Why consecutive learning is important?



hello I'm dick Fleming a former staff conference interpreter with the skee k– in brussels now I'm retired now but I still do a little bit of training now and again and I sometimes get asked by students of conference interpreting sometimes even by the teachers why students spend so much time on consecutive University compared to simultaneous when later on if they get that far if they become professional interpreters they're going to spend probably most of their time doing simultaneous it's certainly how I spent most of my time when I was working in Brussels sitting in a booth wearing headphones which is why now after 35 years of doing that I prefer not to wear headphones anymore when I for example go jogging but it was certainly how I spent most of my time but most I say not all of it some of the time I was actually doing consecutive interpreting in the same room as the delegates whether they were experts diplomats politicians or or even farmers meeting in small groups and not only in the same room sometimes in the same field sometimes in the same farm or factory many different situations in fact the point I'm making is that from my own experience consecutive interpretation is an essential part of the professional interpreters toolbox since you have to know how to do it and because it is a conference interpreting mode that is still used albeit not very much and of course it can happen when you least expect it the equipment can break down or all of a sudden the nuclear fuel committee can decide to break up into two separate groups where they have to have consecutive interpretation all for example the mayor of the town you are visiting suddenly decides to give away come speech and perhaps the worst bottle Hospital situation is when you're invited to a lunch by the delegates who say oh do come along there won't be any need for any interpretation at all and then sure enough someone feels moved to give a speech and duly taps his glass with his Fork you've got the dreaded sound of cutlery on crystal signifying consecutive and you have to do it you can't opt out you can't say you're not on duty or plead incompetence because you've had one or two glasses of wine already and you'd better do it well as well because if you don't people will notice they'll also notice it if you do it brilliantly because you're on show when you're working in consecutive you're very much in the public eye and not hidden away in the booth if you like it's our activity under the public gaze it's our visiting card in a way so there are plenty of practical and professional reasons why conference interpreters should be able to do a decent consecutive which means that you have to learn how to do it now you may well say well what about the first conference interpreters who did consecutive they didn't learn how to do it did they because there weren't even any interpreting schools when they started back at the time of the Paris Peace Conference at the end of the first world war true enough there weren't any schools the first school was Geneva which wasn't set up until 1941 so how did they learn well they learnt the hard way on the job and it took them a fair amount of time we have record of the famous jean air bear who was one of the first interpreters saying that he felt ashamed about the first few times he interpreted because he had never been trained it was only over time that he acquired the skills and obviously we can do that we can't say well I'm haven't really learnt it yet you you carry on talking and I'll see if I can pick it up so what do we have to do we have to learn it and we can learn it at interpreting schools having said that I still haven't answered the question of why so much time is spent on consecutive compared to simultaneous at interpreting schools usually the same amount there's usually as much time spent on consecutive as on simultaneous well the answer to that question that I believe most teachers of interpretation would give is that by learning consecutive you learn how to interpret and also that consecutive is a useful stepping stone to simultaneous interpretation later now this argument is based on the premise that the interpreting process is similar whether you're doing consecutive or simultaneous so what is that process then well it involves listening understanding analysis of what is being said sorting those ideas into chunks of meaning linking those chunks together and storing all this somehow somewhere before later reformulating it in another language I say later later in the case of consecutive and the obvious difference between the two is that you have to perform all these operations virtually simultaneously in simultaneous interpretation whereas that is not the case for consecutive where at least one of the stages that is the last stage of reformulating comes later another difference is that consecutive given the time lag between listening and reformulating means that you need a memory prop for the storage part of the process and this is achieved by by taking notes while you're listening whereas in simultaneous the interaction of short and long term memory is all done up here now given the problems that students often have with note-taking you might well say that consecutive is just as difficult but that's not really the point the point is that in consecutive reformulations is put off until later thus slowing down and separating out at least part of the interpreting process and this has the advantage of allowing the student to concentrate on certain parts of the process rather than having to work on all of them at the same time in fact it's one of the basic principles of learning that you should learn to crawl before you can walk and to learn to walk before you learn to run don't get me wrong a consecutive interpreting is not like crawling it's not child's play which is why interpreting courses don't start with consecutive interpretation either they usually break down the component parts of the interpreting process into different stages different skills they start with work for example on active listening understanding discourse analysis and public speaking of course and our students progress in these various areas which are taken separately you can start gradually combining them and after a while you would combine the the listening approach the analysis process with subsequent reformulation by that time you're already doing basic consecutive interpretation notes in fact don't come until later because they can a fear interfere with the listening process and when they're