Quality and Success in Interpreting

A report on our June workshop by Jacinta Kal

On the 11th of June, several interpreters, translators and students gathered at Aston University for an interpreting workshop. Because I exclusively translate and have no experience with interpreting, I decided to attend so I could learn more about the different modes of interpreting, and of course also to meet some colleagues!

The day started off with a talk by Eva Lohwasser on retour interpreting and its implications for CPD.
Eva Lohwasser
In her talk, Eva discussed the different points of view on retour interpreting, which is where an interpreter interprets from their A language (mother tongue) into their B language. This A>B interpreting was (and still is) frowned upon in some institutions and by some interpreters. Eva then went on to pose the question: if someone is equally at home in their A and B language, do the users of the interpreting really perceive a non-native accent as bad quality? And what IS quality anyway? It turns out that interpreters have a completely different view on quality than users do:  while the interpreter is striving for a native accent, a pleasant voice, fluent delivery, completeness and correct grammar, the user  is mainly interested in sense consistency,  logical cohesion and correct terminology. Lastly, Eva looked at CPD opportunities for interpreters, like attending workshops, listening to the radio, reading and also evaluating existing translations and keeping an idiom notebook.

After Eva’s talk, we had a short coffee break, which was a good opportunity to meet some of the other participants and find out what they do in their daily work.

The Spanish group at work
The workshop then continued with some exercises that showed us the different types of interpreting that are used. We split up into our language groups for this and because I was the only Dutch speaker, I ended up in the group with other ‘rare’ languages, like Turkish and Pashtun, if I remember correctly! For the first exercise, one of our group read out a text in English while the others took notes, and we then tried to reproduce the text in our own language (or in our case English, as we couldn’t understand each other’s languages). This turned out to be a lot trickier than it sounds!

To break up the traditional workshop setting, we watched a role play demonstrating whispering interpreting in a courtroom setting. I had the honour to be one of the magistrates. It was interesting to see this and also to hear how the recipient of the interpreting (the defendant) felt: she commented that if it had been for real, it would have been quite scary to have all these people talking and deciding things about you, when you have to trust the interpreter to give an accurate account of what’s going on.

After this demonstration, it was time to try whispering interpreting for ourselves. Having tried to do this myself for my partner a couple of times, I already knew how hard it is. Keeping up with what you hear and converting it into another language at the same time requires your brain to do two things at the same time that certainly takes a lot of practice to get right!

After a nice lunch provided by the university, we listened to the second talk of the day. Dr Yvonne
Dr. Yvonne Fowler
Fowler commented at the start of her talk that she’d got the hardest slot for a talk (right after lunch…), but she needn’t have worried. Her talk was more than interesting and she had everyone’s attention! She spoke about success in public service interpreting, and how that can be defined. Like quality, success is not a straight-forward concept, because of the question of who defines if an interpreter was successful: the service provider? The service user? Or perhaps the interpreter? They all have different needs, expectations and ideas about success and it is closely linked to quality. On top of that, there are also different interpreting models, some of which are more widely accepted than others, which can also influence the definition of success. Finally there is the problem that the only person who can know whether the interpreting was of good quality (and hence successful) is the interpreter, because he or she is usually the only one in the room that speaks both languages.

After another coffee break, we ended the day with some more exercises, the first being sight
Networking and chatting during the coffee break
translation, where the interpreter reads a text in one language and immediately interprets it into another language. Being used to having the luxury of looking up terms and doing as much research as I want for unknown terminology, I immediately ran into the problem that there is no possibility to do so during a sight translation. The text contained some references to the United Nations, which I was sure have a specific translation in Dutch that I would probably know if I heard them. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of them under the pressure of having to provide an interpretation THEN AND THERE.

The last activity of the day was a demonstration of public service interpreting in a medical setting,
where an interpreter is present at a consultation and uses consecutive interpreting. We then rounded off this demonstration by discussing confidentiality and when an interpreter is allowed to break the confidentiality (for instance, when someone is in danger, when there are child safety issues or when you become aware of an act of terrorism). It was also emphasised how important it is in public service interpreting to never be alone in a room with just the service user, because this can create a problem with health and safety or confidentiality.

I would like to thank the organisers of this event for putting in their time to create a very insightful workshop that has certainly increased my admiration for a job that at times must be very hard and stressful, although I’m sure that it can also be very rewarding. I found it really interesting to see the different modes of interpreting at work and try them myself, although it has also strengthened my belief that interpreting is probably not something for me.
Our very own strong WMG voices for interpreting: Rekha Narula...

and Jakub Sacharczuk (the organizers)

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