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Applied Interpreting Studies at the core of teaching the instructors: a proposal of solutions

Olgierda Furmanek, Wake Forest University, North Carolina


Firstly this paper aims to bring the need to educate student interpreters' instructors to the forefront of research: It advocates a subfield within Interpreting Studies that could be called Applied Interpreting Studies, modelled upon Applied Linguistics, which focuses on trying to resolve language-based problems that people encounter in the real world (Grabe 2002: 9). Secondly it suggest ways to approach the design of teaching interpreting didactics by presenting a pilot program that took place at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, USA in the Fall of 2009.
Rather than propose a prescriptive model for teaching teachers of interpreting a spectrum of practicable, modifiable solutions is offered. Following Daniel Gile's statement in the conclusion of his article Teaching Conference Interpreting (Tennent 2005:149), I believe that, as he put it, "It is best to keep one's mind open to a wide range of possibilities, including methods that deviate considerably from the ones advocated most often in the literature."


Community interpreting, public service interpreting, education, teaching, training, instructors.

Content of Public Service Interpreting Curricula

In addition to bilateral, triad, dialogue, liaison and other denominations Jang (2007) has recently proposed a new term 'discourse interpreting.' Altogether there are seven terms used to refer to public service interpreting, depending on world region or personal preference. The term Public Service Interpreting (PSI) will be used here, sometimes interchanging it with community interpreting. Before approaching the main question of WHO should be educating public service interpreting and HOW these teachers should be prepared, it would be well to consider WHAT is presently being taught and WHAT should be taught, as recommended by researchers. Angelelli's view of current training curricula in the US is that "Acquisition and learning of interpreting competence are narrowly defined." (2006: 24) She states that healthcare interpreting education (HIE) should involve the development in at least six different areas: cognitive processing, interpersonal behavior, linguistics, professional conduct, setting-specific, and sociocultural awareness. "Most of the commercially available short courses generally devote time to terminology or to the ethics of the profession and do not even discuss information processing skills. More elaborate programs focus on both information processing and linguistic skills, but may not venture into the specifics of the medical setting and the interpersonal role of the healthcare interpreter." (2006: 24-26) I would also like to emphasise the "at least" phrase in Angelelli's enumeration, which clearly indicates the minimum. As will be seen in this table, even many of those six minimal components are often missing.

The table below shows the results of examining a set of typical public service (community) interpreting programs for the components they include. The examples of medical interpreting programs come from Hablamos Juntos Report for the "Improving Patient-Provider Communication for Latinos" project (2005) from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (Repeated below) The sampling method involved doing an Internet search (search engines such as Google, Dogpile and Yahoo), and using information from the Asian Health Services and Crosscultural Health Program Report. The programs were selected using NCHI categories: academic program, bilingual education program and community training program.

33 programmes across the USA

Basic/Review/Medical Terminology: 23
Code of Ethics: 17
Standards of Practice: 4
Interpreting and Communication Skills: 15
Interpreter Role: 15
Cultural and Ethical Issues: 14
Cultural Competence: 1
Biomedicine as Culture: 2
Universal Precautions: 2

Research evidence and evidence-based practice

We see that many of the components described by Angelelli are absent in these curricula. The reason why this is so is unknown would be useful. Perhaps the decision-makers are unaware of those dimensions. Perhaps those running the classes do not know how to teach them. Or perhaps their presence would affect the length of the programmes and not be practical or affordable. Or perhaps there is not yet enough research based evidence to suggest that including all the components would make a difference.

The lack of research evidence is not the problem however. We are all well aware that interpreting in the community-based setting has gained increased recognition and has been the subject of research since the early nineties (Roy and Wadensjö). The wealth of scholarly publications on public service interpreting from the last decade covers a wide range of topics from the role of the interpreter to institutional contextualisation. Also, approaches to this type of professional practice have been conducted from various perspectives ranging from sociolinguistic discourse analysis to ethnographic theory of communication.

