The @-nterpreter : interpreting and interpreting training in the age of internet

We are lucky. We have internet.
I know, I know, computers are only good until they crash, internet connexions can be shockingly slow, clients will send materials in the weirdest and most wonderful formats and we don’t always automatically get given the wifi access codes at a conference. Appalling, right?
And yet despite all these stressful aspects, internet has revolutionised interpreter training and the interpreter’s life.

How? Well, let’s start with interpreting practice.
In the good old days, if you wanted to practice simultaneous interpreting, you depended on tapes and language labs to record yourself and to listen to yourself afterwards. That meant that practice with the possibility of self-monitoring – an essential part of the learning process – was limited to contact hours in the classroom, or for the better-equipped universities, to hours spent in the self-study lab.  Why? Because the recording was done simultaneously on the B track while the speech rolled on the A track. So listening to the speech on a normal cassette player was possible … but your own recording would play backwards on a standard tape-player, unless you used a language lab deck!
Cassettes were clumsy, cumbersome to transport for poor lecturers (let’s not forget the lecturer’s plight!) and only one student could practice with each cassette at a time.
Was it all that bad? Well, to give the “vintage” technology its due, it did foster more collaborative work between students who found themselves working at the same time in the lab.
Would I go back to tapes? No, definitely not.

For one, e-technologies mean that access to practice materials is now much easier, constant, and not limited to a specific location. Now, on top of the study lab (which was retained, for the cooperative use), HeriotWatt students for instance have access to purpose-made materials via our virtual learning environment platform; practice speeches are uploaded on each relevant module space, and are accessible from anywhere, at anytime. Each interpreting training institution have their own set-up, but remote access to materials, in more flexible formats like mp3 or mpeg files, have facilitated training. And of course, most international institutions also make speeches available online in one form or another. The DGI has even developed a special training speech repository, to which a number of interpreting training institutions also have access.

What of the recordings? Well, technology has also helped a great deal on that front: freeware like Audacity make it very easy for lecturers and students alike to record themselves, to create practice materials or record their performance. And of course, nowadays, most students have their own laptop or phone (smart or not) with at least audio recording facilities, if not video.

But the greatest difference relates to preparation, for trainees and professionals alike. In the olden days, interpreters relied on physical dictionaries and paper documents, which were often only available in good university libraries, to which you had to go in person providing you were in a city with these facilities. Nowadays, a lot of background research can be done through online search engines like google, which can provide you with explanations and images (a useful tool when working on an engineering conference, for instance). Glossary searches are also greatly facilitated by online tools like IATE, ran by the EU, or by online dictionaries like “le grand dictionnaire terminologique”, a favourite of Fr<>Eng interpreters.
And the internet can also, to an extent, be replicated the face-to-face exchanges in the self-study lab: students can work cooperatively on glossaries and background research through platforms like google drive and wiki tools, in the same way that professional interpreters will often share their preparation and glossary with their booth partner via email in the run up to their assignment.

Of course, it means that interpreter training has changed: we need to update our skills and methods, in order to show students how to work with these new resources and how to get the best out of them without losing the key professional skills that were at the core of the pre-internet training. But the age of the internet has widened our resources and given us the tools to train even better, and to develop our skills throughout our professional career.

The catch? There’s no limit to how much resources we can access at a click, so expectations are higher. The impetus is now on us to provide even better quality interpreting.

Author: Fanny Chouc