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.

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.

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.



¿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.

Interpreting Michelle OBAMA


“Quiero pensar que ésta no es mi mejor simultánea :-). En este caso el reto era enfrentarse a un discurso desconocido, interpretándolo sin texto y sin preparación alguna: es decir, una situación bastante habitual en la vida real de un intérprete. Si el orador habla con espontaneidad y a un ritmo natural, es perfectamente factible. Michelle Obama no habla excesivamente rápido, pero en realidad su discurso está preparado, es más denso que una alocución espontánea, no presenta ninguna de las repeticiones y redundancias que caracterizan al discurso hablado. Hay partes donde me ha costado bastante seguirlo y he tenido que simplificar el original, intentando mantener el mensaje esencial. Una dificultad adicional para mí ha sido que no estoy acostumbrada a este tipo de discursos: tengo, después de 25 años de trabajo, todo tipo de automatismos para conceptos como exacciones arancelarias o límites de residuos, pero es la primera vez que tengo que contar la historia de una cita romántica :-).

¡Me ha parecido dificilísimo!”

Marta IGARTUA es intérprete permanente de la DG INTERPRETACIÓN, SCIC, COMISIÓN EUROPEA.

[Esta interpretación simultánea es totalmente real: realizada sin preparación previa ni guión escrito]