In spite of all this research, however, the same question regarding the weight of the evidence is constantly raised by major authorities in the community interpreting field (Angelleli 2008, Pöchhacker 2008). For example, the question was emphasised in the introduction to Crossing Borders in Community Interpreting (Martin and Valero-Garcés 2008)—why this gap between theory and practice? Why are so few of these findings known or even discussed?
A question that flows naturally from this concern is: What is the most appropriate way to transfer specialised knowledge from the world of the scholars to the public domain? The answer is not congresses, conferences, round table discussions—as sophisticated and as innovative and revealing as they may be. It is neither some hermeneutic publications which are mostly inaccessible to the outside world of other academic and professional disciplines; which are quickly out of print or difficult to order. Even if one is deeply engaged in the ever-changing scene of web-based publications one finds they frequently change their names and servers. Bibliographies such as the one by John Benjamins are useful but subscription rates tend to be out of the reach of most local governments' restricted budgets. The one possible answer is BITRA, a free system, used by students who often simply use Google for their research activities. In the end, it is mainly in the classroom where the seeds are planted, horizons get opened and students are inspired.

I think that one of the possible answers to this recurring question of the connection between research and practice is that this knowledge needs to be conveyed first to the instructors of interpreting programmes so that consequently they can then reflect their knowledge in the education of interpreters. From my perspective, looking at the credentials of some trainers, I venture to say that the disconnection between research activity and professional applications of scholarship exists because the educators are not educated. It has become a trend, an infamous trend to offer training workshops rather than solid education in interpreting didactics. The development of competent, informed instructors is the key approach to translating public service interpreting research into practice. First, the teachers need to be educated hence the need for applied linguistics studies, applied interpreting studies, applied translation studies, with a focus on the methodology of teaching. Proposed research components of a training programme for teachers could include intercultural communication phenomena, psycholinguistic mechanisms related to meaning construction, discourse analysis, code-switching theories, dialogue studies (e.g. Isurin et al. 2009; Mason 2000, 2009; Tebble 2007). Future instructors of interpreters would also benefit from doing their own academic research into interdisciplinary aspects characteristic of PSI such as:

  • negotiation of linguistic identities;
  • issues of power, loyalty and liability;
  • cross-cultural management of conflicts;
  • the sociolinguistic aspects of particular communicative settings including:
  • legal,
  • medical,
  • educational,
  • faith-related.
Curricula for Instructors
Translation Studies

In his foreword to Training for the New Millennium (Tennent 2005) Eugene Nida states "there is a serious lack of competent teachers for interpreting." Further on in the same volume there are two significant contributions to raising questions regarding the pedagogy of translation.

Gonzalez Davies (2005: 67) poses several questions: how many university courses are there to train translation teachers? Are all translation teachers familiar with the main existing pedagogical approaches and basic principles? Davies says that focusing more on the process of teaching translating should bring us closer to being able to answer these questions. While it is a good suggestion the responses to those inquiries regarding the methodology of teaching on how to teach T/I are still nonexistent.

Then Nord points out "There is no institutional training for translators' trainers. Teachers of Mathematics or Philosophy are trained in their respective Faculties, Language Teachers are trained in Modern Languages or Faculties of Second Language Acquisition, but persons applying for a position as a translator trainer in a Faculty of Translation and Interpreting need no particular formal qualification; and if they needed one, they would not know where to get it. (...) maybe life would be easier for them (and for their students) if they had some kind of special instruction and were not forced to re-invent the wheel of translation pedagogy over and over again." (2005:209) She concludes her essay by highlighting certain areas hoping to help make the "training of trainers a fully-fledged branch of applied Translation Studies." (2005: 210) Adding also that "for translators training it is not sufficient just to produce good translations, nor is it enough to know everything about language, pragmatics and linguistics—or even Translation Theory. The interplay of theory and practice may be more important in this area than anywhere else." (2005: 220)

Four years later little seems to have happened. It appears that not much improvement can be noted. No attention was paid to this issue either when during the recent discussion on European Masters in Translation in April 2009, Łucja Biel, a speaker from the Gdansk University in Poland indicated the lack of training for educators of translators and interpreters as being one of the principal obstacles in establishing new and needed academic programmes in the countries with shorter tradition in T/I pedagogy.