brought in they need to be eased in very carefully so that they don't interfere with the listening and the way to do that is to separate out the note-taking from the listening that very often when notes introduced you don't ask the person to listen to a text you ask the person to take a written text to read it and to try and take notes from it which would reflect the structure of the speech be an adequate memory prop and also help you with your reformulation later on even if you don't actually do the reformulation then you're just practicing taking notes from a text again separating out the different skills so there are many different ways of introducing the different component parts of the interpreting process and different ways of combining them and most teachers of interpreting would argue that this gradual approach including the combination of skills in full consecutive interpreting tends to develop the students listening and analytical skills and also and this is a crucial point I think to prevent him or her from falling into the trap of literal reformulation from one language to another you see when when students start off with simultaneous even if they've been well prepared that there is sometimes a tendency to go for the simple solution that the literal one for example a public-house might be rendered into french as in maize or bleach or one i remember myself saying when a frenchman giving a speech referred to look less EE and in my version this was turned into the glacier whereas my teacher was actually referring to the ice-cream man outside playing his jingle now I said this I I translated literally because I wasn't thinking I wasn't used to that news situation of being in the booth with headphones on now is to avoid that temptation as much as possible that students are taught to listen think and analyze before and during consecutive interpretation practice when everything is as I said slowed down and separate it out all of this before we try and put it all together in simultaneous and where the reformulation phase in consecutive is sufficiently distant timewise from the listening phase to prevent the source language contaminating the reformulation or target language an ideally even when simultaneous is introduced we can still separate out the problems and skills involved in the process but we can work with texts which we are familiar with in order to remove the problem of not knowing what's coming not knowing the big picture that's one of the major problems and difficulties with simultaneous we can work with short and relatively simple texts and we can even work on individual skills such as abstracting summarizing paraphrasing and anticipation so my point is that skills can be isolated and taught separately before being combined and as I said most teachers prefer to teach their students the slowed down or dragged out version of such a combination that consecutive amounts to consecutive also gives students more time to think about and to judge what they are doing right or wrong and also to listen to what their peers are doing right and wrong in the same classroom they even have some evidence on their notepad afterwards to check whether they were listening or analyzing properly so although it may not be any easier to do a brilliant consecutive than it is to do a brilliant simultaneous the whole process is laid bare for a student to observe and this should make the learning process easier so easier to learn and to self-assess at the same time laying bare the whole process makes it easier to for teachers to assess what their students are doing and thus easier to teach now some interpreters have said that teachers are just being lazy they prefer teaching consecutive for that reason that it's simpler it's less teacher intensive and less equipment intensive but as I see it there's nothing wrong with that if it is easier to teach than simultaneous surely that's a good reason for starting with it I would add that since is easier the judge and interpreting performance when it's done in consecutive but for that reason examination panels particularly in the European Union tend to set great store by the ability of candidates to perform well in consecutive even if they know that later on they probably won't have to do very much it and I would say that's more of a realpolitik argument rather than a pedagogical one in favor of learning consecutive properly but it's a very important one for candidates at test another argument in favor of achieving a high degree of proficiency in consecutive is that it can if you're lucky be your passport to fast-track career development if you're good at it particularly if you have a Couture language as well you may be chosen to accompany high-level delegations on important trips abroad finally I ought to point out that although I've concentrated on the teaching of conference interpreting in my little talk we shouldn't forget that most of the interpreting done every day worldwide is not conference interpreting it's public service or community interpreting done in hospitals courts immigration offices or or police stations they're simultaneous interpretation is virtually unheard of and a mastery of consecutive interpretation even if not always strictly necessary when the interpretation is done sentence by sentence is a major asset for the interpreter working in that context so to sum up then students at interpreting schools spend a lot of their time learning how to do consecutive interpretation one because it's still an essential part of the conference interpreters professional skills and doing it well can help to further that interpreters career too because most teachers of interpreting consider it to be not only an end in itself but also a good lead-in to simultaneous interpreting and also a more transparent and observable way of learning to interpret in general and three precisely because it is more transparent test panels at major employers of conference interpreters still insist that candidates be proficient in it having said all that it appears that there is as yet no conclusive empirical or research-based evidence to actually prove that achieving proficiency in consecutive or four moving to simultaneous actually improves your simultaneous so perhaps it's time that somebody tried to come up with the evidence either to prove that or to disprove it by the way in the meantime for those of you who are students of interpreting I hope very much that you would enjoy learning to do a decent consecutive as much as I did thank you

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