I will miss you Miriam!

Candle

Candle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just got one of the saddest messages. The wonderful professor Miriam Shlesinger of Bar-Ilan university has left us.

Dear Miriam,

I’m so extremely grateful that I have known you. You were, and will continue to be, a fantastic role model. I have admired you so much, your scholarly work of course, but also your kind, inclusive personality. I have no idea how you had time and energy for everything and everyone, but I understand you worked hard. I hope you got much good energy back from all of us and that you understood how much you meant.

Thanks to you so many good things exist in Interpreting (and Translation) Studies. I hope that we can continue to carry your torch and that your memory will live strong.

Do continue to keep an eye on us.

Elisabet

Read Miriam’s acceptance speech for the Danica Seleskovitch award. It’s a wonderful account of both her personal story and her life in Interpreting Studies.

Language enhancement

C-3PO

When you start an interpreting course one of the first things you that may strike you is how the language you thought you knew just fades away. Interpreting is an extremely complex exercise and your language skills have to be extremely solid. Whether we grew up bilingually or learnt languages later, most of us who are (or were) accepted into an interpreting program probably has the equivalent to a C2 level (mother tongue or near-native level according to the Council of Europe). But let’s face it, when we embark on our first consecutive – it feels like we just learnt our first words in that language.

So, although you are a skilled linguist, you will have to work on enhancing your language skills, and probably also the elusive concept of ‘culture générale’. But how do you do it? Since we’re not C3PO we cannot just add another hard drive or software, we just have to do it the good old way. And you probably already know it, but here’s a repetition.

First of all, listen, read, eat and sleep your language. You may have to do this both with your foreign language and your mother tongue. Unfortunately, there is now way around it – you need to listen to radio, read newspapers, listen to the news, both in your mother tongue and in your foreign language and with all the technical aid today this is not too hard. Log on to iTunes and see which pods suit you. I like NPR (the American National Public Radio), BBC, TV5 Monde, RFI (Radio France Internationale) just to mention a few. Many newspapers also have their own pod casts. And if you subscribe to different news apps you will get short flashes in you mobile.

When I brain stormed with my students someone also said “set your mobile, Facebook or web browser to your foreign language”. Translation is a good exercise too, when you translate shorter, idiomatic texts you get a feeling for expressions, idioms, prepositions and so forth. Attention to prepositions cannot be stressed enough, prepositions are probably one of the most difficult areas of language and preposition use has an unfortunate tendency to break down in stressful situations like interpreting. If you’re unsure about language in use, corpora is a good thing, in many multilingual text corpora, current texts are collected in order to compare language in use. Another way of mastering language in use as professor Harris pointed out in the comments is to learn poems or song lyrics by heart. As dull as it may seem it is a wonderful way of learning expressions and idiomatic language use.

Finally, and unfortunately, there is probably no way round vocabulary swotting. Flash cards is a good strategy here and one of my students mentioned Anki. I have not tried it – in my time we used cardboard and felt pen, but time changes :-). For my part I also joined an amateur theater group in English in order to immerse myself as much as I could without leaving Sweden. There are many other opportunities like that via Internet now, and thanks to different local groups you may also find opportunities to meet people IRL.

What’s your best language enhancement strategy? And do spare me of the pillow method, I’m far from sure it’s the best method.

Update: Just to be very clear – an interpreting course will enhance your language skills, but it is NOT a language course. All the basic language learning, including living and working abroad, will have to be done before the course. Otherwise there is little chance you will survive until your last exam.

A new term begins

 

 

The Old Round Church (1813) – pulpit

The Old Round Church (1813) – pulpit (Photo credit: origamidon)

 

Today I’m excited to meet my new students, as a new edition of TOLKHF starts at University of Bergen. I’m ready to start teaching, preaching and sharing all the secrets of interpreting.

 

This year the course has been updated with much more interpreting exercises and new units. In case you’re interested in the course program you’ll find it here.

 

So – a very warm welcome to my new students, I’m looking forward to this term with you!

