Interpreter trainer workshops


Workshop I


Workshop Leader: Barbara Moser-Mercer
Rapporteur: Jennifer Mackintosh


You have been asked by the university authorities to design a post-graduate course for interpreter training. The budget allocated for this purpose allows for 8 hours of teaching a week for one academic year. You are to train interpreters in the following language combinations: A: your national language; B: English; C: German or French.

Please consider the following aspects when solving the above problem:

  • resources available in other departments;
  • sequencing of courses and course mix;
  • subjects to be covered;
  • skills & aptitudes required of candidates to be admitted.

In introducing the scenario, the Workshop leader recognised that there would be, many different models of university courses and that the individual solutions produced by participants would of course be informed by their particular circumstances. Nonetheless there are some general considerations that need to be borne in mind when embarking upon the design of a course. Some of these are:

  • professional school vs. academic program or university-based professional school;
  • facilities;
  • faculty: permanent vs. part-time, which mix?
  • the politics of academe: who is on your side?
  • where does the money come from and what is the commitment?
  • curriculum and instruction;
  • development of instructional tools;
  • development of testing tools;
  • pedagogy and methodology;
  • research;
  • professional organisations.

Having identified where one stands in relation to these questions it is then possible to start thinking about content. There again a number of questions need to be addressed:

  • Significance: is a given content worth including in the curriculum plan?
  • Utility: is the content useful?
  • Appropriateness: is it necessary?
  • Relevance: is the content relevant to professional performance, and therefore of interest to the student ?
  • Human development: does it promote values, ethics, personal growth?
  • Professionalism: does it promote professional ethics, collegiality, values?

The Workshop participants divided up into four groups to discuss their answer to the first question in the scenari what resources are available from other departments. The groups reported back as follows:

Group 1

  • Psychology: for help in developing tests (memory & personality tests) and developing stress management techniques.
  • Languages: language enhancement (availability of native speakers), elocution and public speaking.
  • Law & Economics: availability of specialist speakers.
  • Journalism: recording facilities (audio-visual) and recorded material for input to classes.
  • Libraries: source materials.
  • Technical support: language laboratories.
  • Guest speakers: practice for interpreter students.

Group 2 Two categories of resources: physical & intellectual.

  • Physical: classrooms, including language laboratory and equipment, conference room with conference table, access to dummy booths, library with video & audio tapes, books, other materials.
  • Intellectual: links to translation department, possibilities for developing rhetorical and public-speaking skills cultural studies (especially for courses at undergraduate level), availability of specialist speakers (from faculties of law, economics, etc.).

Group 3 Again two categories of resources: material & human.

  • Material: language labs - for classes & individual work; cassette and video libraries (to improve comprehension and to use as classroom input).
  • Human: other departments - psychology dept (cf. Group 1) + memory-building exercises; area studies; public speaking; law, environment, business studies, technical depts (e.g. chemistry); visiting lecturers both as source for interpretation practice and if speaking foreign languages the students can provide interpretation for the other faculties (in the 1st semester this should be done by the teachers). Good public relations and offers the other faculties something in return for their cooperation.

Group 4 Also two categories: physical (labs, etc.) & intellectual.

  • Among the intellectual resources are the varied backgrounds of the students, particularly if the course is postgraduate. Among the problems is the fact that a university is made up of autonomous departments and it may be wishful thinking to talk of resource sharing. However it may be possible to form on interdepartmental committee to break down the barriers and discuss budgetary ideas, e.g. the most rational way of using the budget for language lab(s). If there is a Dept of Communications it could, for example, be called upon to develop an awareness of verbal/non-verbal content, public speaking. Students may also be able to benefit from access to other departments in order to receive briefings on specific subjects and develop glossaries.

SUMMARY The Workshop leader remarked that each group made the distinction between physical and intellectual resources. She also mentioned the usefulness of scheduling unsupervised work (making use of resources which would otherwise remain idle). A number of the ideas raised above are low cost if time-consuming (the need to enlist the cooperation of other departments and raise the awareness of the value of the interpretation section). When negotiating with other departments the importance of reciprocity shouldn't be forgotten and what the interpretation section has to offer should not be underestimated. It is important to assign a particular person to liaise with other departments and make sure they know who this person is. Offer to provide the local TV station with interpretation in return for being able to borrow a video camera from time to time, etc.

The next question: course sequencing and course mix was combined with subjects to be covered and were discussed by the same four groups who identified the following features as significant:

Group 1 1st semester: start with consecutive, simultaneous being introduced towards the end of the semester but at the start of the course students would be given a demonstration of both consecutive and simultaneous to give them an idea of the level they have to achieve by the end of the course.

