Research on interpreting quality: interdisciplinary perspectives

This is a short summary of a round table discussion held at the Second International Conference on Quality in Interpreting, in Almuñecar, Spain 2010. The summary is my own perception of the presentation and any mistakes in the summary are of course due to my misunderstanding.

The Round table participants were

Teresa Bajo Molina (Experimental psychology), Universidad de Granada, España
Jorge Bolaños Carmona (Statistics), Universidad de Granada, España
Emilio Delgado López-Cózar (Research assessment), Universidad de Granada, España
Daniel Gile, Université Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle, France
Heike Lamberger-Felber (Coord.), Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, Österreich

In this session interpreting was provided so discussions were allowed to flow seamlessly between English and Spanish.

Heike Lamberger-Felber moderated this discussion and started by letting the participants outside Interpreting Studies introduce themselves.

Teresa Bajo Molina (BM) is a cognitive psychologist. Her first contact with Interpreting Studies was when she supervised Presentacion Padilla Benítez’s PhD. She is interested in interpreting because it gives a window in to researching how you’re pushing the cognitive system to the limit.

Jorge Bolaños Carmona (BC) statistician is above all interested in helping to create statistical rigour.

Emilio Delgado López-Cózar (DLC) works on the assessment of research but also on methodology for research.

BM: Stresses that the most important lesson from cognitive psychology is the fact that there is a limit for the cognitive resources and that when it comes to interpreting that picture is very clear. Challenges are similar in Cognitive Psychology and Interpreting Studies since you are studying something that is not immediately perceivable. In order to push Interpreting Studies further there is a need solid hypotheses.

Moderator: What about training in research methodology? Generally in Interpreting Studies there is not much such training around.

BM: In cognitive psychology we spend a lot of time on that, about one term of PhD training is devoted to research methodology.

Moderator: And what about strengths and weaknesses in Interpreting Studies?

BM: I try to stay up to date on publications in Interpreting Studies and I see a lot of good things but also weaknesses. Good questions are being asked, but it is also a very heterogeneous field, very fragmented and I have a problem finding a strong base. Many studies are exploratory and control is missing. I have the feeling that you give up on controlling variables with the ambition to make the experiment closer to the actual object you study. But if you give up control then you cannot draw valid conclusions.

Moderator: How reliable are statistical tools if they are used by untrained researchers in a simplistic design?

BC: Seen from a statistical point of view we can make enormous mistakes in that context, and it’s even worse if there is a poor design. A poor design can destroy years of work. If you want to collect qualitative data you need to consult with experts. You can of course also ask for help from a statistician if you already have collected a quantitative material, but typically they would want something in return of course, such as publication in important publications, effect in academia and so forth.

Here I (blog author) have to add a very personal comment – the fact that Interpreting and Translation journals usually have low ranking scores (for reasons not related to their academic quality but to the fact that there is a small discipline, often not represented in ranking bodies) is an ENORMOUS disadvantage for our discipline.

But back to BC: More cooperation between interpreting resarchers and statisticians is however good and necessary. A word of warning; when asking IT-experts for help to design a web based study, do check that they have sufficient knowledge in statistics. Finally it is important to first know WHAT questions you attempt to answer and THEN look for the proper method and statistical design.

Moderator: We often have a problem with the great variability in our data, many things influence our object of study. How does that affect our aim to do inferential tests?

BC: There are two important variables – those we want to study and those we don’t want to study. The ones we don’t want to study must be eliminated. This is also true for instance for sociological studies where many variables interact and interfere. The conditions of the analysis have to be absolutely right.

Moderator: Is there any use of making inferential statistics on small data? This is another reality in interpreting studies that we often deal with small data.

BC: Of course we can use small data, but only with the right number of repetitions. Often in interpreting you have small data, but you count, for instance, the total occurrence of something e.g. errors. Say you analyse the work of 5 interpreters, you will get a large number of date from the repetition of each individual. So it is rather a question of a small SAMPLE that can still generate a large amount of DATA.

If it’s clear that something is different, why use statistics? Because small variation could affect your data in ways that you did not necessarily expect.

Moderator: Research assessment has also become a field of study and Emilio Delgado López-Cózar will present that.

DLC: In order to evaluate research we use quantitative methods such as bibliometrics, rankings, impact indexes. All these measures are important for people working with research policy. Quantitative outcome of research is measured through publications. Qualitative data consists of for instance peer-review. Research assessment can be done ex ante e.g. when you apply for funding for research or ex post when you assess the results of a project.

Moderator: And what about key terms that often obsess people, such as citation index and impact factor.

