SCICtrain 3

This year was a very special year for the annual SCIC Universities Conference, as we were celebrating its 20th edition!  The title of the conference was

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The conference aimed to address the fact that both the worlds of interpreting and teaching are going through big changes, and that we therefore need to keep up with the (new, modern) times. Besides the big 20th birthday cake and celebrations, there were presentations from SCIC representatives as well as from trainers from around Europe and one from a colleague from DG INTE. The focus of these presentations was how we can best make use of blended learning to help students to become successful professional interpreters; one in particular focussed on how SCICtrain can be used as a teaching tool to supplement our traditional on-site assistance.

SCICtrain was launched in 2014 as a virtual video library to provide students and others interested in a career in interpreting with practical examples of conference interpreting. We wanted to give a clear and simple explanation of the full extent of the intellectual process at work when interpreting, without concealing the complexity and demanding requirements of the job. SCICtrain is part of our SCICcloud Project – a virtual store of information on our Virtual Classes and other e-learning material, such as the Speech Repository and Podcasts. We see it as an important element in our reflections on future e-learning projects, as currently being discussed by our e-learning think tank, and as announced at the conference.

Thanks to the expertise of our ACI colleague, Lourdes de Rioja, we are now able to unveil the 3rd edition of SCICtrain. A further 35 video clips have been added, bringing the total number up to over 100 (116 to be exact). A lot of time, effort and resources have gone into making this impressive library which includes a whole range of different kinds of clips: for example ‘talking-heads’ on what interpreting is all about, or on the importance of being able to prioritize information or manage stress; interviews about what it is really like to freelance for SCIC; mock tests to show students what to expect and of course demonstrations of professional-level consecutive and simultaneous interpretation.

New languages have been added (there are demonstrations of English into Portuguese in both modes and English into Dutch in both modes), as well as further videos about interpreting into a B- language. The structure of the library has also changed slightly, so you will now find the following categories:

– About SCICtrain and SCIC (6 videos)

– What is interpretation? (6 videos)

– Learning to interpret (12 videos)

– Consecutive interpretation (5 ‘theory-based’ videos and 27 ‘demonstration’ videos)

– Simultaneous interpretation (3 ‘theory-based’ videos and 27 ‘demonstration’ videos)

– Retour/B-language (5 ‘theory-based’ videos and 12 ‘demonstration’ videos)

– Tests (4 videos)

– Working as an interpreter (8 videos)

We hope that with the new videos and the new structure, SCICtrain will be even more useful for both trainers and students.

Many thanks to all the SCIC interpreters who have been involved with the project, and to Lourdes de Rioja.

Claude DURAND, a life dedicated to interpreting

If I remember well in which mood I was in June 1974 after I passed my final exam at ESIT in Paris, I felt a sigh of relief at the thought that I had finally reached the end of a very demanding training path, but in the back of my head I feared that this decisive step would only mark the beginning of a new challenge; in a word, I was wondering whether embarking on a conference interpreter’s career would enable me to grow and make my dreams come true.

Now that I am soon to retire as a manager from the largest interpreting service of the world, I look back on all these years with a deep sense of satisfaction and thankfulness towards this profession and all the wonderful people who have accompanied me along this exciting journey, starting with my first mentors such as the late and regretted Danica Seleskovitch.

As a young student I had often been fascinated by the discrete but pivotal role which interpreters would play in facilitating intercultural communication between statesmen, business managers, scientist or simple citizens. They would apply their language knowledge and skills to the discussion of all sorts of burning topics and at the same time contribute to giving a positive turn to “globalisation”- though this concept hardly existed in the 70s. As a graduate, I was eager to join this strange family of language mediators who followed the never-ending movement of the modern world and learned new things every day with each new professional experience.