Interpreting Studies

Regrettably, the situation in translation studies has not been addressed or even considered a priority. Unfortunately, the situation is very similar, and thus, not much better within the field of Interpreting Studies. For conference interpreting instructors, several short-term workshops such as those organised through the AIIC committee and other programmes, listed below, are only offered on an irregular basis and have no continuity.

It is even more visible in the field of PSI where the need to create programmes is dictated by pressing needs, sometimes in regions where there is no tradition in T/I research or T/I didactics.

So let's have a brief look at where and how the curriculum structure of those programmes was formed. The following are some examples of current training programmes for instructors of interpreting in the US; neither of these programmes is delivered in academic settings.

AHEC Training of Trainers Program, Virginia, USA

It is a comprehensive curriculum designed to prepare trained interpreters who are skilled in adult education to teach and implement the 5-day course Interpreting in Health and Community Settings.

Minimum requirements consist of:

• Taking the 5-day IHCS class as a student (if the participant has not already done so);

• Attending NV AHEC's 8-hour Basics of Adult Education class (participant may be exempt depending on past teaching experience);

• Attending NV AHEC's 8-hour Teaching IHCS;

• Teaching at least 2 Supervised Teaching Sessions (3 hours each) of a real IHCSclass under the guidance of the TOT instructor. (Depending on the participant's performance, and at the discretion of the TOT instructor, additional training sessions may be scheduled.)
(22 hours)

Training of Trainers Connecting Worlds, California, USA

The purpose of this 24-hour training is to prepare prospective trainers to facilitate the Connecting Worlds, Central Valley Version curriculum. The training includes discussion of training techniques that have been effective in presenting the Connecting Worlds forty-hour training. Topics include training philosophy, presentation skills, and managing multicultural and multilingual groups, working with diverse co-trainers, adult learning styles and facilitation skills.

In addition, seminars for trainers of conference interpreters are offered sporadically by various academic institutions. What can we learn from conference interpreting? Here are some examples of several programmes in different countries:

Training of Conference Interpreters Trainers, Geneva, Switzerland (on line)
12 months; 25 face-to-face hours plus 6 on site days;

Training Conference Interpreters Trainers, University of Pretoria, South Africa: contact days: 5, days per week: 5, hours per day: 6;

Training for Trainers of Interpreting Studies, London Metropolitan University, United Kingdom: one week; hours per day: 5;

Training of Trainers, Monterey Institute of International Studies, California, USA, 4 days;

AIIC Training of Trainers Seminars Advanced Series, at different locations, the last one offered in Rome, Italy, February of 2009, 1.5 day.

The Master of Advanced Studies in Interpreter Training at ETI in Geneva is designed to provide experienced professional conference interpreters with the necessary theoretical and pedagogical foundation that will enable them to develop a sound methodology for teaching interpreting at university level.

Module 1:    Fundamentals of distance learning
Module 2:    The interpreting process
Module 3:    Developing expertise in interpreting
Module 4:    Design and implementation of research projects
Module 5:    Teaching consecutive interpreting
Module 6:    Teaching simultaneous interpreting
Module 7:    Curriculum, syllabus design and lesson planning
Module 8:    Evaluating classroom performance: Providing feed-back to       students
Module 9:    The interpreter's voice                               
(November 2008)               

What is missing here is foreign-language acquisition; an area with which teaching of T/I is often compared (Gonzalez Davies 2005: 67) and which is considered to stimulate ideas in translation didactics (Cronin 2005:253). How do these programmes look when compared with, for example, the curriculum for an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language?