DLC: Citations in humanities are delicate. You have to be cautious because of the size of different fields. If there are not many researchers in a filed you have no critical mass and then the number of citations is lower.

Moderator: How do you assess field that you do not know well?

DLC: Bibliometrics is our mirror and we need to look in that mirror. When assessing a field you look at PhDs, publications, journals, research projects, conferences and so forth. You also make a content analysis; the reflection of actual problems, evaluation of tools, methodology, technique and so forth.

Again I as blog author would like to stress the comment I did above on journal ranking in translation studies.

Moderator: I would like to hear from Daniel Gile what you would expect from multidisciplinary in Interpreting research.

DG: About multidisciplinary approach in interpreting studies, we have seen the advantages and challenges of multidisciplinary in this round table. If we want to study the nature of interpreting, cognitive psychology, linguistics and communication are important areas. But it is important not to loose the characteristic features of interpreting out of sight. You cannot, for instance, control away variables to the extent that you loose your sample. Our weakness in Interpreting Studies is that we look up to methods developed in another field and swallow them without a critical eye. What we need is help to understand the CONCEPTS of issues in cognitive disciplines in order to be able to adapt those concepts to Interpreting Studies.

Question from the audience (Franz Pöchhacker): What about other research designs such as surveys and web-based surveys?

General answer from the panel: Surveys as method is a good and easy accessible method, but you have to understand their limitation, such as controlling who is answering and that each respondent only answers once and so forth. The important issue for any research design is that the design is rigorous. If the design and method is good then also exploratory studies are fine.

Moderator: And what would it take for you as researches from other studies to enter into a specific project in interpreting studies?

BM: I am already involved in interpreting projects but you have to understand that it involves making sacrifices.

BC: I would look for a project with the possibility to create something that others doesn’t have already. However it is difficult for researchers in the beginning of their career, who are building their CV to engage in fields that do not give immediate bibliometric feed back.

On this note the panel ended its discussions. Again I think it very well sums up our problem. I would also like to point out that the panel did not touch upon mixed method design and had no representative from sociological research (or other areas working with qualitative methods). Neither was neuroscience or phonetics/phonology mentionned. Although I realise the time was very limited, I would have appreciated that aspect as well when it comes to multidisciplinary.

I also found both professor Bajo Molina’s and professor Gile’s comments on the field very interesting. Professor BM talked about a fragmented field where it’s difficult to find a strong base. Professor Gile talked about not uncritically swallowing methods from other fields. Although the trend today is towards multidisciplinary I believe that Interpreting Studies should work more on the centripedal power rather than the centrifugal power. Interpreting Studies are multidisciplinary per se and will gain more on working on that common solid ground than on stressing differences.

Konstantina Liontou – anticipation

This is a short summary of a presentation given at the Second International Conference on Quality in Interpreting, in Almuñecar, Spain 2010. The summary is my own perception of the presentation and any mistakes in the summary are of course due to my misunderstanding.

Konstantina Liontou, (University of Vienna) presented the results from a study on anticipation. According to Jörg Anticipation is prediction and interpretation of source text units before their actual utterance. Kirchoff claimed that experienced interpreters are seldom wrong about their expectations and that when errors are discovered they are corrected. The impact of erroneous anticipation is less sense consistency with the original. When Jörg tested this only 2,24% cases were found with erroneous anticipation.

The language pair German-Greek is an interesting study object in this respect since it presents several syntactic differences that create challenges for the interpreters. Challenges comprises verb position, position of negation particles

Liontou’s corpus consists of German and Austrian MEPs during the Parliamentary session. The topic was environment and the period from April 2006 to December 2008. The number of speeches was125. This yielded 2 x 5,5 hours of speech and interpreting and possibly involved16 interpreters.

The biggest challenge for Liontou when analysing the mateiral turned out to be how to you define erroneous anticipation contrasted with more general anticipation.

Liontou reached higher levels of erroneous anticipation than for instance Jörg did. When polishing away all the unclear cases she arrived at just over 8 % of clear cases compared to Jörg’s 2.24 %.

Despite the slightly higher level of erroneous anticipation it still represents very low levels and Liontou findings support Kirchhoff’s claim. An important finding that none of the errors detected were contre sense.

Panel – Quality in the interpreter’s profession and training

This is a short summary of a round table discussion held at the Second International Conference on Quality in Interpreting, in Almuñecar, Spain 2010. The summary is my own perception of the presentation and any mistakes in the summary are of course due to my misunderstanding.

