIC queremos dar las gracias a los intérpretes del SCIC y del TJUE por su paciencia y aguante, y, a Lourdes, Marlene y Julia, por organizar y coordinar este viaje”.

Nuria Campoy, alumna del MIC, promoción 2012-13.


More info about this project in the great interview originally published in The Interpreter Diaries to Sophie Llewellyn Smith:

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s… Speechpool!

If you’ve been following the SCIC Universities conference in Brussels over the past few days, you may have already heard the big news: Speechpool, the dynamic, collaborative, multilingual website for interpreters to exchange practice material, has just been officially launched. When I first caught wind of this project in January, I knew that this was something that my readers would want to hear about, so I got in touch with Sophie Llewellyn Smith, the founder, to find out more. Here’s what I learned:

MH: Sophie, you have just launched Speechpool, a speech-sharing website for interpreters. Could you tell me a little bit about what it has to offer?

SLS: Speechpool will offer interpreting students, graduates and practising interpreters a forum to upload practice speeches and view other people’s. The idea is to create something truly collaborative in the form of a multilingual website and a Facebook page.Many students already give each other practice speeches in class, or in groups outside of class. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to record these speeches on a laptop, video camera or tablet computer, and allow others to benefit from them. If everyone gets involved, we could very quickly build up a large and dynamic bank of video clips.

MH: How did the project come about?

SLS: I spent several years as an interpreter trainer at the University of Leeds. Every year students would ask for good sources of practice material. Our main message to them was that they should prepare well-structured speeches for each other and practise in groups outside of class. Gradually we came to the idea of uploading audio files onto a file sharing website. We still had a problem with source language, though; sometimes our students were looking for speeches in a particular C language, but there was no native speaker of that language on the course. It occurred to me that students around the world were probably doing exactly the same thing. Surely it would make sense to pool all that material and make it freely available to everyone?

I have been working hard since last summer with a web developer to create a suitable website, and I have been very fortunate to receive financial backing from the NNI (National Network for Interpreting) in the UK, and a lot of help and goodwill from students and alumni of many interpreter training institutions. Now that the basics are in place, we are gradually working on adding more language versions to Speechpool, and starting to build up our stock of speeches!

The idea behind Speechpool is nothing new, but I hope the scale and ambition of the project and the features available on the website will make it a very useful and widely used resource.

MH: What target group do you have in mind? Are there any prerequisites that have to be met by those who’d like to become involved?

SLS: The website was designed with conference interpreting students in mind, but if the project is successful I would expect that other groups might take an interest, for example graduates wanting to maintain their skills or prepare for a test, practising interpreters trying to add a new language, interpreter trainers looking for material to use in class, or even language learners. It is also possible that the content of Speechpool might be of interest to public service interpreters, who make up a large proportion of the interpreting market in some countries and who don’t always have access to material (or even to training!).

We have set some limits on users who would like to upload material. This is to try to ensure that the speeches are of an adequate standard. You will need to be an interpreting student, graduate or practising interpreter to upload content, and you will need login details.

MH: Walk me through the website. How does it work?

SLS: First of all, I should say that the interface is multilingual, i.e. there will be parallel versions of Speechpool in English, French, Greek, and dozens of other languages. If you want to watch a speech in Hungarian, you simply go to the Hungarian version of the site (you can navigate from the home page).

To find a speech for interpreting practice, you will use a search function which allows you to search by topic (agriculture, finance, health etc.) and/or keyword. We hope this will allow users to refine their search and find the most relevant speeches.

To upload a speech, you will need to fill in an upload form with details of topic, keywords and links to background material. In order to avoid the site collapsing under the weight of massive video files, we have set it up so that speeches are actually uploaded to YouTube, then embedded in the Speechpool site. This means users will have to create a YouTube account.

For those who have concerns about privacy, YouTube allows you to adjust privacy settings to ‘unlisted’ so that the speech is only visible to those who have the link. It sounds rather complicated, but once you have a YouTube account, it’s really very quick and easy. We have counted on the fact that the new generation of interpreters is very comfortable with modern technologies, YouTube, Facebook and the like.

MH: What features or functions does Speechpool offer users?

SLS: The website has a few interesting features. First of all, when you have watched a speech, you can leave comments about it. You could even leave a link to your own interpreting performance (on YouTube) and ask for feedback from another user.

One of the important features of the site is that speeches won’t be graded for difficulty by an outside authority. Instead, the users themselves will vote on the perceived difficulty of the speech (a bit like the TripAdvisor site where you can vote on hotels or restaurants). This cumulative assessment by users will give each speech a ‘star rating’ for difficulty. When you search for a speech, you will be able to sort the results by star rating, but also based on whether the speech is recent, or very popular.