 

Questions for fellow interpreters and teachers

visual note-taking conference call notes

visual note-taking conference call notes (Photo credit: Austin Kleon)

Dear friends,

This is just a short note and a quick question. I’m still suffering from holiday 🙂 and I suppose you are too. But I have to start the final planning of my course this autumn (public service interpreting). And here’s a question for you.

As we have discussed both at #IntJC and other fora I would like to test a much more modular style this term. Apart from the obvious modules: memory, note-taking, consecutive and dialogue. I would also like to work with interpreter’s introduction, appearance, body language, figures, names, registers and collegiality. Do you have any other modules you would like to suggest?

Please help me brain storm!

 

Update August 20, 2012: Thank you so much for all your feed back. I start my course today, and I’m very excited to see how everything will work out.

Interpreting related things I think you should do this week

Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph, ...

The Interpreter Diaries has a very nice post on things to do this summer. There are a lot of stuff I would really like to do there. I’m desperate that I will miss the third InterpretAmerica summit, but I will of course follow the proceedings via Twitter (hash tag #IASummit). I was really planning to go to Germany for the workshop and aiic-meetings there, but due to family increase (our dog just had 5 puppies), I’m not sure I will make it. I will continue trying to go there though. And who would not like to go to Glendon to add a C-language (speaking of which, don’t forget the #IntJC on Saturday June 23 on adding a C-language).

However, there are a few things you could do right now in front of you key board. No need to book tickets, no need to stay in a hotel, just click away.

The first one is Holly Behl’s just for fun survey on translator’s and interpreter’s favourite pets. Go ahead and take it, I’m so curious to know any trends. When it comes to interpreters, I have many colleagues who have cats. One of my friends has two horses, two dogs and two cats. I have one dog (with five puppies for the moment…) and a cat, I have had a horse, but due to time constraints (why does a day only have 24 hours!) I limit myself to just riding. So please let us know what pets you have!

The second one is important! Go and vote for InterpretAmerica to have a small business grant. That way they can continue doing the good things they are doing for interpreting. They need to get 250 votes to be considered for a grant. InterpretAmerica is a great initiative to bring interpreters of all sorts together and lobby for the future. I wish we had the same in Europe. I know I shouldn’t just say it but start it…

If you haven’t signed up for Interprenaut’s newsletter yet it’s time to do it. Very interesting spots on interpreting. Interprenaut cover history, books, social issues and she always has a section with hot topics in interpreting. And speaking of Interprenaut, if you want to leave the booth or the keyboard, get outside and help her produce a promotional video for interpreting. All you need to do is film yourself, if possible near a typical sight of your country, and saying in your language: “I’m an interpreter”. Details here. Deadline is June 30th.

These are my suggestions for key board activities as well as away from key board activities. Did I forget anything?

Update: Oh, I forgot the important survey from Lifeinlincs “How could research help you?” Answer here.

Redefinition of the (Sign Language) interpreter’s role?

Something big is happening silently in Norway. The Norwegian labour and welfare administration NAV has issued a report as a first step to restructure and hopefully improve the Deaf population’s access to Social Services through access to interpreters. The report is generally constructive and relevant, but on one important point it suggests something rather disturbing. Ingeborg Skaten (Lecturer at Bergen University College’s sign language interpreter training) discusses this very important turn in this article.

What is this disturbing change then? Well, the report suggests that “when the communication does not work, then the interpreter – both free-lance and employee – should both feel obliged to and have the right to suggest actions to improve the communication”. (my translation from Norwegian). Furthermore, the report suggests that interpreters should get training in evaluating the functioning of the Deaf client.

Are these new suggestions really compatible with the neutrality of the interpreter and the professional secrecy of the interpreters? I’m very reluctant. Neutrality is probably one of the most important and difficult issues for an interpreter. I believe that it is of utmost importance to be neutral as far as possible. The reason for this is that neutrality is the only guarantee we can give our customers that we will faithfully interpret everything they have to say – as they say it. Every person has the right to his or her own language without it being filtered through somebody else’s values.