  • In the first few weeks of semester l introduction to consecutive would include aural exercises (A -> A, B -> A); memory training; listening comprehension; gist extraction and learning to focus on meaning not words. If necessary 1-1,5 hours per week could be devoted to remedial language classes (B or C languages). Note-taking would be introduced in the 2nd half of the semester. Throughout the rest of the semester students would do 2 or 3 hours per week of consecutive B - A.
  • 2nd semester: students would do both consecutive and simultaneous. There would be 2 hours a week of specialist lectures and the subject matter would be coordinated with the teachers giving consecutive classes.

Group 2 2 hours per week would be allotted to so-called short-term subjects, i.e. translation theory; basic interpreting skills; public speaking; registers & style; ethics; conference terminology; international organisations; keynote lectures and, perhaps, language enhancement. Group 3 would start with consecutive interpretation, initially memory-training exercises and then, during semester 1, note-taking to build up to a 50/50 ration between consecutive and simultaneous.

Group 3 As the course they are planning for is a two semester course it needs to be quite intensive.

  • 1st semester: weeks 1-5 (per week)

    • 4 hrs of public speaking and elocution, at first in the mother tongue then in B language
    • 4 hrs introduction to consecutive: memory exercises and gist extraction monolingual, A -> A, B -> B, A -> B, B -> A
    • weeks 6-15 (per week)
    • 2 hrs consecutive A -> B, 2 hrs B -> A, 2 hrs C -> A, 2 hrs introduction to simultaneous (A -> A, B -> B, B -> A)

  • 2nd semester: weeks 1-15 (per week)

    • 2 hrs simultaneous A -> B, 2 hrs, simultaneous C -> A, 2 hrs consecutive B -> A
    • + (per week) weeks 1-6, 2 hrs, simultaneous B->A; weeks 7-12, 2 hrs consecutive C->A; weeks 13-15, professional ethics etiquette, international organisations, market situation.

Group 4 In total there are 240 teaching hours, to be divided up as follows:

  • 30 hrs introduction to translation theory
  • 20 hrs life & institutions, cultural studies
  • 10 hrs public speaking
  • 20 hrs professional behavior & ethics
  • 10 hrs introduction to note-taking
  • 10 hours terminology/techniques of glossary building
  • 140 hrs interpretation: 100 hrs consecutive, 40 hrs simultaneous.

SUMMARY There is agreement that both consecutive and simultaneous are part of the curriculum and the groups have demonstrated the usefulness of 'parcelling out' the time available to the different subjects to be taught, i.e. a modular design. When thinking about course design it is necessary to identify the skills required as well as the techniques and content necessary to impart those skills. The course designer needs to decide which is the most effective instructional medium ( e.g. mock conferences, use of live recordings specialist lectures) and what is the best way of setting about memory training, language enhancement, acquisition of subject matter knowledge, etc. The course designer also needs to make a decision as to what needs to be taught and what the students can provide for themselves; what needs to be 'imported' from other departments and what the balance between consecutive, simultaneous and other subjects should be. The Workshop leader summarized some of these points on a foil which also drew attention to some issues that had not been discussed


Learning does not take place when the planner hopes but rather when the learners internalize. Designing a curriculum thus boils down to the structuring of identified learning activities to provide the necessary opportunities for the desired outcomes to occur.

The curriculum planner must determine:

  • what skills are essential;
  • what techniques are needed;
  • what content is most adequate for introducing or emphasizing a given technique ;
  • what instructional medium is most effective for presenting a given technique.

A useful tool for curriculum planners is to conceive of identifiable tracks or strands in order to structure the instructional program. (Examples: written translation, sight translation, simultaneous interpretation, consecutive interpretation, performance techniques, theory, etc.). It is easier to make modifications within tracks than to modify the entire curriculum. Not all techniques need to be taught in all language combinations.

On the last question in Scenario 1, skills and aptitudes required of candidates to be admitted, the groups identified:

Group 1 Language skills; memory and the ability to follow the logic of an argument; a good voice with no speech defects; high level of general knowledge and creativity and well as A-language expressiveness and the ability to master a wide range of registers were factors highlighted by Group 1.

Group 2 Students need to present certain psychological characteristics as well as general linguistic competence. The former include:

  • memory;
  • assertiveness and ability of work under stress;
  • speed of response.

    General linguistic competence covers not only vocabulary and phonology but also the ability to edit a text, to grasp meaning from words and to anticipate correctly but also the cultural level and familiarity with the cultural history of the countries in which the students' other languages are spoken.