We very much hope that users will upload high quality speeches, but to address any quality problems we have created an alarm button. If you watch a speech and feel there is a significant problem with sound or image quality, or the quality of the speech itself (i.e. its content) you will be able to click on the alarm button and send an email to the site administrators to have the speech removed.

We see Speechpool as an interactive site where users can meet, chat, and ask for feedback or help. To encourage interaction between users, we have created a Speechpool page on Facebook. The idea of this page is that users can ask for a particular speech. For example, you might post: ‘please could someone prepare a speech about EU fisheries policy in Portuguese?’

To make the material uploaded to the site even more useful, we are asking users to include two links to relevant background material, and we are working on a way to allow uploads of transcripts and glossaries.

MH: What languages, topics, and interpreting modes will the speeches cover?

SLS: I confess I have taken a maximalist approach here. I can’t vouch in advance for what the speeches will cover, because it depends on who gets involved and uploads speeches; but the website is designed to accommodate speeches suitable for consecutive or simultaneous, a wide range of topics, and a truly vast number of languages. We are currently working on versions of the Speechpool site in the EU23, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Russian, Croatian, Turkish, Icelandic and Macedonian. After that, we’ll see!

I should add that I expect Speechpool will include speeches given in a range of accents, including non-native accents. Many interpreters are called upon to interpret English, or French, or any other language, spoken in an unfamiliar accent or by someone who is not a native speaker. The Speechpool site is designed to offer speeches of this type; there will be an indication of whether the author of the speech is a native speaker, and what sort of accent he or she has. One of the exciting things about this project, to my mind, is that it could bring together interpreters from all over the world. Just one example: students from Ghana, Cameroon and Mozambique have volunteered to prepare speeches.

MH: There are already a few speech repositories available on the internet. What added value does Speechpool offer?

SLS: There are pros and cons to every speech bank. They serve different purposes.

In a sense, Speechpool isn’t ground-breaking: there are already speech banks on the internet set up by students to practise together. They tend to be small-scale and to use audio files. Some of them are short-lived; they grind to a halt when the founding students graduate. And at least one has been taken over by pornographic spam posts, unfortunately! Speechpool can offer something on a much larger scale: very wide language coverage, video clips, and hopefully more permanent!

Of the larger scale speech banks, some offer ‘live’ recordings of political debates or speeches only, while others are libraries of various speeches that were not prepared specifically as pedagogical material for interpreter training. The SCIC/EP repository (author’s note: access to this repository is restricted to selected users) offers a mixture of speeches, some of them recorded live in Parliament, for example, and some of them prepared by trainers as pedagogical material.

The idea behind Speechpool, on the other hand, is that it should largely contain speeches prepared by students for students (or at least by interpreters for interpreters), in video format. All the material will be original. There won’t be any video recordings of politicians’ speeches or parliamentary debates. There will be minimal ‘policing’ of the site, and users will be responsible for posting high quality content. If everyone joins in, it will be a very dynamic resource with a rapid turnover and a large number of speeches.

I see Speechpool as a more interactive site than many speech banks, and the Facebook page is a nice opportunity for users to chat and make requests. The fact that users will vote on difficulty is another distinguishing feature.

All in all I suppose the added value I see is that Speechpool allows students to take responsibility for their own learning, but with a much wider pool of partners than might otherwise be possible. In an idealistic way, I see Speechpool as a way of bringing the different strands of the interpreting community together and creating something genuinely collaborative for the common good. And I very much hope we’ll avoid obscene spam messages!

MH: It all sounds very exciting! Do you see any potential pitfalls for this project?

SLS: Well, like any other collaborative project, the success of Speechpool will depend on its users. It will be interesting to see whether people are altruistic enough to make the project work; if no-one uploads speeches, the project won’t take off.

MH: Is the Speechpool site already up and running? Can people already use it to view and upload speeches?

SLS: The short answer to this is yes. We are busy testing the site, and some speeches have already been uploaded. The English, Greek and German versions are available, and we will be rolling out the other languages gradually. I expect the next few versions to include Italian, Spanish, French and possibly Hungarian and Macedonian.

MH: Where can my readers find out more?

SLS: I presented the project at the recent SCIC Universities Conference on 22nd March, and my presentation is available in the archive. A short clip introducing Speechpool has also been prepared by DG SCIC. The project was also featured in a recent video interview for the interpreting blog A Word in Your Ear.