UCLA MA in TESL Summary of Required Courses:

Foundation Courses:

AL/TESL C201:            Functional Foundations of Language
AL/TESL C202:            Foundations of Language Acquisition
AL/TESL C204:            Foundations of Language Assessment
AL/TESL M206:           Social Foundations of Language OR
AL/TESL M207:           The Ethnography of Communication OR
AL/TESL 208:              Foundations of Discourse Analysis 

Elective Courses: 

Thesis Preparation Courses:

AL/TESL 200:              Research in Applied Linguistics
AL/TESL 598:              M.A. Research and Thesis Preparation
AL/TESL 400:              AL/TESL MA Colloquium

The broader interdisciplinary, not only curriculum-design related, research component is strongly emphasised in this MA programme, but this is absent from the training seminars/workshops of the other programmes; a strong programme should not be just about designing a syllabus or a curriculum or a classroom activity but rather about understanding the foundations of interpreting activity, co-conversational process, sociocultural determinations, and so forth. Interpreting is considered to be one of the most challenging activities of the human brain so strategies on how to do it should be added to the interpreting studies foundation. However, as we are talking about developing practical curricular applications and not producing PhD level scholarship, the key is to find a balanced way to connect research with teaching, rather than eliminating it from the curriculum completely.

Awareness concept

To help in this endeavour, there are more and more publications on pedagogy of teaching conference interpreting or teaching translation and also a few helpful materials in regards to teaching PSI which can constitute a beginning base for reading materials. Former serious gaps in the field have been filled recently by textbooks such as: Valero-Garces (2006), Hale (2007). But how long would the list of textbooks/materials for teaching the teachers of PSI be? Corsellis has briefly outlined methods of teaching for five different areas of training (2005: 158). It is well known that self-designed packages with well prepared glossaries, listed standards of practice, and compiled excerpts from manuals are abundant. These packages have been and still are the standard materials available for instructors teaching community interpreting.
But it is also well known that pedagogy is not only about having a textbook or even a class plan, it is first of all about understanding what one is doing and why he is doing it and only later how one should be doing it. If the current curricula are lacking some of the six components defined by Angelelli, as has been demonstrated before, it is not because textbooks or materials are nonexistent. It is because the instructors really do not know what they are supposed to teach and why.

I would like to propose here that the awareness factor should be the dominant guiding principle in the construction of the curriculum for teaching instructors of interpreting.

Corsellis points out the importance of the awareness of variety of situations.
In the part about understanding the working context of the public service she says:

There is much to be learnt about working as an interpreter in the public services which is rarely taught in the classroom, and, in hindsight, is just common sense. (...)

Students should be made aware of the fact that their assignments will be very diverse and that these assignments will require them to be alert to and find proper responses to a great variety of situations. (2005:159)

Angelelli discusses the power of the interpreter with regard to the co-construction of the interpreting event, underlining the awareness of the role and the effects of the interpreter's behavior on the event. She states that "in many cases, interpreters are not even aware of the agency they possess, nor are they always conscious of the consequences of exercising it." (2008: 151)

Chesterman emphasises the awareness of causes and consequences. It is in a way an extension of what Angelelli has suggested, becoming aware of the agency of the interpreter. Borrowing from his proposal to see the need to cover the social, ideological and historical origins of a particular need for a translation and later—even much later—socio-cultural consequences of translations, trainees can appreciate the importance of the translator's role in a much larger historical dimension than merely a textual or communicational one. Students indeed are inspired by the stories of the WW II interpreters or those who helped conquer the New World. Chesterman calls it the "causal model." This model, according to him, offers the best way of relating different aspects of theory to each other and to practice. "The emancipatory translation is that trainees are of course taught translation norms but they themselves are responsible for deciding how they will react to these norms." (2005:202). The causal model highlights the fact that translations do indeed have consequences. It also has an ethical side to it. Again, according to Chesterman, "norm-breaking has certain effects that may be surprisingly beneficial, if a new and better norm is introduced."(2005: 202)

If a teacher is self-confident in his familiarity with the research, he will be more likely to encourage students to reach out, to try out various solutions that might confirm or challenge regulatory standards of practice. Centrality of causality can be especially relevant to PSI due to its multidimensionality and incremental intervention paradigm, as proposed by Beltran Avery (2001).