Participants in the round table discussion were:

Susanne Altenberg, DG for Interpretation and Conferences, European Parliament
Jesús Baigorri Jalón, Universidad de Salamanca, España
Ann D’haen-Bertier, DG Interpretation (SCIC), European Commission
Ingrid Kurz, Universität Wien, Österreich | Research Committee of AIIC
Heike Lamberger-Felber (Coord.), Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, Österreich
Franz Pöchhacker, Universität Wien, Österreich
Robin Setton, Shanghai International Studies University, China | Université Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle, France

Moderator Heike Lamberger-Felber kicked off the discussion by asking about the professional practice. The factors that influcence interperting quality, how have they changed over the years. How does UN, EU and OECD intepreters perceive external factors that influence their interpreting today.

Jesus Baigorri Jalón said that in order to answer truthfully to this question he did a survey among his former UN colleagues and the reality as perceived by interpreters today when they are rendering a speech is that they are speaking more UNese, they are often flooded in acronyms and they daily deal with many non-native language varieties. Today they also see new actors in the meetings that are unfamiliar with interpreters’ needs and who often lack training of communication skills. Other challenges today comprise new information technologies, read speeches and increasing speed.

Robin Settion hedged with the question: are things really getting harder or are our views changing? He reported that interpreters at OECD struggle with the same problems viz. read texts, increased density, lack of documentation and non-native accents. He also said that a particular challenge for free lancers were not enough exposure to the current situation. He advocated a working practice to improve the situation. First try to avoid problems by getting as much information as possible (from speakers, users, clients and so forth) and of course by preparing duly. But when the problem strikes, you have to learn to adapt to the situation by applying different strategies (norms, judgement, priorities, coping) and we should learn respond it according to the required stimuli.

Heike Lamberger-Felber summarized Susanne Altenbergs comments since Susanne unfortunately had fallen ill. But she reported that at the European Parliament the meetings are being web streamed which means a redefinition of the expectation of the interpreter. Interpreting becomes more public and therefore interpreting quality and pressure on interpreters increase. European Parliament works on issues such as for what purpose does the quality need to be produced and does quality meet costumer satisfaction.

Anne D’haen-Bertier stressed that the focus on quality is justified when you think about the fact that in a meeting in Commission or Council with full language regime 66 interpreters works to and from 22 languages and the quality of the interpretation is only as good as the weakest link. Interpreters’ quality is being monitored regularly by SCIC both individual interpreters’ performance and the technical aspects on quality. Commission who is also responsible for the interpretation at the European Council, CoR and EcoSoc has 120 000 interpreting days per year.

Ingrid Kurz as member of the AIIC research committee represented AIIC and presented the organisation’s admission rules (briefly 150 days of interpreting practice, sponsoring from three members who has been members for three years and has worked with the colleague in that language combination). She said that the admissions procedure was developed as an insurance for aiic members’ professionalism. She said that the work to ensure quality went via: 1) self imposed requirements (cf. aiic rules), 2) technical requirements, and
3) measurements of service performed by asking the users.

Anne D’haen-Bertier added on that topic that SCIC does regular customer satisfactory surveys. Clients are asked for their satisfaction on different indicators such as presentation, language and so forth. Clients are satisfied up to 80 and 90 percent depending on the indicator, and the lowest score was correct terminology with 75 %, interestingly enough the lowest figure for terminology satisfaction was given by non-native speakers of English listening to the English booth.

Franz Pöchhacker representetd the public service interpreting field and said that when it comes to quality in community settings expectations are fairly clear but a problems lie in the focus on quality in conference interpreting. There are no big institutional employers that have a natural reason to focus on the quality in the community interpreting. The European institutions should be a more active actor here. Another major driving force for the low quality is the ridiculously low pay (for instance 12 euros in Spain) and low incentive to get training, professionalization and so forth. Not a level playing field when it comes to quality in interpreting.

Anne D’haen-Bertier responded that Commission was involved in setting standards for legal interpreting. They participate in a forum that focused on setting standards for training, certification and registration. Then Anne D’haen-Bertier went on to discuss the problem with the fact that students are usually not at the level to pass the accreditation test of the European Instiutions when they finish interpreting school. There are many valid reasons for this, one being that the fact that the student has to be operational the day after accreditation make the tests have extremely high standard. SCIC tries to tackle this with introduction programmes, key training schemes and so forth.

In the comments from the audience a representative from the sign language interpreting community invited the participants to a closer co-operation on accreditation (since several countries have accreditation tests instead of sponsoring) and possibly also training.

Claudio Bendazzoli – Interpreters’ use of ‘SO’

This is a short summary of a presentation given at the Second International Conference on Quality in Interpreting, in Almuñecar, Spain 2010. The summary is my own perception of the presentation and any mistakes in the summary are of course due to my misunderstanding.

