Interpreter Training Resources

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Split attention exercises

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Speaking and listening at the same time is not all that difficult, as the first exercise here, used as an introduction to simultaneous shows, but thinking and listening at the same time is not natural and because we are not used to doing it we stop doing one of the two very well - we start talking rubbish for example. It is therefore worth practising dividing our attention before we get into the booths.



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

These exercises and more can be found in the new edition of Conference Interpreting - A Students'Companion, A. Gillies, 2004.



Split attention

Many of these exercises can be done both in and out of the booths, depending on the facilities available.

3.1 Listen to a colleague make a simple narrative speech while counting backwards aloud. Start counting from a different number for each speech i.e., 357, 173 etc. Afterwards summarize to the others what you heard and remember from the original speech. (Seleskovitch and Lederer 2002:170)

3.2 Read out a word in the source language. One person must give a target language version at the same time as a second word is read out. The target language version of that is given as a third word is read out, etc. To increase the level of difficulty use whole phrases rather than single words. (Szabó 2003:76)

3.3 Read out simple mathematical tasks. Students must solve them and answer while listening to the next task. This can be done monolingually or from a source language into a target language. (Szabó 2003:76 and Kalina 1992:254)

3.4 A similar exercise is to ask a student a question. While they are answering the first question a second is asked, to which the student will answer while a third is asked etc. Initially the question and answer can be in the same language, later in different language.

3.5 A question is asked and students must answer "Yes" or "No" and repeat the question while listening to the next question. For example.....

Ques: Is consecutive interpreting fun?

Answer: No consecutive interpreting is not fun.

This can be made more difficult by moving up from Yes/No questions to Why? questions requiring a longer more considered response - this is most similar to real simultaneous interpreting. (Kurz 1992:249 and Kalina 1992:254)

The exercises 3.1-3.5 above are arguably more useful than shadowing (see 3.11 below) as not only do you have to speak and listen at the same time but also understand and think.This is therefore more similar to the tasks we complete in the booth.

3.6 a) Play a sentence from a tape, listen, stop the tape, think about how to interpret it, speak the interpretation. Repeat. To increase the level of difficulty....

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. Little by little the thinking pause can be reduced. (also Van Dam 1989:170 and Nadstoga 1989:112)

At a very early stage these exercise are a good introduction to the art of listening and talking at the same time.

3.7 Interpret a speech silently in your head. Then interpret the same speech aloud.

Speaking and listening at the same time is not easy. Neither is thinking and listening. This exercise is an interim stage in the process.

3.8 Improvisation exercise. While in the booth, improvise a speech of 2 minutes on a subject volunteered by a colleague.

This exercise trains the split attention of the interpreter since as you improvise you should be thinking ahead to your next sentence/paragraph so that the speech remains fluent.

3.9 A more difficult (and often entertaining) variant of the previous exercise. Do the same as in 3.9 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.

3.10 Shadow or paraphrase a speech (in the same language) while at the same time writing something completely unrelated on a piece of paper. Ie. Numbers from 1-100 in reverse order. (The Interpreter’s edge[2])

3.11 All sight translation is in effect a division of your attention as you read ahead in the text while speaking. See also the exercises in Part VI 5 Anticipation.


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