Group 3 The necessary skills and aptitudes were identified as language proficiency and an understanding of theoretical issues; ability to switch codes; memory; speed of response; an appropriate personality, i.e. assertive, not easily irritated, able to cope with stress; general knowledge and an interest in current affairs; maturity; an ability to process information for meaning; inferencing skills; a good voice, diction and pleasant intonation; ability to work in a team and appropriate behavior.

Group 4 3 sets of tests are proposed: linguistic

  • psycholinguistic
  • sociolinguistic

    The features tested are rhetorical and language skills in A, B & C languages; memory, the ability to think analytically and synthetically; general knowledge and openness to new knowledge; self-confidence with modesty; sociolinguistic sensitivity; the ability to concentrate and to work under stress; the ability to do more than one thing at a time and speed of response.


  1. Identification of skills and aptitudes.
  2. Identification of level of competence required (depends on length of training program).
  3. Standardization.
  4. Administration.
  5. Follow-up.

Additional points that were picked up included the importance of the problems of dialects (e.g. Swiss German, Albanian dialects), the fact that memory for logical links was perhaps the area of memory that training should concentrate on and that the ability to withstand stress meant, in particular, stress over long periods of time.


You are in charge of submitting a proposal to university authorities for a School of Translation and Interpretation. The curriculum covers 4 years of study, the terminal degree to be offered is a M. A. potential students must have a baccalaureate to enter.

Please indicate at what junctures you would require students to pass exams and indicate what type of exam they need to pass and what will be tested. Remember that you are admitting both translation and interpretation students to your 4-year program, but that in your response you should focus on interpretation.

In introducing Scenario 2, the Workshop leader discussed some of the critical issues in testing:

  • identification of skills and aptitudes;
  • levels of competence (A, B & C and how these could evolve over the duration of the course);
  • administration of tests (if too complicated there will not be enough time nor will there be sufficient resources to administer them);
  • standardization-standardized tests make life very much easier but is it a feasible proposition? Can interpretation tests be standardized?
  • follow-up: how predictive of success are the tests? 1

Another factor of fundamental importance in taking decisions about testing is the curricular model adopted. Four models were discussed: linear, where the student progresses from translation to interpretation; parallel tracks, where T & I run side by side ; Y-forked where T & I students follow a common curriculum at the start of the course and then branch off either into T or into I; and a modified Y-fork which gives students credit for work done in translation and/ or interpretation if the student ultimately graduates from another department.










The groups then discussed scenario 2 and presented their proposals.

Group 1 The y-forked model with the common stern lasting one year (2 semesters) and each branch 6 semesters.

Entrance tests: language proficiency with a short essay in A & B language(s) an oral interview involving code switching with the candidate being required each time to respond in a language other than one in which s/he is addressed a short (2 mins) presentation on an assigned topic.

  • End Year 1: Screening Test

    The written part of the test would comprise a translation from A to B and B to A as well as a summarising exercise in the A language and, perhaps, the B language.

    The oral component would involve students working in pairs, one reporting on a chosen topic (e.g. retirement speech) and the other listening and reproducing it in the other language, as well as paraphrasing exercises in A and B.

  • End Year 2: Consecutive examination.
  • End Year 3: Consecutive and simultaneous examination.
  • End Year 4: Final examination with thesis (include interpretation with test and/or at-sight translation).

Group 2 The preferred option is a Y -forked curriculum of 8 semesters and providing for 5 types of tests:

    1. Aptitude and admission testing.
    2. Final tests (diploma) with thesis or dissertation.
    3. At end of semester 1: and eliminatory test to weed out those who should not have passed the aptitude test in order to give them an opportunity of moving to another course of study without losing too much time.
    4. Progress tests at the end of each semester if there are no other tests at that point.
    5. A screening test at the end of Year 2, .semester 2 which is the point at which the curriculum splits into T or I.

Students would be able to resit the eliminatory and final tests.

Group 3 Three sets of tests: Entrance, Intermediate & Final.

  • Entrance: written and oral tests.

  • Written: In order to test the candidate's ability to understand and summarise information, an argumentative text is delivered by a native speaker and s/he has to reproduce the message. Candidates will also be required to translate lexically simple short texts (under a time constraint) from B to A, A to B, C to A. The paraphrase test will be a multiple choice text with only one logically correct reply. Oral: at-sight translation B -> A, A -> B, C -> A, each text being loaded with general knowledge references. A short interview in the candidate's B language. Test team work by requiring the candidate's to work in pairs with the interviewee interpreting the interviewer. Alternatively pairs of candidates could argue for and against a topic to see how they interact.

