A Pedagogy of Interpretation

Stephen Capaldo
Language Services Branch of the Ontario Legislative Assembly
At this stage in the 70-year history of interpretation it would be useful to devise a systematic teaching and learning structure of interpretation. Such an effort would help us develop our own thought-based body of knowledge as a means of convincing society of the need for professional recognition. A statement of universal principles of interpretation training independent of specific languages and language combinations could also be slightly modified to meet local conditions without sacrificing skills mastery.
There are six major questions to be addressed in devising such a pedagogy:

  • Objectives
  • Skills
  • Methods
  • Textual Media
  • Readings and Orientation (R&O)
  • Evaluation

Ql. The objectives to be defined in organizing an interpretation training effort (ITE) are academic, material or human resources and administration. Even before dealing with detailed methods there must be agreement on questions of basic curriculum design, transitions in teaching and learning (T&L), second booth training and the interconnectedness of long and short consecutive with simultaneous and translation with interpretation. We must also agree on what equipment needs to be purchased, to whom it will belong and how it will be maintained. Areas and facilities must be set aside for reading, study, skills practice and real and simulated interpretation events. Qualifications and criteria for the recruitment, tenuring and promotion of permanent, part-time and support instructors must be decided, as well as the ITE’s place and role in the administrative hierarchy of the organization.
Q2. I have defined four basic skills groups:

  • functional
  • production
  • presentation (accuracy of content and professionalism of form or NC &PIF)
  • problem-solving

Functional skills include time lag, paraphrase and probability prediction, all highly interpretation-specific.
Under production skills, we talk about general intellectual abilities such as listening/analyzing, speaking/signing, reading, voice transmission and memory, both long and short term and text and logical as defined by S. Lambert and her colleagues (1989). The presentation skills take in issues such as formulation strategy, voice quality, speed and animation of the interpretation, coordination of interpretation delivery with breathing and swallowing and ease of reception by the client in a given technical medium.
Under problem-solving skills, we seek to group together the most common generic problems faced by interpreters on the job with standards to consider for their solution, e.g. what to do when too far behind the speaker, when the speaker has made a mistake or when there has been a realized misinterpretation.
Q3. We enhance skills application through different types of exercises:

  •  modal (end product or integrative)
  •  contextual (format, real or simulated)
  •  media
  •  highlighting (discreet components)

Under a) we provide practice in long and short consecutive interpretation, simultaneous interpretation and sight translation in the conference, court or community contexts of b). The media c) may be spoken or signed interpreting in a monological or dialogue communication. After this superficial level of skills enhancement exercise design we can devise exercises to highlight discreet or embedded components of the interpretation process d). These include shadowing with or without paraphrase, synonymy, association, reduction or SVO abstracting, expansion, words-idea-message chain editing, open-ended sentences, stop-text and cloze and text and logical memory.
Q4. In designing interpretation exercises we spend much time worrying about whether an intervention to be used for training has been produced to be “read” or “spoken”. My instinctive reaction is to say that this is really a marginally useful approach to the problem. At any rate, it is often difficult to differentiate papers intended to be “read” from those intended to be “spoken” in a conference situation.
I would say that all interventions are produced in some language and that the interlingual transfer of the message constitutes a problem of communication. In my view it would be more useful to worry less about the particulars of the individual texts and more about devising speech/speaker typologies (Gile, 1989) to which we would relate different skills clusters and strategies as proposed earlier.
Q5. When to integrate R&O into the ITE is a matter to be addressed. Will we master the information better in one dose or several doses interposed throughout the training process? This problem of sequencing is critical to education in general. This stated, the following R&O divisions are offered for consideration:
Readings – 3 generations (pre-1970s, 1970s to early 1980s, early 1980s to present), possible division by subject for ITEs and interpretation bibliographies, description of the practical processes of interpretation, linguistics (i.e. model-based, semantic-based, psycho, socioeducation), pedagogy and curriculum psychology
Orientation – technical information (lectures, surveys, history), code of conduct (in booth and meetings, conflicts, contracts, language classification), organization of practice (finance and taxes, healthcare, plateauing and interpersonal skills)
Q6. The evaluation of an ITE (school, job entry or professional development) differs from on-the-job evaluation in that the former is usually characterized by a uniformity of conditions whereas on-the job evaluation involves different interpreters working in different contexts and therefore non-uniformity of conditions (Roberts, 1990). In the evaluation of an lTE we must assess both teaching and learning:
Teaching-informal and formal discussion and interviews, scientifically designed questionnaires, analysis of data for appropriate action
Learning-marking schemes and the role of aptitude, placement, achievement and proficiency testing (Weller, 1990), integrative vs. discreet evaluation (Weller, 1990) or superficial (modal, contextual, media) vs embedded (skills), R&O (written vs. oral, content vs. analysis, multiple choice, short answer vs. essay), validity and reliability (Weller, 1990)
The various elements of the pedagogy may be altered according to local conditions on the following bases:

  • relevance of skills and methods
  • type of R&O needed
  • usefulness and validity of certain forms of evaluation
  • no compromise of mastery standards

At the Parliament of Ontario certain elements have been applied but for greater efficiency more research must be done in:

  • T&L theories
  • curriculum design
  • testing and evaluation

While interpreters are generally capable of defining objectives, skills and perhaps some methods, they are not usually qualified in the other areas I have noted above.
The pedagogy may also be applied to an individual’s own training needs.


The following authors were consulted in the preparation of this talk and paper:
Arjona, E. Keynote speech for Monterey Symposium Dec. 1989.
Taiwan lecture series abstracts, GITIS 1990, including Arjona, Ingram, Lambert, lvir, Gile, Weller, Ting, Conrique, Soccorro-Browning, Capaldo and all GlTIS students.
Gile, D. META articles on speech typology and information flow, 1988 and 1989.
Roberts, D. Terminology Update article on evaluation of interpreters on the job, June 1990.
van Dam, I. Article on strategies of simultaneous interpretation, 1986.