Heriot-Watt Goes to Holyrood

Heriot-Watt students doing the MSc in Conference Interpreting got to go to Holyrood – the Scottish Parliament, that is; for some dummy-booth practice.

These sessions, organised for small groups of motivated students, take place a few months into their training; at an ideal time to enable them to evaluate their progress and start to get a feel for the challenges of “real” interpreting.

So far, these students had only worked in groups of a single language pair, in a class-room setting, and from speeches adapted from real conferences to gradually build up their skills and confidence.

This was their first experience working from a real and live debate – but was it too early? Definitely not. Thanks to the support of the Scottish Parliament, we were given access to 4 interpreting decks, for the duration of a 2h30 debate. This meant that students had the opportunity to practice from live speeches several times during the session, enabling them to recover from the initial surprise and to come up with good strategies to keep up.

The configuration of the booths meant that while some of the students were working, the others could sit beside them and help them, or take notes to give them feed-back, or even practice retour doing chuchotage (whispered interpreting). All this tookn place under the supervision of a member of staff who also has professional interpreting practice, and guides students during the session. Having a group with a mixed combination of languages and no speaker in the booth meant that the emphasis was taken away from the language and moved back to the key purpose: communication. And this seemed to work: soon students forgot to anxiously seek the right word, and focussed on getting the message across for their peers who couldn’t hear the speech, or didn’t understand the language of the interpreter. The words seemed to come to them quite naturally.

What’s the next step? Well, having been confronted with a variety of Scottish accents, cultural and current references, various speeds and passionate arguments, students will now be asked to run their own multilingual mini-conferences in our biggest language lab. Here they will provide the speeches (in English, French, Spanish, German, Chinese and Arabic) and the interpreting (consecutive and simultaneous). We’ve noted that taking students to attend a live debate at the Scottish Parliament has made them much more aware of what makes real live speeches so interesting … and so challenging, and the students who took part in the scheme last year drew from the experience to bring more realistic features to the in-house debate.

But there is more to come: by mid-March, these students will be interpreting at a live multilingual debate, for a real audience … and, what’s more, the debate will be streamed live on internet. So if you are curious as to what trainee interpreters can do 7 months into their training, watch this space: information on how to register to watch the debate and listen to the interpreters will soon be available!

Author: Fanny Chouc