  • Intermediate: at the end of Year 2. Translation with dictionaries B & C -> A, A -> B, one page of text for each language combination and close attention paid to the appropriateness of register. Candidates would .be required to make a speech where particular attention would be paid to content, delivery and style.

  • Final: consecutive and simultaneous interpretation + a dissertation (e.g. a glossary, terminological exercise) if necessary.

Group 4 At the end of Year 1, the students would be tested on the following skills:

  • advanced language knowledge;
  • public speaking;
  • area studies and international organisations;
  • introduction to translation and interpretation theory;
  • 'terminology', e.g. on the mass media.

    The tests at the end of Year 2 would cover:

  • translation from B -> A; .translation from A -> B;
  • international law terminology;
  • economic, banking and financial terminology.

    At the end of semester 1 of the 3rd Year (the point at which the Y-forked model splits into either T or I), students would be tested on:

  • introduction to consecutive note-taking;
  • translation from C -> A.

    The screening examination to determine whether a student moves on to the interpretation option would comprise a consecutive interpretation test (performance and predictive - the latter to be defined).

    At the end of Year 3, students would be tested on:

  • introduction to simultaneous (performance);
  • science & technology terminology;
  • consecutive interpretation.

    At the end of Year 4, the diploma examination would cover consecutive and simultaneous interpretation and, if the course awarded a MA degree, a thesis.

SUMMARY There is an imbalance between entrance and final testing. Whereas in entrance testing the onus is on the school, in the final examination the onus is on the students.

Entrance tests: screening tests are in fact aptitude tests. The level required at the entrance test has to be matched to the duration of the course, i.e. the amount of time available to bring students to a professional standard. In some countries it is not possible to fail students at entrance tests for legal reasons.

Eliminatory tests: it is essential to have clear examination regulations in order to avoid possible legal challenges. How many retakes are allowed? When can candidates retake the test? What constitutes a pass (e.g. must all parts of the test be passed or only a proportion)? Is marking based on averages? Are some features weighted more heavily than others?

Intermediate tests: as mentioned above, these must be matched to the duration of the course, i.e. past, present and future learning possibilities. It is very important to make clear to both teachers and students what level of competence is required at each stage.

Final examination: the above comments regarding clear regulations and legal challenges are particularly applicable to the final examination. Students are tested on both consecutive (at ETI Geneva a 6 minute passage at the final exam and 3 minutes at the intermediate test) and simultaneous interpretation, in simultaneous there will usually be a general and a technical passage for each language combination. If the examination includes simultaneous with text, they are allowed a brief period in which to prepare the text.

Administration of tests: testing is time-consuming. It is important to maintain objectivity and the exam jury should, if possible, contain outside examiners, e.g. potential employers, fellow-professionals who can act as observers if university rules do not permit them to be voting members. For each combination there should be a minimum of 3 examiners. It is important to prepare the subjects well in advance and to inform the students of the areas on which they will be examined. All members of the jury need to be well briefed on the marking rules and have copies of the marking sheets, information about the weighting factors is essential. They need to be familiar with the examination regulations and understand the pass/fail criteria. Jury members should be shown how to use the marking sheets before the start of the examinations.

Students' records should be available to the examiners so that these can be consulted in marginal cases. Make sure that mark sheets are properly signed and recorded and that the examinations have been recorded on cassette so that they can be consulted in the event of a challenge.

Types of tests: a number of tests are discussed in Gerver et al. (cf footnote to page 6), they include general knowledge testing, cloze tests, memory tests and translation. In addition standardised tests exist to check the level of candidates' competence in English include:

  1. TOEFL: Test of English as a foreign language (Princeton University). This is by far the most comprehensive and best known test. It is available worldwide (testing centres in each country ).
  2. TOSE: Test of Spoken English.
  3. University of Michigan Test of English (Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA).
  4. The International Association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) has information on these and other tests. The local chapter of TESOL should be contacted, or the British or American consulates in the country.

    These tests can also serve as a basis for developing similar ones for other languages. Tests which check a candidate's memory for logical argument and précis tests appear to be more predictive than essays, for example (e.g. directed as opposed to non-directed writing). Translation of argumentative texts have proven useful in verifying the level of linguistic competence required if the text is representative of conference-discourse and has to be done under a time-constraint.

To conclude the Workshop leader summarised this discussion of skills and aptitudes as follows:


  1. Excellent knowledge of A, B and C languages.
  2. Ability in all working languages to grasp the essential meaning of discourse rapidly and to convey it clearly in the target language(s).
  3. A memory for logical links.
  4. Ability to convey information with confidence; pleasant delivery.
  5. Broad general knowledge and interests; curiosity and willingness to acquire new knowledge.
  6. Ability to work as a member of a team.
  7. Ability to work under stress for long periods.