And finally there is, somewhat related to Chesterman's emancipatory attitude, Cronin's awareness of being the intellectual of society (2005: 263). Cronin advocates for prominence (self-promotion) not only as a professional but also as a thinker, as an educated individual; suggesting translators' expertise should be used to engage in debates on the cultural , political and educational choices of societies. It can be one of the ways of reminding dialogue interpreters of the power that they hold, of the responsibilities, and also of the vital risksthat vary depending on the interpreting setting.

The paramount issue here, then, is the instructors' awareness so that they can trigger awareness in their students! Where does awareness come from? From a deeper understanding of the field and from one's experience. And the best outcome occurs when one can feed the other to complement, challenge or confirm. A good teacher is constantly learning through teaching and also by his involvement in research activities in various degrees. S/he successfully balances the demands of insightful teaching and rigorous scholarship.

Wake Forest University Project

In this spirit, our overall project, that started in January of 2009 and was funded by the US Department of Labor through the Piedmont Triad Partnership WIRED Grant, intends to:

1. address the shortage of educational faculty for medical interpreting programmes in the Pidemont Triad region by creating a curriculum programme for instructors of healthcare interpreting, that will be taught by Translation and Interpreting, and Linguistics faculty at Wake Forest University;

2. also construct an innovative curriculum, based on recent national and international research developments, for an associate degree in healthcare interpreting, that will be taught as a pilot programme at a local community college where professional education is offered (Davidson County Community College), with the intention that it might be replicated at other community colleges interested in offering the programme in healthcare Spanish interpreting.

The first aim involves the development and implementation of a comprehensive curriculum for teaching healthcare interpreting for faculty of colleges in the Piedmont Triad region, and across the state of North Carolina. The programme is intended to educate, rather than to train. Our instructors will not only provide the students with a set of techniques on how to interpret, but will teach, mentor, and raise awareness about this type of interpreting practice.
While many community colleges have made an effort to offer some classes on community interpreting in the last five years, only three colleges in the entire state of North Carolina were able to maintain those offerings. One of the main reasons for the lack of success of those programmes is the shortage of qualified faculty. In 2004, I surveyed selected faculty teaching interpreting classes at higher education institutions in North Carolina on the interest in and need for training teachers of community interpreting. Out of those contacted, 13 people, from 11 different schools, were interested in the training and 4 were not, mainly due to limited finances. That initial survey's results demonstrated a high degree of self-awareness among instructors who were, often randomly, assigned to teach interpreting classes and who, with frustration, admitted their deficiencies in teaching interpreting.

This situation has remained unchanged since 2004. At present there is still no training for instructors of medical interpreting being offered in the Mid-Atlantic region. During our team's second, preliminary inquiries in 2008 a strong desire to receive formal training in the methodology of teaching interpreting in the medical context has again been expressed by faculty members from the community colleges in the Piedmont Triad region. This interest was supported by their respective administrative units, who confirmed that a specialised instructional programme for their faculty would help their graduates meet the demands of the healthcare providers and patients.

The project states that six selected faculty members from community colleges will take courses at Wake Forest Univesity in the Fall of 2009, to be prepared to teach courses in the faculty's newly developed Healthcare Interpreter Associate Degree curriculum on their campuses in the Spring of 2010. This pilot program is intended to provide every community college, that would like to offer a Healthcare Interpreter Associate Degree, in the region and beyond, with competent instructors. It is projected that approximately 20-30 instructors, identified through our questionnaire, will benefit from this training in the next five years.

