Conference: Aptitude for Interpreting
Imagine my surprise upon entering the lobby at Lessius University and witnessing a conversation in American Sign Language! My brain has been so otherwise-occupied that it never once crossed my mind that
a) anyone other than European spoken language trainers/researchers would attend or that
b) I might actually know people!
It was absolutely delightful to re-encounter respected colleagues, meet some of the luminaries whose work is required reading, and make new friends (although one always wonders whether they’ll claim me, and/or for how long!)
We started quite seriously, with the keynoter, Mariachiara, setting the context with a superb history of the tension between innate talent and built skill. Are interpreters born or made? Perhaps it is a both/and kind of question, with challenges of re-molding/re-training those with “the aptitude to perform” and fresh cultivation of those with “the aptitude to learn.”
At the end of the day, Miriam reflected that we (interpreter researchers) have learned that we’re asking the right questions, but we don’t seem any closer to clear answers! One needs only hark back to the presentations of Her Majesty of No Results and the Princess of No Significance to find evidence supporting Miriam’s perception. Are we guilty of trying to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse?
“You’re argumentative!” one of my dinnermates proclaimed, as I sought to champion a shadowing task based on the persuasive argumentation of the aforementioned Queen.
I don’t want to be accused of breaking the pinkie pact (especially since I wasn’t at the presenter’s dinner the night before when they apparently made a rule not to ask each other hard questions), but . . . aren’t the hard questions the ones that most need to be asked?!
“You’re against essentialism in all forms!” Miriam bought me a coffee.
(I think this means we are now bonded for life.) Franz invited me to come after him hard….which I did but it wasn’t easy going. First he thought I was arguing that “everything is cognition,” which he agreed is a way that knowledge in the field can be understood. It took some fancy footwork to get across the idea that what I am critiquing is the way that we (interpreters, interpreter trainers, interpreting researchers) collude in assuming that everything in the field can be broken down into nice, neat, discrete boxes. Miriam rephrased this as the human propensity to put everything in categories.
“It’s interesting, but I don’t agree with half of it!” (Shhhsh that interpreter in the corner!)
“Why does your badge say ‘Belgium’ but you are speaking English?” Heidi was trying to process where I was from and why I was delinquent in signing up for the conference dinner. Really, I’m here under cover . . . just as there are “slides no wants to see” (recall the pinkie promise), there are also “some matters untouched” (Cronbach and Snow 1977:6).
“Is this rubbish?” (Get ready, I’m gonna be asking you, Chris!) Meanwhile, Amalija has two weeks to devise the perfect comprehensive provable aptitude test for her incoming screening. She has the power! As Sarka explained,
“some of these people want to be translating Shakespeare’s sonnets, they don’t want anything to do with other people!”
One of the huge dilemmas in interpreter training is predicting when a potential interpreting student might succeed against the evidence that convinces us they won’t, and how to justify the investment of resources when even those students with all the promising signs turn out unable in the end.
“There are no future facts.” (Robert S Brumbaugh, 1966)
What can we learn from the ones who had it made?
It is as if we all contain a multitude of characters and patterns of behavior, and these characters and patterns are bidden by cues we don’t even hear. They take center stage in consciousness and decision-making in ways we can’t even fathom.
The East-West debate came up: does one interpret only into one’s mother tongue, or from a mother tongue into another fluent language? Why, I wonder, are people so invested in this directionality? Meanwhile, the non-sign repetition task of nonsense biological motion that Chris reported seems an awful lot like shadowing to me…. and can I just mention how cool it is to attend a conference with five active languages, three of which are signed?! I am not able to articulate the significance of increases in visual memory, but it caught my attention…advanced interpreters can apparently correctly select geometric shapes after a delay more rapidly than beginning interpreters. Perhaps this is related to what I’ve noticed in my own neural net, specifically the new capacity to learn math after twenty years of signing.
Brooke had the two best slides so far, understating the case for the performance of simultaneous interpretation: “we have a lot to do.” (Can I get copies? Beg beg beg!) I’m especially intrigued by the risk/avoidance measures….just a few days ago I came up with the title for my next conference proposal: “Risk, Resignation, and Loss: Interlocutors on Interpretation in the European Parliament.” (Next week I present some of the results at a conference on Mikhail Bakhtin in Stockholm).
I love the metaphor of the airplane and its engines. Sarka and Heidi get credit for this one together, right? There are the pair (or more) of wing engines that are all about cruising, and then there’s the solo job in the tail, which is all about getting up to altitude. Sherry might win the prize for getting the earliest start, although there is a four year discrepancy concerning the age at which she began interpreting: four? Eight? Then you’ve got peeps like me who didn’t even start learning a second language until 28! Anyway, I am pleased to go along with the decisions that “all of us made” in Sherry’s “we”, particularly the one about merging modalities. The two tests she shared intrigue me: the CNS Vital Signs and the Achievement Motivation Inventory.
I hope no one throws a wobbly because of anything I’ve written here. I was duly warned that someone would have my guts for garters if I transgressed too far. Might I ask, instead, for a soft word on the side and the chance to edit?