Workshop II


Workshop Leader: Jennifer Mackintosh
Rapporteur: Philip Minns

The Workshop leader introduced her scenarios by .specifying the underlying assumptions about the length and type of interpreting course on which they are based: it is a one-year course, comprising three terms of 10 weeks each. Each week there are 3 sessions of consecutive interpretation, each lasting 2 hours, making a total of 180 hours of consecutive teaching spread over 90 sessions.


Your timetable provides 3 two-hour sessions of consecutive interpretation a week. Prepare a detailed course plan for Weeks 1 & 2 (i.e. 6 sessions) of the first term of a 3 term (1 year) training course. In the course plan identify:

  1. the objectives of each session against the overall objectives of the term;
  2. the methods and materials that you propose to use to achieve those objectives;
  3. the reasoning behind your choice of methods and objectives.

Participants were asked to specify what objectives they would assign to the first term, bearing in mind the need to introduce note-taking (not specifically mentioned in Scenario 1) at some stage. The 4 groups identified the 1st term's objectives as follows:

Group 1

  • develop linguistic and subject awareness;
  • develop skills in analysing discourse;
  • develop memory;
  • introduce note-taking (depending on progress made with the above);

Group 2

  • practice stress reduction techniques;
  • extend memory capacity;
  • develop concentration;
  • study discourse analysis on the basis of examples;
  • study the hierarchical organisation of information;
  • develop an awareness of logical links;
  • polish delivery skills;
  • introduce note-taking.

Group 3

  • implement the 1st stage of a 3 stage program, i.e.
  • acquire an understanding of basic interpretation theory;
  • develop memory by means of exercises;
  • learn to process information;
  • develop listening comprehension.

Group 4

  • implement 1st stage of a 3 term program comprising the introduction, development and consolidation of consecutive interpretation skills. 1st term: develop concentration; memory; verbal skills learn to process information and extract meaning.

Having established their objectives for the 1st term, the groups were then asked to describe in more detail what the content of their classes for the first sir sessions (i.e. first two weeks) of the term would be. In particular they were asked to identify the skills they would start with, how they would communicate these skills to the students and how they would measure the progress made.

Group 1

  • introduction to the concept of metalanguage, discourse typologies, meaning of communication & interpretation;
  • introduction to notions of register and style;
  • start on text analysis exercises and identification of propositional content;
  • development of memory skills in A language;
  • development of voice and delivery skills.

Group 2

  • exercises to alleviate anxiety;
  • exercises to build confidence in memory capacity;
  • make students aware of the significance of memory prompts;
  • demonstrate how text typology identification can assist memory and recall;
  • practice voice, delivery and enunciation skills;
  • demonstrate importance of eye contact.

Group 3

  • introduction of basic concept; difference between consecutive and simultaneous interpretation;
  • instructor demonstration of consecutive: interpretation from improvised discourse, video-recorded if possible;
  • develop memory, concentration and information processing skills A-A, A-B;
  • gist extraction and identification of meaning of message;
  • develop awareness of register and style in all working languages;
  • introduction of code-switching (e.g. from B to A) to illustrate the dangers of transliteration and literalism.

Group 4

  • introduction to course procedures; cooperation with other tutors, librarians and technical support staff;
  • memory development exercises A-A and B-B;
  • it is important not to move ahead too rapidly.

SUMMARY The Workshop leader summarised the main points as being:

  • basic concepts: message and meaning;
  • information processing;
  • the propositional content of discourse and 'chunking' of the main points (units of meaning);
  • memory enhancement and concentration on logical links;
  • confidence building and stress management.

The points outlined above can be approached under two headings: what is to be taught and how it is to be taught



1. Theoretical knowledge:

Basic concepts: communication; transfer of meaning; sense not words

Suggested reading: D. Seleskovitch, AIIC

J-F Rozan, G. Ilg

3-part model: speaker -> interpreter -> listeners

Clothing analogy: meaning is same in all languages, the words are the clothes in which meaning is dressed. Each language clothes the body/meaning in different garments

2. Skills to be developed:

Listening & comprehension

Tapes & live speeches, students to identify what speech is about, speaker's communicative intention, attitude, relation to topic, audience

Semantic/linguistic awareness

Identity text types, registers, level of language, where speaker could;/could not be from


Recall exercises; inferencing

Attention focussing

DuaI-tasking, varying speed, text density, text type

Information processing Discourse analysis; gist identification; focus on structure of discourse, esp. logical links, propositional content & units of meaning; identification of breaks between units; inferencing exercices

Verbal skills: fluency, delivery

Students to give prepared & improvised lexical & stylistic flexibility, speeches to be recorded (video and/or voice audio) and played back in class.