I was given the opportunity to embark on this trail when I was recruited in 1977 as a permanent staff interpreter by the European Commission in Brussels. There could not have been a better place for me to witness how efficiently a genuine form of international cooperation can create a virtuous circle between states or people and how strongly the accelerating pace of change pushes us professionals to constantly try to adjust to new situations and challenges.

I was also very lucky because I was permitted or even encouraged to diversify my tasks and activities while working as an interpreter. Very soon I became involved in training new recruits for the European Commission at a time when an intense in-house scheme allowed us to transform rigorously selected graduates into skilful interpreters within a period of six months under the supervision of experienced professionals. Drawing lessons from a regular face-to-face with young trainees, I developed an interest in defining, structuring and fine-tuning training methods for would-be interpreters and I realised on the way that there was nothing more rewarding in life than passing on knowledge and know-how to the next generation.

I left the booth in 2004, after 30 years as a practising interpreter and started a manager’s career but in all my successive tasks and responsibilities I always maintained a close link with the interpreting profession which gave me so much pleasure and opportunities. With the help of other talented professionals, I inter alia contributed to creating new e-learning tools such as SCICtrain – a fascinating adventure which I shared with Lourdes de Rioja and a group of dedicated DG SCIC trainers – and to assisting interested students in better understanding the process and techniques of interpretation.

Today just as 40 years ago, becoming a good conference interpreter remains a demanding challenge. This profession requires excellent language skills, a rich general knowledge – Wikipedia will not save you when you are struggling with a rapid and sophisticated speech to be interpreted in simultaneous mode! -, a taste and talent for communication and exchange in all spheres of society, a lot of hard work…and a real passion for it! This passion has inspired me during my whole career in European institutions and I sincerely hope that it will be as present and vivid in the next generation.

Claude DURAND, DG SCIC, European Commission.

29 May 2015

SCICtrain 2

The 19th Annual SCIC-Universities Conference took place in Brussels on 26th and 27th March 2015 on the theme “(Re-)Making connections”. The world of Interpreting is evolving and all of us, universities and institutional employers alike, must adapt to new circumstances and user requirements by blending the use of new technologies with more traditional ways of teaching. We should aim to be at the forefront of changes in the educational approach, ensuring quality of content and accessibility so that our students have the opportunity to become successful professionals.

In this context, the second phase of our SCICtrain Project, which is available to the public after the Conference, is launched for the following purpose: to make SCIC’s knowledge and expertise available to interpreting students via a method that is used more frequently nowadays –  video-clips. Let’s remind ourselves what SCICtrain is about. It started in March 2014 as a virtual video library to provide students and others interested in a career in interpreting with practical examples of conference interpreting. We wanted to give a clear and simple explanation of the full extent of the intellectual process at work when interpreting, without concealing the complexity and demanding requirements of the job. SCICtrain is part of our SCICcloud Project – a virtual store of information on our Virtual Classes and other e-learning material, such as the Speech Repository and Podcasts. We have also included a collection of videos on how to prepare for meetings with documents, “booth manners”, myths about tests, the pleasure of interpreting and other such subjects. These have been incorporated into the different sections/shelves of our virtual library.


Javier Hernandez Saseta, Head of unit “Multilingualism and interpreter training support”, DG SCIC, European Commission and Lourdes De Rioja.

 In addition, as we wanted this platform to be multilingual, amongstthe new series of video clips, which are between 5 and 20 minutes long, we included interpretation demonstrations (both consecutive and simultaneous) into more languages (i.e. French, German, Italian and Spanish) as well as ones illustrating retour (from Latvian and Polish into English).

Cooperation with our ACI colleague, Lourdes de Rioja, on the first phase of SCICtrain has been extremely fruitful. We have continued to work together on the second phase in order to produce something new, while keeping the same format and principles which our users have been so positive about.

Javier Hernandez Saseta, Head of unit “Multilingualism and interpreter training support”, DG INTERPRETATION, SCIC, EUROPEAN COMMISSION.

¿Cómo preparar una reunión?