Our team has been carefully assembled to include a variety of expertise; myself, on interpreting Dr. Olgierda Furmanek, linguistics (Dr. Luis Gonzalez from Wake Forest University), bilingual medical experts (Dr. Jorge Calles from Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity), testing and psychometrics ( Dr. Cecilia Solano), survey and questionnaires (Dr. Ananda Mitra), healthcare interpreting (Linda Dorton, Interpreters Division of the Baptist Hospital). A close working collaboration with the Davidson County Community College is providing necessary elements in the development of all aspects of the proposed curriculum.

The programme's design is the result of the expertise of these researchers and is additionally supported by the findings of three experimental projects conducted in the Romance Languages Department at WFU in the years 2000-2009:

1. the first was tailoring the programmes to the needs of the student population: this involved a survey of the instructors to determine the profile/background of the potential applicants and to construct the programme accordingly;

This survey stemmed from the outcome of my 10 years of teaching translation courses with that adjustable approach and this past year's similar project of a colleague in the Department (Spanish for Medical Professions custom-designed faculty-student research projects were conducted).

Our survey shows that these instructors have no background in interpreting theory, and many of them have not taken any college-level interpreting courses. On the other hand, they do have a strong background in methodology of teaching adults. The results of the survey will aid in determining our curriculum design.

2. The second was on connecting research and individual student experience.

This concept is based upon data from my 9 years of teaching our undergraduate Certificate in Interpreting.

a. Students are required to engage in classroom research projects.

In addition to learning skills, strategies, and aptitudes, students paired with a partner are asked to prepare 40 min. presentations, with detailed bibliography and classroom activity. They have access to major interpreting research journals. These presentations are micro-examples of applied research: neurolinguistics, history of interpreting, remote interpreting.

b. Students are placed in internships which provides an onsite component.

95% of the students have an internship while taking the course in Interpreting, an undergraduate course that covers strategies of consecutive, bilateral and simultaneous and also introduces students to the concepts of interpreting studies.

Students are required to submit by the third week of classes:

  • a statement explaining their goal, motivation and expectations;
  • a projected weekly schedule; 100 hours should be completed by the end of the semester;
  • a proposal (100 words) of their final research project which should connect one of the topics from the interpreting course and their practical experience;
  • plus a sample bibliography.

Also, they submit biweekly their diary entries which should include new terminology from each session and brief observations that they think might be relevant to their research project. Sample projects are available from their internship advisor; however they must come up with their own project, specific to the needs of their internship site and have it approved by both their supervisor and their advisor. One of the strengths of our programme is that this internship intends to rigorously connect real experience to what the students have learned in class and read in the research literature.

Culture in Healthcare Interpreting; Relating Guidelines for Medical Interpreting with the Actual Experience; Standard for Medical Interpreters and the Evolving Legislation Concerning Their Field; The Patient-Provider Relationship in Medical Interpreting; Spanglish: Varying Approaches to the Inter-language; The Rise of Spanglish, Bilingualism, and the Problems that Can Occur During Interpretation; Medical Interpreters: Whose Side are They On?; Defining the Additional Roles of the Medical Interpreter Revising the Interpreter Screening Process at the Community Care Center; What is an Appropriate Background for a Community Health Care Interpreter are some examples of their projects.

Students do not graduate with a full set of skills, rather they learn what they should be doing and then the learning on the job actually happens. The internship allows this to start early. In an anecdotal way, students, while trying to be respectful of the established researchers' authorities, attempt to comprehend scholarly findings as compared to their own data. For example, in many situations, the doctors assume that the interpreters are medical students and involve them in procedures, diagnostic process, etc. which complicates their compliance with the neutrality/transparency rule. The students struggle in trying to apply ethical norms, to find the balance for the appropriate intervention level or establishing a participant presence. Making them aware of the connectedness between research and practice in their little microcosm of their 100 hour internship is one of the possible applications of Chesterman's norm-breaking, emancipatory, causal model.

