Interpreter Training Resources

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Exercises for simultaneous

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These exercises and more can be found in Conference Interpreting - A Students'Companion, A Gillies, 2001, (p80-83) and are reproduced with the kind permission of Tertium Krakow). More exercises can be found in the 2004 revised eidtion of this book, Conference Interpreting - A New Students' companion.



Conference Interpreting - A Students' Companion, Tertium Cracow 2001.




The exercises below are designed to further skills in specific areas of interpretation technique, some may argue that in doing this we encourage inaccurate interpreting, however, I remind you that the goal here is not accuracy or fidelity but the activation that skill required to perform the exercise (that skill being one of the component parts of interpretation). Having mastered each of the component parts of interpretation we can later combine them as single package.

The exercises I suggest below do not cover all of what might be held to be the component elements of the skill of simultaneous interpreting. I propose exercises for the following skills..


General Knowledge

Split attention + Decalage


Stress management

1 Delivery

The delivery skills required in simultaneous interpreting and the exercises that might usefully be undertaken to improve them are in large measure the same as for consecutive interpreting and are outlined above in Exercises for Consecutive Interpreting V 1. Delivery. Others are noted below.

1.1 “Cheating”[1]. Repeatedly interpret the same speech until you arrive at a satisfactory version.

The artificial nature of the task is outweighed by the value of the exercise. The student reduces the intellectual burden by hearing the speech a second or third time, thus allowing them to concentrate on production.

1.2 Shadow a speech which has a large number of delivery problems (ie. frequent restarts, umming and erring, self-correction etc.). Eliminate the same shortcomings in the target text. As a next phase the same can be done when interpreting a similarly flawed source text from another language. (Kalina, 2000. p180)

2 General Knowledge

All of the measures outlined above under the heading " II Language Exposure" will serve to expand the students’ knowledge of current affairs and general knowledge

3 Split attention

Speaking and listening at the same time is not natural and can detract from other cognitive activities, it is therefore worthy of practice. (Gerver and Lambert).

3.1 a) Listen to a sentence, stop the tape, think about how to interpret it, speak the interpretation. Repeat

b) Listen to a sentence, stop the tape, think about how to interpret it, speak the interpretation while listening to the next sentence, stop the tape, think about how to interpret it etc.[2] (also Ine Van Dam and Nadstoga)

At a very early stage this may be a good introduction to the art of listening and talking at the same time.

3.2 Improvisation exercise. While in the booth, improvise a speech of 2 minutes on a subject volunteered by a colleague. Other students listen and comment on the coherence of speech, delivery etc.

This exercise trains the split attention of the interpreter since as you improvise you should be thinking ahead to your next sentence/paragraph. It also trains delivery technique.

3.3 The same as 3.2 except students outside the booth show cards with keywords on them at short intervals. The person speaking must incorporate the word/idea coherently into the improvised speech.

In addition to training split attention this activity accurately mirrors the lack of control we have on content when in the booth, and trains you to think on your feet.

3.4 Interpret a speech silently in your head. Then interpret the same speech aloud. Speaking and listening at the same time is not easy. This exercise is an interim stage in the process.

3.5 Shadow a speech while at the same time writing something completely unrelated on a piece of paper. Ie. Numbers from 1-100 in reverse order[3].

NB Shadowing is the repetition of a speech in the same language a couple of seconds after the speaker.

4 Décalage

Decalage is the time difference between what the speaker says and its reproduction by the interpreter in the target language.

4.1 Practice changing the order of elements in the clause i.e. practice holding individual words or ideas of the clause/sentence and working them back in much later (i.e. a date can very easily be switched from first to last in a sentence).

4.2 Practice changing the order of the clauses in a sentence without changing its meaning.

4.3 Stay as close to then as far from the speaker as possible -.

By stretching the extremes, we make the normal easier

4.4 Give thought to when you start speaking. Develop a consistent strategy.

4.5 Have someone record a long series of random numbers (in a C language) onto a cassette. Interpret from that cassette, first being just one number behind the original and then progressively trying to stay further behind until you are 3, 4 or even 5 numbers behind the original,

There have been a number of attempts to establish when an interpreter should best begin interpreting once the speaker has started. When you have a unit of meaning; when you can finish a sentence , any sentence, (Jones); as soon as you can; as late as you can; and “it depends” to name but a few. It is worth familiarizing oneself with them since it can offer new ideas or help understand problems.

5 Reformulation

"Reformulation, in its various forms, is one of the most useful tools the simultaneous interpreter has." (Jones)

5.1 Having recorded your interpretation, listen to it sentence by sentence / paragraph by paragraph rewording it (in the same language as the taped interpretation) into a version you might have expected to hear from an articulate native speaker giving their own speech. What are the grammatical, idiomatical, intonational and structural differences? Could you have applied what you now know to your interpretation? Try to.