As I said earlier, Speechpool also has a dedicated Facebook pageFacebook page. Click ‘like’ to receive regular progress updates and to become part of the Speechpool community. You can also follow Speechpool on Twitter (@Speechpool).

Most important of all, why not visit the site? You will find it at speechpool.net.

MH: How can people get involved in Speechpool?

SLS: The most important message I want to get across is that Speechpool will be free to use (though not to run…) and easy to access once you have login details, but the success of the project will depend on users!

If you can help us translate the content into another language, please get in touch at speechpool@gmail.com. More importantly, if you think this is a useful resource for interpreting students and you plan to view speeches and use them for interpreting practice, please upload a few speeches first!Speechpool is totally based on the principle of ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’. So get involved! Prepare a speech, upload it onto YouTube, and ask for your Speechpool login details. We’ll be happy to oblige!

The Interpreter Diaries.

Interpreting Steve JOBS


Para interpretar el discurso de Steve Jobs en la ceremonia de Stanford, recibí un mail con un enlace a la página de la universidad, concretamente a la transcripción del discurso. Por lo tanto, contaba con el texto que iba a leer Steve Jobs, o que previsiblemente iba a leer. A veces, los oradores se apartan de su propio guión, y entonces los intérpretes, aunque hayamos preparado el texto con antelación, no tenemos más remedio que dejar de lado el guión que hemos estudiado y trabajar “sin red”. (Afortunadamente, a Steve Jobs en esta ocasión no le dió por improvisar.)

Conste que había recibido en el mail también un segundo enlace, al vídeo de Jobs pronunciando su discurso. Como la idea de A Word in Your Ear era la de grabar una interpretación de una simultánea en las condiciones más parecidas posibles a la realidad, opté por no abrir este segundo enlace. De modo que escuché a Jobs pronunciar su discurso por primera vez mientras lo estaba interpretando en simultánea, como sucede en el contexto de trabajo real. (Si a Jobs le hubiese dado por improvisar, mala pata para mí, como sucede en la realidad.)

Para ajustarme a las condiciones de trabajo reales, también leí el texto por primera vez el mismo día que iba a interpretarlo, en un rato de descanso mientras trabajaba en una conferencia. Es lo que suele suceder: cuando tenemos la suerte de recibir un guión, solemos estar trabajando ya en la conferencia. Por lo tanto, no nos sobra el tiempo para prepararlo – los textos se suelen entregar, con suerte, menos de media hora antes de pronunciar el discurso, y si no hay suerte, y la fotocopiadora está lejos, después de que lo hayan pronunciado. Además, los recursos que podemos consultar en cabina cuando estamos trabajando son limitados, aunque si hay suerte, cuando disponemos de una conexión a Internet (como en este caso) tenemos acceso a diccionarios online y otras herramientas terminológicas. Otro factor que limita nuestras capacidades para preparar un discurso mientras trabajamos en una conferencia es el hecho de que tampoco podemos volcar toda nuestra atención en el guión: la conferencia continúa, en cualquier momento tenemos que intervenir para interpretar de una lengua dada que no cubren los compañeros y por eso no se puede “desconectar” completamente de lo que sucede en la sala para concentrarnos en preparar ese discurso que otro orador va a pronunciar más tarde.

Estas son dificultades comunes a la preparación de cualquier texto de un discurso que un orador vaya a pronunciar. Una dificultad adicional común de los discursos leídos -a diferencia de aquéllos en los que el orador habla libremente, sin apuntes, es la velocidad a la que habla (lee) el conferenciante! Aunque se haya preparado el texto (¡y menos mal!) el orador puede llegar a “escaparse” (y creo que a mí me sucedió), aunque casi siempre hay manera de volver a atraparlo.

En el caso concreto del discurso de Steve Jobs, lo que posiblemente me haya preocupado más al preparar el texto fue acertar con el registro justo en el que se dirigía a su público: llano, casi familiar, pero emotivo. Y lo más difícil fue encontrar una fórmula adecuada para la conclusión, el “mandamiento” que dirige a los estudiantes. Mi guía para ser fiel al mensaje del original fue la siguiente pregunta: ¿si el propio Jobs hubiese pronunciado su discurso en castellano, qué les hubiera dicho a los alumnos? Para mí, interpretar es elegir las palabras con mucha libertad, pero buscando el máximo de fidelidad a la idea y emociones que el orador ha querido expresar.

En conclusión: siempre, siempre se agradece recibir el texto escrito de una intervención antes de escucharla – pero esa gran ayuda no impide que interpretar un discurso en simultánea sea todo un reto.

Carmen Gómez Von Styp, intérprete funcionaria del SCIC, Comisión Europea.