At-sight paraphrase in A language, register-switching.

Delivery in class: make voice "bounce back" off far wall.

On the specific point of shadowing, raised by Group 1, there was some discussion as to whether this technique is helpful in developing the skills required for consecutive (or simultaneous) interpretation. Some participants felt that it can be useful in helping students develop an awareness of style and register whereas the Workshop leaders' view was that it is more of a language enhancement technique (e.g. in developing a sense of correct syllabic stress) and should only be used in that context.

By way of introduction to consecutive interpretation, the Workshop leader suggested that students might read “L'interprète dans les conférences internationales: problèmes de langage et de communication by D. Seleskovitch (Paris, Minard Lettres Modernes, 1975), or the English version “The interpreter in international conferences“, as well as the AIIC brochure “Advice to Students wishing to become Conference Interpreters”, obtainable from the AIIC Secretariat (10 av. de Sécheron, CH-1202 Geneva) in English or French. Students who can read French might also turn to “La prise de notes en interprétation consécutive” by J-F. Rozan (Georg, Geneva 1956) for a comprehensive introduction to note-taking or to articles by Gerard Ilg in PARALLELES (published by the University of Geneva).

Having covered the first part of Scenario 1, the groups then addressed in greater detail the methods and materials they would use in implementing the objectives identified.

Group 1 At start would show or make a video recording of an interpreter at work. This might be fleshed out by interpreters' anecdotes of real-life conference situations. The instructor would follow this by making a speech, in the A language, of the type made at press conferences. Students would be asked to identify:

  • to whom the speaker was addressing himself;
  • on what sort of occasion;
  • the thrust of the message being communicated.

The next exercise would be of a similar nature but the students would be required to reproduce the names of persons and/or organisations.

A further exercise would require students to highlight the logical links in the speech being delivered and then to identify all of these elements in a same speech.

All the speeches would be improvised, not read. Role-playing would also be introduced in order to enhance the students' verbal skills.

Group 2 The course would start with a live demonstration of consecutive interpretation by two instructors. Then an instructor would tell a well-known fairy story in his B language and repeat it in his A language. 3 students would then be asked to tell a story in their B language and subsequently to summarise it in their A language.

In the next session, the instructor would describe a well-known city in his B language and a student would be asked to reproduce the description in his B language, followed by other students reproducing the description in their A language. This would be an opportunity for the instructor to draw attention to delivery skills.

A subsequent exercise would involve a speech of a more argumentative nature, e.g. on the pros and cons of EU membership. A flip chart would be used to identify and discuss the logical links in the speech.

In the second week, the exercises would be repeated in the same order but the degree of difficulty would be greater: the fairy tale would be slightly modified,. the well-know city would have to be described from posters and the argumentative speech would contain subtler arguments (e.g. the pros and cons of contraception).

In the first week exercises would be reproduced in the language in which the original speech was made, in the second week students would work primarily from B to A and greater emphasis would be placed upon delivery.

Group 3 The course would start with memory and information processing exercises: short passages would be improvised (not read) by the instructor and students would be asked to identify:

  • the gist of the message;
  • the sequence of arguments presented;
  • the logical links between the arguments.

These exercises would be monolingual (i.e. A -> A or B -> B).

Students would then be required to note both logical links and proper names (persons or organisations). Emphasis would also be put on improving aural comprehension by introducing background noise, foreign accents, etc.

Group 4 Initially emphasis would be placed on memory and information processing exercises, while insisting that students concentrate on meaning not words. The instructor would deliver a passage of up to 2 minutes in length in either his A or B language and students would be required to identify the main points and the links between them, in the source text language. The message text type (descriptive, narrative, argumentative) would be identified and students would be asked to reproduce it in another language, all the time concentrating on meaning of the message, on delivery and presentation.

The instructor would also ask the students to undertake summarising and paraphrasing exercises. After each exercise students would identify:

  • the key information components,
  • the links between them

and would illustrate these graphically on a flip chart, using arrows. The instructor's attitude at this stage would be essentially supportive in order to build students confidence in their abilities.

