Breaking Down Complexity

I finally was able to break away from the Registration booth and take in an entire workshop. Here’s a bit of my take on what took place in Jonas Carlsson’s presentation on “The Essence of Complexity Lies in the Individual Elements.”  Hopefully, I will be able to share some of what I take away from other workshops as well.  (It is nice to finally get to a point of learning and reflection after the hurricane that takes place at the registration booth.) Members can view his paper in the 2014 CIT Proceedings.
Doug Bowen-Bailey

From the outside, effective interpreting can look like an interpreter.  Taken as a whole, interpreting is a very unnatural act.  But Jonass Carlson explains that the complex task of interpreting is really a synthesis of many natural activities and interpreter education needs to break down the process into a variety of parts.   Drawing on Daniel Gile’s (2009) effort model of interpreting, Carlson explains a variety of exercises of how he breaks down the tasks of interpreting.

Interpreting requires some sort of ‘mental energy’ that is only available in limited supply… Interpreting takes up almost all of this mental energy, and sometimes requires more than is available, at which times performances deteriorates.  (Gile 2009, p. 159)

An important point is that we know more than we perform.  He references Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development and the importance of a more experienced peer who assists in the process.  Carlson suggests that self-reflection can allow students to become their own peer – by doing the self-analysis during a time when they are not under stress.

Gile’s Effort Model’s four parts

This is a superficial model – that doesn’t necessarily convey all of the complexity of interpreting – but allows for a way to break down the “miracle” of interpreting so that students can develop their skills in the specific tasks that build the foundation for the carrying out the complex process of interpretation.
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[av_iconlist_item title=’Listening and analysis effort’ link=” linktarget=” linkelement=” icon=’ue864′ font=’entypo-fontello’ av_uid=’av-7qmpbk’]
This is the task of taking in a message and analyzing it for meaning.  Carlson’s students broke down this parts into listening, processing, perception, understanding, & analysis.  He points out that he thinks that it is important his students to develop their own elements.  He tries to balance allowing students to come up with their own descriptions of the process – and also having a common language so others in the field of interpreting can understand what we are saying.
[av_iconlist_item title=’The memory effort’ link=” linktarget=” linkelement=” icon=’ue891′ font=’entypo-fontello’ av_uid=’av-5dlkpc’]
This includes both the process of storing a message in the short term memory – as well as drawing on long-term memory context.
[av_iconlist_item title=’The production effort’ link=” linktarget=” linkelement=” icon=’ue856′ font=’entypo-fontello’ av_uid=’av-3h9fw0′]
This is the focus on the creation of the target text.  Often becomes the sole focus of interpreting students.  Having a model of interpreting gives students a chance to break down the process so that all of their energy doesn’t go into production to the extent that it shuts down other parts of the process.
[av_iconlist_item title=’The Coordination effort’ link=” linktarget=” linkelement=” icon=’ue8d8′ font=’entypo-fontello’ av_uid=’av-2kz3r4′]
Lorraine Leeson has described this as the air controller at an airport that manages the direction of air flow.  Coordination is really about the ways we allocate our mental energy to the different tasks of interpreting.  Important to note that different situations and different parts of the process call for different amounts of energy to be devoted to the elements of interpreting.  It is not so simple as to just devote 25% to each of the four elements.
Carlson’s presentation very much reasoned with the work of Dr. Carol Patrie and her Effective Interpreting series that seeks to break down the process of interpretation and provide materials for interpreters to work on those skills.
As a teacher, it is important when focusing on one part, to only give feedback related to that one component.  If an instructor comments about a variety of skills, not just the one in question, it prevents the student from being able to identify the individual elements.

Addressing Automatizations:

In managing complex processes, we develop automatizations as a way to conserve energy and be able to allot more energy to other parts of the process.

  • Natural consequence of dealing with complexity
  • Necessary and impossible to avoid
  • Consciously developed (although some automatizations may be less consciously developed.)
  • Difficult to change

To move in new directions, however, it can be important to break away from these automatizations and then consciously combine the elements to reduce the amount of energy required and to allow it to be more efficient.

The International Element

The benefit of a CIT conference also lies in the coming together of international efforts for the teaching of interpretation.  Part of the presentation included a very strong emphasis on the Swedish-American connection. (He pointed out that his color scheme of red, yellow, white, and blue was a combination of the Swedish and American flags.)
Jonass Carlson presenting at CIT with International Sign and ASL interpretationThis year at CIT, there was also an interpreting team providing interpretations in international sign.  At this workshop, there was a part of the team working into international sign and another part of the team that was working into ASL.  All of that together makes for a very rich visual experience and provides new perspectives on how to approach our work as interpreter educators.


Carlson used a variety of metaphors, both in sports and music.   He is a hockey fan and shared the notion that hockey players don’t simply practice by playing hockey.  They do a variety of activities, on and off the ice, to be prepared for putting it all together on the rink.  Pianists also work on the unnatural process of having the left and right hands doing separate elements by practicing each parts before putting it together so it looks like a “miracle” who do not speak the language of music.