Claudio Bendazzoli (University of Trieste, Italy) presented material from his English/Italian simultaneous interpreting corpus of 136 000 words, the DIRSI corpus (Directionality in Simultaneous interpreting). It has four subcorpora of more and less the same size and has both source and target speeches from international medical conferences, four interpreters with Italian mother tongue (A) and one interpreter with UK-english mother tongue. It was developed in co-operation with Laboratoria de Linguistica Informatica UAM.

Claudio Bendazzoli said that a lot of research in interpreting quality focus on bad quality rather than focusing on good quality. The results he reported on would focus on good quality. He chose to look at the ‘SO’ in the interpreted speech and it’s correspondence in the original. Bendazzoli chose ‘SO’ since it has multiple meanings and functions.

He concluded that almost 80 percent of the “SO” used in interpreted speech was an addition. i.e. not present in source speech. But he also said that the addition of ‘SO’ not necessarily led to a deterioration in quality. On the contrary he said and quoted Gile from 2003 additions can also be considered an improvement.

Emilia Iglesias Fernández – Speaker’s articualtion rate

This is a short summary of a presentation given at the Second International Conference on Quality in Interpreting, in Almuñecar, Spain 2010. The summary is my own perception of the presentation and any mistakes in the summary are of course due to my misunderstanding.

Emilia Iglesias Fernández (University of Granada, Spain) presented a study on the speaker’s articulation rate and it’s effect on interpreting diffculty. A fast speech rate is an indicator of difficult and early estimations said that a comfortable speed was around 95-120 words per minute. However mean speech rate in the European Parliament is about 160 words per minute according to Manuel (2006) among others. The perception of temp is personal because many other features are important not only speed, speaker*s style for instance. This is also what Pöchhacker argued in 1994 when he said that a text delivery profile was necessary.

The study was a phonetic analysis including speech rate, pauses, articulation range and pitch range. She wanted to explore whether there was a possibility that fast listener oriented speeches were more interpreter friendly than slow message oriented speeches. She could conclude that the pitch is more varied in the fast listener oriented speeches and that the pauses are different in distribution and character.

Macarena Pradas Macias – Pauses and quality

This is a short summary of a presentation given at the Second International Conference on Quality in Interpreting, in Almuñecar, Spain 2010. The summary my own perception of the presentation and any mistakes in the summary are of course due to my misunderstanding.

Macarena Pradas Macias (University of Granada, Spain) talked about how pauses are possibly a common denominator of fluency and logical cohesion in simultaneous interpreting. She says that interpreting users seem to develop a special sensitivity to the interpreting form and its relation to content, so users concept of fluency is associated to both a form-based and content-based contents.

Why is pauses considered to be so important in user expectations when it is not reflected in the users’ evaluation of the interpreting afterwards?

In the experiment raters rated different quality related features on a 5 point scale.

In her analysis of the material Macarena addressed the question whether increased presence of silent pauses in the speech give worse scores when evaluating SI. She found correlation to this so she concluded (as I hinted in the beginning :-)): silent pauses are possibly common denominator of fluency and logical cohesion as contributors to guarantee both.

Tuija Kinnunen and Gun-Viol Vik-Tuovinen – Quality in court interpreting

This is a short summary of a presentation given at the Second International Conference on Quality in Interpreting, in Almuñecar, Spain 2010. The summary my own perception of the presentation and any mistakes in the summary are of course due to my misunderstanding.

Gun-Viol Vik-Tuovinen (University of Waasa, Finland) and Tuija Kinnunen (University of Tampere, Finland) talked about quality in court interpreting, what is the sine qua non, and how can it be reached. They stress that quality can be reached through collaboration. Legal protection requires pre-trial work for many people and Vik-Tuovinen and Kinnunen argue (and I couldn’t agree more) that interpreters should be involved in that process.

The data examined in their study on how interpreters, lawyers and judges perceive interpreting quality and how to get it in the court room, consisted of recorded hearings and interviews with interpreters, judge, lawyer, lawyer AND interpreter, one video-recording.

Interpreters and lawyers are experts in the court room, but they are not experts in the same field and rarely in each others’ field. So the expertise in the court room resides in collaborative activity. Interaction and cooperation is needed between court and interpreter in order to reach the aims for the two parties. Moreover there are cultural differences in the courtroom and the speech register can vary from very simplistic to written legal texts.

Today the initiative lies very much with the interpreter whether s/he will get background documentation in a court case or not. You could describe it as a mutual responsibility for interpreters’ preparation for a court case, but not always a mutual understanding.