SUMMARY All groups foregrounded the importance of developing memory and information processing skills. Various techniques can be used to help students improve attention and rapidly identify the topic of discourse; e.g. the instructor or a student can make a speech without stating the context and the class has to identify who is speaking, to whom, and on what type of occasion. Students can be asked to listen to speech and identify the number of ideas it contains, or pick out the key words. In general it is more helpful to think in terms of focusing attention (rather than concentration) as it forces students to think about what they should focus on and how they should refocus their attention when the speaker moves on to another point, or the need to focus attention differently in the case of a more difficult text. A technique suggested by Group 1 whereby students would be required to read one text while listening to and subsequently summarising another was not considered desirable by the Workshop leaders. Attention-sharing can be developed in better ways.

Note-taking: In a further round of discussion participants compared their procedures for the introduction of note-taking into their courses. There appeared to be a general consensus that note-taking should not be introduced before the 4th or 5th week of the course. Some participants did not introduce note-taking fully before the end of the first term. Moreover, it was felt that note-taking should be introduced gradually, starting with a general introducing to the basic principles by the instructor and then going on to noting logical links, dates, proper names and figures. The Poznan course had started by introducing note-taking in the 5th week but in the light of experience considers that to have been a mistake and henceforth it will be introduced later in the first term.



While some of the students in your class are progressing well and their performance in consecutive matches the objectives defined, some of them are not keeping up with the rest: they do not seem to be able to reproduce fairly clear and simple messages accurately and have problems understanding their notes. What might some of the causes be? What could you do in the classroom to remedy the situation?

In introducing Scenario 2, the Workshop leader asked participants to give consideration to why students sometimes experienced difficulties in developing their skills in consecutive interpretation and postulated that this was very often due to problems with note-taking. She asked the groups to explore these issues and suggest remedies. The groups reported as follows:

Group 1 Difficulties are often due to an inadequate grasp of the subject matter. Students should be encouraged to read widely to increase their general knowledge. Lack of concentration and memory capacity can also be a cause of difficulty. Where students are unable to exploit their notes, it is necessary to analyse them with a view to establishing why they have not been useful. It may be necessary to return to more simple exercises, without notes.

Group 2 Students often get lost because they are searching for a word so synonym/antonym exercises may be helpful. Problems may also be due to students starting to take their notes too soon, before the meaning of the proposition has become clear, which indicates that they are not devoting enough attention to analysing the source text, its meaningful 'chunks' and the logical links between them. This is a typical problem encountered when tackling several tasks simultaneously, something students find hard, which may be compounded by a difficult or unfamiliar subject as well as stress. Inferencing exercises can be very helpful in forcing students to seek out meaning and not simply reproduce surface structures.

Group 3 The diagnosis is very similar to that of Group 2. Failures at this stage of consecutive training are above all failures of information processing. The failure to extract meaning can be due to the inherent difficulty of the subject and/ or to an inadequate mastery of the skills the previous exercises were designed to develop, e.g. identification of meaning and logical links, culminating in the inability to handle a number of tasks simultaneously. Students in this situation should repeat the earlier exercises, without code-switching. The instructor should always take notes at the same time as the students so as to be able to monitor their performance and also show how s/he handled a particular problem. Students are sometimes unable to decipher their notes or get bogged down looking for the right word.

Group 4 The questions to be addressed in approaching the issue of note-taking are: why, what, when, where, and how.

Notes are only useful as a prompt, not as a script (why). Only relevant information and logical links should be noted, certainly not redundant information (what). Note-taking should be neither too slow, because of the danger that the information-processing capacity will be overloaded, not too fast, elements of meaning may be overlooked (when). Notes should afford a view of the structure of the discourse, clearly identifiable to the instructor and always legible to the note-taker (how). Notes should be taken on a spirally bound notepad, never on loose sheets of paper (where).

SUMMARY In her summary of the groups' conclusions, the Workshop leader emphasised first of all that failure in note-taking is nearly always due to a failure in the listening process, often on account of a lack of general or contextual knowledge. Students faced with this difficulty tend to note too many words and too few ideas. Whatever note-taking technique is adopted by a student, the vital point is to listen properly before taking a single note for if the basic message is not firmly fixed in the interpreter's mind, it cannot be retrieved from a notebook. A recent study has shown that mistakes in interpretation are often clustered around figures, illustrating that figures tend of jeopardise message integrity and that they are a good example of something that should be consigned quickly to paper to free the interpreter to focus on the meaning of the message.