Exercises 5.2-5.7 can be applied to sight translation and spoken texts as part of our practice of simultaneous interpreting.

NB sight translation means giving an oral rendition in one language of a text in another while reading that text for the first time - simultaneously so to speak.

5.2 Invert the meaning of the text. › Annex 2.2.

5.3 Rework the grammatical structure of sentences without changing their meaning i.e. change all passive verbs to indicative, remove subordinate clauses etc. (also Weber and Heine.)

When interpreting go to two extremes alternately…..

5.4 Interpret the same speech in extremes of register, i.e. "phat" street slang then an OTT "smashing" aristocratic drawl. You can also use different regional accents. › Annex 2.1.Registers.

5.5 Change same speech to very "anti" and then "for" (or similarly to very serious then very ironic etc.)

5.6 Add as many redundancies as possible / summarize drastically. › Annex 2.5 Redundancies.

5.4-5.6, by stretching the extremes, make the normal (in comparison) easier. In addition we are forcing ourselves, by the design of each exercise, to work with ideas and not words. › also Stress management VI 6.

5.7 Try to overuse one metaphor (in A language) throughout a single speech. They should correspond to the sense of the original even though the original speaker has not indulged in the same way. For example, all things nautical - (calm the waters, shots across bows, in the doldrums, ship-shape, a loose cannon, embark, etc.) › Annex 2.3.

WHY ? We are forcing ourselves, by the design of each exercise, to work with ideas and not words. Thus analysing the actual meaning of the speech rather than the meaning of the words wiithin it. In addition we are expanding our ability to dig up a wider variety of idiomatic expressions in our own language.

5.8 Use as many Latin root words as possible then interpret the same speech a second time using none. (This exercise has more relevance for students with one or more Romance languages).

5.9 While interpreting deliberately don’t use a word you've thought of - find a synonym – repeat this process throughout an interpretation. › Annex 2.4. Synonyms. Similarly try to avoid obvious or literal translations, eg. “manual” not “handbook” for the German “Handbuch”.

The exercises above(5.1-5.9) are practice in reformulation of speeches and in the delivery of coherent speeches on the basis of a given text or speech. They stretch the linguistic flexibility of the interpreter. Attempts to say the same thing using different words forces us to move away from literal translation – towards a rendering of the ideas not the words.

5.10 Translating (in writing) the texts of speeches can be a useful tool for students of simultaneous interpreting. When translating we have more time to consider different language versions of given expressions and ideas. Versions arrived at during written translations and techniques for moving from one language to another can then be used later in the booth as and when appropriate.

5.11 Shadow a speech, paraphrasing the speaker in the same language.

5.12 Practice changing the order of elements in the clause i.e. practice holding individual words or ideas of the clause/sentence and working them back in much later (i.e. a date can very easily be switched from first to last in a sentence)

5.13 Practice changing the order of the clauses in a sentence without changing its meaning.

5.14 Practice shadowing speeches which have been deliberately sprinkled with constructions taken from the language later to be interpreted from but which are inappropriate in the language you are using. Correct the structural and syntactic errors while shadowing. (Kalina, 2000. p181).

This is an excellent way of tackling the reformulation challenges that all languages offer without the added difficulty of the comprehension task. Later when faced with L2 you will already be familiar with the techniques and strategies that will allow a sound rendering in L1.

6 Stress management

Some exercises may be amusing or game-like, for example,

6.1 1.1 "Just a minute". This is UK radio game show in which one must speak on given subject, without hesitation or repetition, for 60 seconds or more.

6.2 The improvisation exercises (see 3.2 and 3.3 above) ,

6.3 Changing registers (see 5.4 above)

6.4 Changing a speech from “anti” to “for” (see 5.5 above)

6.5 Overusing one metaphor (see 5.7 above)

6.6 feet on the table - practise in the most relaxed (exaggerate!) position you can come up with. See also consecutive V 5.12 for a consecutive version of the same.

This should counter balance the unnaturally tense posture of most student interpreters. It will also demonstrate that the working of the brain is not enhanced by being huddled over the microphone, eyes closed, grasping the desk so tightly that your fingers go white.

All these will distract from the stress of interpreting. The fact that they are fun should not mean they are unsuitable for the classroom. Fun can be a very positive factor in practice. We do not have to be unhappy to interpret well.

7 Miscellaneous

7.2 Interpret for friends and colleagues who don't have your language(s).

This is real communication, with a real audience who can check if you’re making sense.

7.3 Listening to stock market reports in your B/C languages try to note down all the numbers.

Numbers tend to cause problems and panic in student (and many working) interpreters. Practice can help overcome this.




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