I teach my students that if communication does not work it must be up to the users of interpreting, be it a police/judge/case worker/assistance seeker or business person, to identify that and find solutions to the situation. As an example, I often use a situation that once happened to me in court. There was a clear misunderstanding between the prosecutor and the witness. Over and over again I interpreted the exact same words from the prosecutor, and over and over again the witness responded on a completely parallel track. I was convinced that the witness misunderstood something in my interpreting, and the prosecutor was just as convinced that I must be missing something in my interpretation. As I struggled on it finally became obvious that the witness had changed the story. In my view, had I started to evaluate the communication I would have made the situation even more confusing.

Now, imagine instead that the interpreters should have an obligation to judge when communication works or not. Where would that have put me in the court case above. And what if the communication does not work because of the interpreter? Now, interpreters already have an obligation under most code of conducts to decline work they are not qualified for. But, there may be situations where the interpreter for different reasons is not aware that he or she is the reason for the failed communication.

Another rule that many code of conducts take up is the one that states that the interpreter’s job is to interpret and nothing else, but suddenly this is challenged. The interpreter is not only an interpreter any more with this change of role. The interpreter becomes a social worker or police assistant, and what does that make with the trust from the clients. I’m also wondering where it will end. If it starts with evaluating the communicative situation, then it may easily slip into evaluating the reasons behind it, the client’s condition, the client’s family situation and so forth. For language interpreters it may be also understood for instance as judging somebody’s background on the basis of language. Briefly I believe that this can quickly turn into something challenging when it comes to interpreter’s neutrality and professional secrecy.

Yesterday evening there was an open debate at the Centre for Deaf in Bergen, where this issue was being discussed. I have not heard of the results of this debate, but I do hope that it will be clear that an interpreter’s job is to interpret – nothing else.

Research on Quality in interpreting

Jérôme, one of the 2interpreters, Michelle (Interpreter Diaries) and myself have been involved in a discussion on how to evaluate interpreter exams. A really tricky business as anyone of you who have been on an exam jury will know. Jérôme published a really interesting reflection on final exams and Michelle and I responded, you can read the post here.

We have now arrived at the even trickier subject of quality in interpreting and this is where I felt I needed to write a post, not just continue the comments. Clearly what exam jurors are after is some type of high quality interpreting, this is also supposedly what accreditation jurors or peer-assessors are looking for. But what is it?

Michelle mentions two early studies, one by Hildegund Bühler (questionnaire study with interpreters as respondents) and Ingrid Kurz (questionnaire study with interpreting users as respondents). These two have recently been followed up by Cornelia Zwischenberger with a more recent one with interpreters as respondents. When we are talking about questionnaire studies it should also be mentionned that AIIC commissioned a study made by Peter Moser on user expectations and that SCIC regularly make surveys of their users expectations.  Bühler and Kurz more or less concludes that an interpreting is good when it serves its purposes and that different contexts have different requirements (I’m summing up really heavy here).

As both Michelle and Jérôme points out in their comments there is a flood of articles on quality, and there are many studies made in the area, but I’m not sure we have actually come up with something more conclusive than Bühler and Kurz did. However, I would like to draw you attention to something that I have found most interesting in research on quality – Barbara Moser-Mercer was also mentioned in the comments and she published an article in 2009 when she challenges the use of surveys for determining quality. This seems very inspired by the work that has been done in Spain by Angela Collados-Aís  and her research team ECIS in Granada. Unfortunately, she only publishes in Spanish and German, so I had to go there to understand what she does, but it was worth every bit of it. Extremely interesting research. I also have to complement them on how I was received as a guest, Emilia Iglesias-Fernandez made me feel like a royalty, and all the other researchers in the unit was extremely welcoming and accommodating. But here’s the interesting thing:

For the past 10 years they have been researching how users of interpretation perceive and understand the categories most commonly used in surveys to assess interpreting. These categories have typically been since Bühler; Native accent, pleasant voice, fluency of delivery, logical cohesion, consistency, completeness, correct grammar, correct terminology, appropriate style. If I remember correctly, for instance, Peter Moser’s study showed that experienced users of interpretation reported that they cared more about correct terminology and fluency than pleasant voice or native accent.