Quiero dar las gracias a Lourdes por invitarme a hacer una pausa y ordenar mis ideas en torno a un tema que se ha convertido en uno de mis quehaceres durante los últimos 10 años: la documentación destinada a la preparación de reunión de los intérpretes que trabajan en nuestras reuniones (Comisión Europea, Consejo de Ministros de la Unión europea, etc) . Mi perspectiva se inspira en la práctica y el público que tuve en mente al preparar mi intervención fue  el futuro intérprete, el estudiante que tiene todavía a su alcance tiempo  para consolidar buenos hábitos  y recorrer nuevas vías.  La preparación de reunión es una cuestión que parece obvia, pero que hoy en día es cada vez más compleja debido a la plétora de informaciones y medios a nuestra disposición,  tan sólo reconocer cual es la información pertinente, lleva su tiempo, pero recorrerla con inteligencia y eficacia aún lo requiere más.
He intentado conceder una atención particular a ciertos aspectos o detalles que es fácil pasar por alto, tales como la definición de un aspecto del contexto,  que encierra las claves de comprensión de la dinámica interna de una reunión, a saber,  quién se reúne, para qué se reúnen que mandato tiene cada uno de los participantes etc., etc., . Los conocimientos de base necesarios para entender e interpretar correctamente una discusión requieren un conocimiento previo del “modus operandi” de  cada Institución, organismo o ente en el que la reunión tiene lugar, esta es una etapa inevitable pero no siempre es fácil empezar por el principio y dar con  la información adecuada.  Cuanto antes la recorramos, más espacio ganaremos para después empaparnos de temas, de la terminología y de todo lo demás.
Esta reflexión me ha permitido ver que no hay nada más difícil que hablar de lo que parece obvio en principio y que en la práctica no lo es…. O no lo es tanto.
Me ha permitido descubrir, que podría extenderme durante horas. Me gustaría por fin, convencer, convencernos a todos,  que la interpretación no se improvisa,  pero aún menos   se improvisa una buena preparación.

Angeles Cualladó, DG INTERPRETACIÓN, SCIC, Comisión Europea.

RETOUR DEMO DE EN: Die Bahnstadt

“Notetaking is a very individual technique. I think it is strongly related to the way the individual interpreter processes information. Most interpreters note down lots of facts, numbers etc. This approach bears the risk of missing the links and coming up with a lot of information which, however, may then be presented in an incoherent way. Also, their active listening may suffer, as they concentrate too much on the notetaking.

I am a very visual person and my brain processes and stores images better than single facts. Therefore, when I take notes, I usually draw images of the things I hear. This way, I memorize while I transcribe the oral information into images, and I reproduce freely, as I describe the pictures I see and remember. However, given that I have a pretty bad memory for names and numbers, I may have to write down these pieces of information, as well as links, or even grammatical features.” Christofer FISCHER.

Nele.FASSNACHT and Christofer FISCHER are both staff interpreters at DG INTERPRETATION, European Commission.

MIC 2014: Visita a la Comisión Europea y Tribunal de Justicia de la UE

As part of the Masters in Conference Interpreting (MIC) at the Universidad de La Laguna, we visited some European Union institutions in Brussels and Luxembourg this May. Our organizer Lourdes has asked me to write a blog post on the experience:

On the morning of the first day, we entered the building of the Directorate General for Interpretation (SCIC). After passing through security check and humbly admiring the blue flags with yellow stars now greeting us from all sides, we ascended a vertical series of escalators to the third floor.

There in a large meeting room we listened to presentations on the accreditation test and how to prepare terminology for meetings. After this brief initiation, in the afternoon 10 of our Spanish booth students underwent mock accreditation tests. We were told the Screening Committee conducts mock tests frequently because it saw many promising applicants fail the real ones due to nerves. It holds mock exams with students from the various interpreting schools when they visit Brussels, as well as via videoconference. (Just at La Laguna we’ve had three such videoconferences this year – the last one even supported simultaneous interpretation, which is a first!) Personally I must say these exercises have greatly helped me to feel less unnecessarily anxious around the Committee. They truly want candidates to succeed and they have a healthy sense of humor to boot.