In brief, the guiding idea during the construction of this programme for instructors is to make them understand WHAT happens when one is interpreting and WHY we need to teach these multidimensional skills. It is not only creating the curriculum, which, of course, will not be neglected, but rather emphasizing the goal of this education that they are called to offer.

The design is based on three interrelated principles. We want students, future instructors of interpreting to:

  • understand THE GOAL OF THE PROGRAMME and the nature of continuous education in the interpreting profession a highly diverse and multi-faceted domain of study (Pőchhacker 2004: 24)
  • gain FAMILIARITY with the ACADEMIC FIELD of community interpreting studies, become well-acquainted with recent research in conference interpreting studies as well, while realizing that conference interpreting differs not necessarily in the modes (remote and simultaneous is used more and more in PSI) but also in itsthe socio-communicative context and its role, so that they can direct their students inquiries to the right sources, publications,        and bibliographies, thus developing students' further interest in Interpreting         Studies, Applied Interpreting Studies, Pedagogy of Interpreting, Sociology of       Interpreting. One invaluable primary source of reference is The Interpreting Studies Reader by Franz Pöchhacker and Miriam Shlesinger;
  • experience FIELD OBSERVATION—ON SITE—to become aware of all the aspects of interpreting, especially the para- and extra-linguistic factors and most of all the UNPREDICTABILITY of this endeavor; to quote Pőchhacker again: "the notion of context and the impact of contextual variables and the constraints on the interactants and their behavior" (2009: 44) are particularly in need of development.

From all this future instructors will know how to prepare their students for unpredictability, e.g. how many case studies can be discussed in one class that meets twice a week.

Consequently, following these three principles, the pilot courses for the post-graduate programme in Teaching Interpreting that was offered this past fall at Wake Forest University are: Applied Interpreting Studies and Methodology of Teaching Interpreting.

Applied Interpreting Studies, 3 credit hours

This course explores connections between research and practical issues in studies of interpreting (simultaneous, consecutive, bilateral and other modalities). It focuses on the interdisciplinarity of the interpreting field and, based on case studies, examines the interface between interpreting as a profession, research in interpreting studies and the teaching of interpreting. It includes a research project.

In the design of this course, we looked closely at the Applied Linguistics model.

Methodology of Teaching Interpreting, 3 credit hours

This course discusses syllabus design and lesson planning for teachers of interpreting in a field-specific context. It focuses on the development of interpreting skills, also using recent technological developments. It explores classroom management options and strategies for providing feedback to students. It also covers internship design methods, including an on-site observation of various interpreting settings.

Being familiar with the most recent learning theories and adult education is also important but as survey results indicated that applicants to the programme for instructors already have experience in teaching language courses in continuous education programmes and during the pilot phase, there will not be a course on adult learning. As previously mentioned, I am not pretending to offer here one single solution for the education of the teachers of interpreters so it may be necessary that offerings be added/ modified as the potential candidates' profile varies. The admissions process is typical: statement of interest, official educational transcripts and one letter of recommendation. Two courses were piloted in the fall but the ultimate goal is to offer an MA in Teaching Interpreting, not conference interpreting though simultaneous modes/remote equipment usage will be also addressed there.

The overarching concept is that the instructors graduating from this me do not need to be expert interpreters in public service interpreting BUT they need to understand what they are teaching and why they are teaching it; and in order to be able to do so, they need to have a thorough knowledge of the most recent research.

With this proposed approach, we are not challenging the belief that instructors should have some experience in interpreting but rather the tendency to believe that current practitioners of interpreting can teach more efficiently than those teachers who present limited experience as interpreters. Students who took the pilot courses on the methodology of teaching of interpreting in the Fall of 2009 had varied experience as interpreters, from several years to none. For their final teaching demo class at the end of the course, those with more experience in teaching and less interpreting practice scored higher than those who have been interpreting professionally but did not have any pedagogical background. The demo class covered exercises on bilateral interpreting, register variation approaches, discourse analysis, sight translation. Class design, warm up activities, students' involvement, clarity of instructions were graded, among others.