In their experiments they have been tweaking interpreted speeches so the exact same speech would be done with or without native accent, with or without intonation, high speed or low speed and so forth. Different user groups first rated how important the different categories were and then they were asked to rate different speeches, tweaked for certain features. When you do that it turns out that the exact same speech with native accent gets higher score for quality (i.e. using more correct terminology or correct grammar) than the speech with non-native accent. And the same goes for intonation, speed and so forth.

So it seems like (very strongly argued) features that are not rated important (such as accent) affect how the user perceive important features (correct terminology).

In interpreting research there is also a lot of error analysis going on of course, and many studies base their evaluation of the interpretings used on error analysis. One problem with that is exactly the one that Jérôme points out – maybe the interpretation actually got better because of something that the researcher/assessor perceived as an error.  Omissions is a typical category where it’s difficult to judge that. I have also just gotten results with my holistic scales where the interpreter that I perceived as “much better” (only guts feeling) got much worse scores. One reason for this when I started analyzing my results could very well be the fact that that interpreter omitted more, and thereby, in comparison with the source text, there are more “holes” or “faults” or whatever you would like to call it.

When it comes to exams, Jérôme claims that not much has been done in terms of research on exam-assessment and exams. I have not checked that, but my impression is that Jérôme is right. I cannot remember reading about quality assessment of examinees. I know that entrance exams are studies and aptitude tests, but final exams… Please enlighten me.

Another thing that Jérôme also points out, and which is really a pet subject to me, but where there seem to be very little consensus, at least in the environments where I have been, is the training of the exam juror or the peer-reviewer. Now, I don’t mean to say that there are no courses in how to be an interpreting exam juror, of course there are. But what I mean (and Jérôme too I think), is that people evaluating interpreting do not get together and discuss what they believe is good interpreting or not. You could for instance organize a training event before an exam where jurors get together and discuss criteria and how they understand them, and also listen to examples and discuss them. I’m sure this happens somewhere, but I have not come across if so far.

What’s your take on this? Have I left out any important studies or perspectives? Do you have any other suggestions?

Literature list:

Bühler, H. 1986. “Linguistic (semantic) and extra-linguistic (pragmatic) criteria for the evaluation of conference interpretation and interpreters”. Multilingua 5-4. 231-235.

Collados Aís, Angela. 1998. La evaluación de la calidad en interpretación simultánea: La importancia de la comunicación no verbal. Granada: Editorial Comares.

Kurz, Ingrid. 1993. “Conference interpretation: Expectations of different user groups”. The Interpreters’ Newsletter 5: 13–21. (http://www.openstarts.units.it/dspace/handle/10077/4908)

Moser, Peter. 1995. “Survey on expectations of users of conference interpretation”. (http://aiic.net/community/attachments/ViewAttachment.cfm/a525p736-918.pdf?&filename=a525p736-918.pdf&page_id=736)

Moser-Mercer, Barbara. 2009. “Construct-ing Quality”. In Gyde Hansen, Andrew Chesterman, Heidrun Gerzymisch-Arbogast p. 143-156. Efforts and models in interpreting and translation research: a tribute to Daniel Gile Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Zwischenberger, Cornelia2011. Qualität und Rollenbilder beim simultanen Konferenzdolmetschen. PhD thesis, University of Vienna.

Hello! Nice to meet you!

Welcome to my new platform. We’ve known each other for quite some time now, so I think it’s only right that we should be properly introduced. My name is Elisabet Tiselius, I’m an interpreter and a PhD student in Interpreting Studies. I interpret into Swedish from English, French and Danish, and I also interpret from Swedish into English. I work as both conference and public service interpreter. But right now, I’m mostly busy writing a PhD thesis on simultaneous interpreters’ development of competence at the University of Bergen, Norway.