Far from a competitive environment, as one might expect from the world’s most comprehensive interpreting service, I got the impression from both its initiatives and its staff that SCIC really wants to bring out the best in its staff and applicants alike. Despite the fears we students sometimes conjure up, their goal is not at all to point out all of our shortcomings or be an inaccessible ivory tower of the interpreting world. Rather, SCIC actively engages in outreach and two-way dialog to educate students on the qualities they are looking for and they are constantly looking for new ways to get involved in our training.

After the mocks, that was it for the first day. On the second and third days we were ready to go to the Council of the European Union, where council meetings take place, to work in dummy booths under the guidance of staff interpreters. This experience yielded some invaluable feedback. We students of the English booth also saw how infrequently its interpreters worked due to most of the delegates speaking in English, testament to a globalizing world. But when they did work, many delegates depended on their interpretation and other booths did relay from it. This was also a great opportunity to listen in on various booths (and perhaps feed my own Romanian curiosity…) to learn from their technique, especially how they distilled the delegates’ interventions to produce a more concise, but no less meaningful version in the target language. Within those soundproof walls we were like sponges, absorbing all the nitty-gritty details that no traditional classroom could ever convey.

Beyond the chance to observe professional interpreters, the visit was also an exercise in European Union citizenship. (This is an important topic for everyone, not just interpreting students, in light of the recent European Parliament elections). We were granted a window into the inner workings of Council meetings and observed firsthand the complex interplay of interests between the European Commission representative, the meeting chairman, and the country delegates — an interplay that the interpreter must pick up on if she wishes to be successful. Our first day’s topic dealt with public legal cases in Europe and the creation of a single online database to host their materials. The delegates spent most of their time deciding on the priority of projects for the database and there was quite a bit of heated debate. The second day brought us a different and more mellow session, this time on competitiveness, that touched on sectors ranging from apparel and textiles, to pharmaceuticals. This seamless back-and-forth in several different languages to hammer out political policies is nothing short of novel, especially for someone like myself who comes from outside the EU and has only ever witnessed monolingual policy-making sessions.

Whatever the day’s meeting topic was, it was gratifying to see the delegates use the interpretation, react to it, and even thank or otherwise acknowledge the interpreters.

More than anything, we students left with a feel for the working culture of the Council and an appreciation for the wide range of interventions a professional interpreter is expected to handle. The short interjections made by delegates, some to the point, others more meandering, were a far cry from the well-structured and fleshed-out speeches given to us in class. But that variety and the need to think on one’s feet are what make this profession so interesting.

On the evening of the third day we boarded the train for Luxembourg City. The three-hour ride through the countryside and under the setting sun was perhaps the most peaceful and serene of my life. Good thing because the early morning of the fourth day saw us assembled at the entrance of the architecturally domineering yet elegant seat of the European Court of Justice in the east of the city. Once inside, we were debriefed on the structure and operations of the Court, as well as the case whose public ruling we were to hear shortly. The hearing concerned the rights of third-country nationals staying illegally in EU member states, in this case, France. This meant the judges and legal representation spoke almost entirely in French, which is also the dominant working language of the ECJ, so the English and Spanish booths worked briskly for the next two hours. (The dummy booths of some more exotic EU languages also trained during this particular session, though I can’t say if that’s a regular occurrence.) The language of the hearing was legal and technical in nature, a far cry from the more organic tone of Council meetings back in Brussels, and it soon became clear why a degree in law or jurisprudence is required for staff interpreters at the ECJ. While not as convoluted as, say, astrophysics, the material does demand familiarity with the rules of the game and the boundaries of the playing field you are standing on, if only so that you as the interpreter can deftly transit along its accepted and well-trodden pathways of expression.