It seems therefore that, while it definitely is important to have a practitioner's insight during the education of a teacher of interpreting, it might be more efficient to have practitioners involved rather as mentors at the internship locations, as it has been a tested practice in the American Sign Language (ASL) curricula (Humphray 2000).

I believe that we should question the general, unproved assumption that practitioners are the best teachers and rather consider a balanced combination of our students' exposure to those who understand what happens with language and through language (having an updated knowledge of the findings in the interpreting studies) and those who can serve as role-models/mentors at the internship place. As a matter of fact, I would even question the concept that the teacher of interpreting should be a better interpreter than his/her students. Instructors need to have had direct experience as interpreters but do not need to be expert interpreters themselves.

Another issue is an honest assessment/self-assessment of those who offer courses in interpreting and are asked to instruct others on how to teach it. Are they capable of teaching interpreting didactics? It may turn out that some of us are great teachers of interpreting but they cannot transfer that knowledge to the next generation of teachers or, before doing that, should learn about interpreting studies more in depth. It might be helpful to clearly distinguish between: practitioners (who can serve as role-models), practitioners-mentors, instructors of interpreting, and instructors of interpreting didactics. Of course, in some cases, all these roles can be performed adequately by the same individual but can it be assumed that these roles are always interchangeable?


In conclusion, one of the steps towards facilitating such multi-levelled didactical awareness would be the construction of a bank of resources for Applied Interpreting Studies, specific to PSI. I am not in favour of multiplying commissions, steering committees and centralisation efforts, but I do think it would be extremely helpful to combine our efforts in preparing materials. This could include:

  • collaborative evaluation of textbooks, materials
  • experiential learning from observing colleagues
  • teaching discriminating approach to strategies of teaching teachers of translation, conference interpreting, or sign language interpreting.

Finally, what is meant by the statement that Applied Interpreting Studies are at the core of education for future trainers of PS interpreters? Applied Interpreting Studies means building awareness about the field—its history, history in the making, contextualised presence, as used for teaching, for solving problems that are encountered in the real world; it means including in the curricula methodology projects that drawing from interdisciplinary research developments, as discussed above, look for its confirmations in practical experience and projects that take practical experience as the point of departure for pedagogy innovations confronting them with scholarship.

Kiraly, Kussmal, Ricardi and others, in particular Gile, have already underscored the importance of theoretically self-aware translation didactics, the same is true and should be more considered in regards to the PSI pedagogy. Further discussion can benefit from shifting the focus from how to teach and what to teach to who should be teaching (a profile can be helpful to screen the candidates or prioritise the structure of the courses, as mentioned earlier) and whether that person, be it a practitioner, an applied linguist, or a translation studies scholar, understands the three principles concept and, as proposed by Gile in Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator Training, can awake the PSI awareness in students, contribute to the development of that awareness, channel the growing awareness into the right direction, whether he is prepared to instruct students where and how to continue nurturing that self-awareness after they graduate.     

The ultimate goal overall should be to prepare qualified and motivated faculty that will teach in public service interpreting programmes with competence and confidence and who will, in a long term, both make novel theories, methods, and models in public service interpreting germinate and, at the same time, affirm professional self-awareness among newly formed interpreters.

  • Angelelli, Claudia V. (2006). "Designing curriculum for health care interpreting education: A principles approach." Cynthia B. Roy (ed.). New approaches to interpreter education. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 23-45.
  • Corsellis, Ann (2005). Martha Tennet. Training for the New Millennium. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 153-173.
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Olgierda  Furmanek Olgierda Furmanek is Associate Professor of Spanish and the founding director of the Interpreting and Translation Studies Program at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, USA. She has also taught courses at Yale University. Her research interests focus on the psychology of interpreting, interpreting didactics, and the ethics of interpreting and translation. She serves as a consultant to new programs in community interpreting throughout the US and is a strong advocate of public scholarship and more fruitful academia involvement in public service related linguistic services.