I will not dwell on my background, in case you are curious you can read more about me in these different blog posts; About me, Of course I am Science, Me and my hats‎, Versatile blogger award, Being a travelling interpreter, mother, spouse and friend, My life five years ago 

I have been blogging about interpreting and PhD-writing for a quite a while now, four years actually. When I started blogging, I decided to do so anonymously. I had several reasons for doing this. First of all, I did not want my family to get involuntarily involved in my blogging. Not that there was a very big risk, since I did not blog much about my family. But nevertheless it was an important reason. Secondly, I did not want to compromise my customers. Not that it was very likely, since I don’t write about directly customer related issues, but I just didn’t want to take the risk of even creating that suspicion.

As I blogged, I imagined my students as potential readers, and I know many of my students also read my blog. But over the years, I have discovered that many of my colleagues read my blog, and also interpreters from other parts of the world and other contexts. The professional network I have built thanks to my blog has become more and more important, and although most of you know me by name already, I have found that I cannot continue to blog anonymously and still make a professional impression.

Thanks to Meg and Marta at Websites for Translators I have also gotten help to refresh my blog and my homepage. Check out my Swedish homepage here, in some not too distant future it will have an English translation too.

Of course I am science, too

Have you seen the twitter hashtag #IamScience? An initiative started by Kevin Zelnio and with the aim to share stories of how scientists became what they are. Kevin published his post end of January, and since then researchers have shared their, in most cases, less than straight path to science. Kevin Storified #IamScience here and stories are also shared on Tumblr. And Mindy Weisberger’s collected quotes in a video.

Although, my path to science was by no means as rough as some of the stories that have been shared, it was far from straight either. I have touched upon parts of my background in earlier blog posts, but here I will share my way from high school to PhD scholarship a short story of some 20 years. This post is mostly for my students, who usually believe I had a career as straight as a highway in the US :-).
My senior year in high school was very tough. I completely lost my drive, and just couldn’t force myself to go to school. Unfortunately, I had moved out from my parents’ that year, so not much of parental control either. My grades started declining, and by the time I reached graduation my grades were mediocre. Luckily for me since I came from being a good student, at least I got my diploma. Today, my children laugh so hard at the fact that their mother had an (equivalent to) E in English. They also laugh hard at pictures from this period since I was experimenting a lot and my hair changed between colours such as blue, red, Bordeaux and black.

I did graduate after all, but I swore I would never go back into a classroom ever again. I started working, first various unskilled jobs, and eventually with horses. The only thing I wanted to do at that time was working with horses, and I took a job as a groom. My horse career was not brilliant, but I was happy doing what I did. Personal life was worse though, my father passed away, and I ended up in an abusive relationship which cost me most of my friends and almost the relationship with my mother. On top of that, I wasted the savings my parents had entrusted me and ended up indebted.

After four rather dark years, I took a course in logging with horses. I spent a year learning horse carriage driving and logging, and I finally left the guy. But horses is a tough business there are thousands of talented and skilled young people (girls) around, who will work for nothing. Although, I had managed to get a few really nice (though short-term) jobs, the truth started to dawn on me – since I was neither rich enough nor talented enough – I would most likely spend the better part of my youth working very hard with other people’s horses without ever being able to own one myself. And I still had my debts to pay.

Usually, in everybody’s life there is always someone special, a person that really made a difference. In my case, I’m happy to still have him by my side. When I met my husband, I was as deep down as somebody can be without using drugs or being locked up. I still have no idea what he found in the selfish, shallow, big mouthed surface I exposed in order to protect my empty, hurt soul. Luckily he saw behind that. When I met him I was between horse jobs, but worked double shifts to pay my debts, nights as a security guard, days as an office hand. He would listen for hours, but also challenge me: “Was this really how I wanted to spend the rest of my life?” With him I figured out that I loved teaching and he reminded me that despite my E in English, I was actually fluent in both English and French, wouldn’t teaching be a good idea? It was really hard to swallow. I had sworn I would never set foot in a classroom, and here I was discussing a career that would put me in a classroom for the rest of my life! I’m not sure I would have done it hadn’t it been for an extended dead line to apply for the teacher training program. Vite fait, bien fait.