After the ruling, we met with one of the staff interpreters from the Spanish booth that we had just been tuned into. During this informal encounter we picked up invaluable nuggets of information, such as the fact that the ECJ brings freelance interpreters in a day early to study case materials for the session they will work, for which they are compensated. This is due to both the difficulty of the material and how much is riding on a quality interpretation service; the decisions handed down in Luxembourg will reflect in all the EU member countries, after all.

If one were to describe the European Court of Justice and differentiate it from Brussels, the word “ethereal” for some reason comes to mind — from the aesthetics of the Palais building, down to the nature and wide-ranging repercussions of its work (compared to the Council, which is more hands-on).

All in all, we left Brussels and Luxembourg with a renewed sense of pride in our profession, knowing that somewhere our work was highly appreciated. On an individual level, each one of us now better understood whom we were doing this for and for what purpose. Some of us even became quite engrossed in and attached to our meeting topics and wished we could return to the Institutions for the follow-up session! Proof that these are stories worth telling, and we interpreters are the lucky ones who get to bring them to a wider audience.

Lily Zhang, MIC student 2014.


SCICtrain – a new virtual video library on conference interpreter training

On 28th March, the second day of the annual SCIC-Universities conference, and as a follow-up to the SCiCLOUD initiative announced exactly a year before by Mr Brian Fox, DG SCIC launched “SCICtrain“, a new virtual video library on conference interpreter training offered by DG SCIC interpreter/trainers.


C. Durand, L. De Rioja, M. Benedetti

For some years, DG SCIC had been playing with the idea of conveying important information on conference interpreter training  using online video material, because we were aware that young people and students have become more and more attracted by the power of image, by new technologies in general, and by new approaches for acquiring information and knowledge. Without abandoning on-site training assistance – which remains of paramount importance in the teaching process – we felt that distance learning tools such as the Speech Repository, Virtual Classes and other still-to-be-invented didactic resources had a rapidly growing potential and would be a perfect supplement to our traditional on-site assistance to universities.

What we were looking for was a virtual video library which would show students or other young people practical examples of what conference interpreting is. We wanted to explain and decompose the intellectual process at work in a clear and simple way but without concealing the sophistication of the exercise and the demanding requirements of the job.

We were lucky enough to find someone who had everything that it takes to turn this idea into a concrete project: our ACI colleague Lourdes de Rioja, who a few years ago had created a personal website and a blog on conference interpreting which many of us have regularly visited, called “A Word In Your Ear”. It is this unique profile combining cinema, interpreting and training expertise which, at the end of 2013, led DG SCIC to entrust Lourdes with the task of implementing what has become known as the “SCICtrain” project.

deRiojaToday, SCICtrain contains 41 video-clips which were shot by Lourdes on DG SCIC premises (except Dick Fleming’s two presentations, filmed in La Laguna, Tenerife) between January and March 2014 and whose actors are all (active or former) DG SCIC interpreters with a strong interest in training the next generation. Most of them take part in regular Pedagogical Assistance missions and/or are involved in Virtual Classes with partner universities, and some are senior trainers who had already gained a rich expertise at the time when DG SCIC used to run an in-house training scheme.

The virtual video library is divided into 6 sections:

– a general presentation given by our Director General Marco Benedetti;

– an introduction to conference interpreting;

– consecutive interpreting;

– simultaneous interpreting;

– other techniques (such as retour interpreting);

– other resources and tools (subjects such as the importance of the mother tongue, self-training, “culture générale”, etc).

Please take a look at the various modules which are 5 to 20 minutes long and are a mixture of theoretical presentations (but with many practical tips) and real demonstrations in which DG SCIC interpreters have tried to show and explain how fascinating the interpreting profession can be.

Claude DURAND, Head of unit  “Multilingualism and interpreter training support”, DG INTERPRETATION, SCIC, EUROPEAN COMMISSION.