I’m not sure when the change took place, probably somewhere in my first, fairly chaotic, year. I was still working two jobs on top of school, and it was not easy to adapt to academia. But somehow I realized I could not get enough of learning. I loved learning new stuff. As I approached the end of the 4-and-a-half years of study, one of my big concerns was to leave university life and look for a job, I was not, as many of my friends (and quite opposite my high school experience) tired of studying. But then another opportunity opened up, I could go on to interpreting school and do a master in conference interpreting. I jumped to that, not that I didn’t want to become a teacher, but because it seemed fun to try something different. After a year of interpreting school and with a Master’s in Interpreting, I had to start working. I started working as an interpreter, but went back to university part time, immediately. At first because my teacher training degree was a Bachelor of Education and I wanted a Bachelor of Arts, and I thought it could be fun to write papers in French and English (yes, I’m serious), later because I wanted to write a Master’s thesis.

Both teacher training and interpreting school went fairly smoothly, but my papers and theses have been another laughing stock in the family. English – two terms instead of one, French – three terms instead of one. Master’s – six (!) terms instead of two. But hey, I have worked and had three children at the same time.

When I met the director of studies to discuss a possible Master’s thesis, she asked me: “Would you be interested in doing a PhD?” I couldn’t even imagine myself doing a PhD, PhD students were those nerds who didn’t have a life and were digging themselves down in something as uninteresting as “The use of “so” in newspaper texts”. I, for my part, was just pursuing something I thought was fun at the moment, but of course the director of studies sow a seed.

And here I am, I’m hopefully soon done with my PhD thesis, I would love to continue researching, I love teaching. I’m not particularly young anymore, but when I look back, I don’t think I would have been as happy and as confident with what I’m doing had I chosen a shorter or more direct path. And of course, I am science too.

Why I keep paying my insurance

In Want Word’s eminent business school for translators Marta Stelmaszak gives a number of good reasons for paying your insurance. Although the comments reveal that there are examples of translators being sued, it still is a rare thing.

I would like to share an experience with you that I had early in my career. It was only an incident and I was never sued, but since then I have always happily paid my insurance. When I first got my insurance, I was mostly worried about breaking something during an assignment (I am extremely clumsy). I had never heard about someone being sued for misinterpreting or something similar.

I did have a problem with one of the agencies though. It was one of those wheelin’-n-dealin’ agencies, I’m sure you have all come across them. This was for conference interpreting assignments and quotes were ALWAYS negotiated, strange fees showed up, contracts never showed up, language directions were rarely respected – “But you know English, right? Then you can interpret into English as well”. The agency recruited young, inexperienced interpreters and put them in situations where a lot was left to wish for, but where they expected interpreters to deliver in loyalty to the client.

I had thought they would respect my conditions, if I was only clear about what I expected. I was proven wrong time after other. By now, I had reached the point where I had more than enough, and was looking for a way to end our relationship, and had started to be very busy on dates they were looking to hire me. I did, however, have a few more assignments booked with them. Luckily, I had demanded and gotten contracts for those.

The day before one of my last assignments the agency called me to make a few last minutes arrangements and just before hanging up they told me: “So, since you’re working with X, and their English is not a 100 %, we thought you’d do the English retour”.

In the contract, I had demanded and gotten, I was scheduled to work with Y, another colleague who had an English retour and who, according to the contract would work into English while I worked into Swedish. At this point I’d had it. I calmly told the agency that in case I would not work according to my contract, I would not work at all.

When the information had sunken in, the person from the agency shouted: “You realise what this will lead to, don’t you? I’ll see you in court”, and hung up.

A couple of months went by, and I was very worried I would get sued. But nothing happened. Other than that I never heard of that agency again.

Since that day I have never doubted the usefulness of paying my liability insurance.