DISCUSSION A discussion between the three Workshop leaders and course participants resulted in the following conclusions regarding points students should be aware of when taking notes:

  • The purpose of notes in consecutive interpretation is to act as a memory prompt and to graphically represent the underlying structure (or unclothed body) of the discourse. Notes should therefore be laid out on the page in such a way as to make this structure visible at a glance. The best way of achieving this is to write down the page, using a rightwards branching structure for subordinate clauses, asides, etc.
  • While students should be encouraged to develop signs/symbols in order to note frequently recurring elements rapidly, it is misleading to suggest that anyone system is superior to others. Some signs and symbols (e.g. arrows and separating lines) can be used to represent the structure of the discourse while others ( e.g. abbreviations) can be used to represent concepts.

Students should be made aware that different types of discourse require different note-taking strategies (e.g. individual words may carry considerable significance in a political speech and the interpreter may need to take very complete notes). On a more practical level, students should be reminded of the need to always have an ample supply of notepads and pencils with them.

One Workshop leader pointed out that nobody had mentioned sight-translation as a teaching technique yet in her experience it was very useful in both consecutive and simultaneous teaching.

Lastly the discussion focussed on the issue of the language in which notes should be taken. A consensus emerged around the following points: students should not be given the impression that signs and symbols are the answer to note-taking and that everything can be replaced by an appropriate symbol. This would be tantamount to learning a third language, in addition to all the other difficulties inherent in consecutive interpretation. Most interpreters' notes are in fact a mixture of TL, SL, signs and symbols, a state of affairs summed up by one participant as TL where possible, SL where necessary. Students should nonetheless be encouraged to try to take notes in TL as this gets them away from the SL structure. Additionally, if they have successfully mastered the listening and information-processing stages of consecutive, their notes will in any case tend towards TL. Which begs the question as to whether notes are in fact in any 'language'.

Many of the Evaluation Sheets participants completed regretted that more time had not been devoted to note-taking, some suggesting that it would be a useful subject for a full Workshop. This point has been noted by the AIIC Training Committee.

Workshop III


Workshop Leader: Philip Minns
Rapporteur: Barbara Moser-Mercer


You are in charge of teaching a one-year course in simultaneous interpretation (30 weeks total).

  1. At what state in the training of student interpreters do you introduce the teaching of simultaneous interpretation?
  2. How do you start them off on simultaneous interpretation? List the points you think are most important to insist upon in the first two or three classes.
  3. Assuming your actual teaching time is limited, what balance do you strike between the number and frequency of classes and students individual unsupervised practice? What advice, if any, do you give students in doing their own practice?

ad a) At what state in the training of student interpreters do you introduce the teaching of simultaneous interpretation?

Two extremes were identified, i.e. either to start simultaneous and consecutive at the same time or to give students a good foundation in consecutive first. The former reflects the MISTI approach, the latter has been adopted, with variations as to the time of introduction of simultaneous, by most other countries, as most feel that there ought to be a progression from consecutive to simultaneous. In some countries, equipment is not yet available, the question is thus still a theoretical one. Those who teach simultaneous introduce it anywhere from 5 weeks to one full academic term after consecutive has been started, whereupon consecutive tends to fade out entirely or is continued at a less intensive rate.

ad b) How do you start them off on simultaneous interpretation? List the points you think are most important to insist upon the first two or three classes.


Usually, instructors would explain:

  • console layout and booth behavior;
  • relations with sound engineer;
  • different types of equipment (infra-red, induction loop, etc.);
  • booth manners (notebook and pen, no jewellery, no noise, no clicking ballpoint pens, no comments on delegates, etc.);
  • microphone technique (voice control, distance from microphone, students experiencing how their own voice sounds in the delegate's receiver, etc.);
  • to keep one ear open for monitoring one's own output.

Some will start students on interpreting immediately with material graded for difficulty (speed, syntactic complexity) and students working from B to A. Others will start with shadowing exercises, dual task training or with short, unrelated sentences that are to be interpreted with a delay of one word-pair. Sometimes texts are handed out beforehand and collected before the actual interpretation is to begin so as to familiarize students with the materials (subject matter, setting, audience, expectations). Teacher demonstration is used frequently. A to B is introduced either early on or at the end of the semester. All agree on confidence building, supportive comments (no criticism at all in one case).

ad c) Assuming your actual teaching time is limited, what balance do you strike between the number and frequency of classes and students' individual unsupervised practice? What advice, if any, do you give students in doing their own practice?

Answers differed somewhat, some providing 8 hours a week (with a 50/50 split between B to A and A to B ), others would offer 6 hours a week B to A, then C to A, and A to B towards the end of the course. Yet another group suggested 4 hours a week B to A, then would add another 4 hours A to B later. All would provide some advice on unsupervised practice (according to a check-list or trainer-provided materials). In some instances students can use a dummy booth in parliament for unsupervised practice.


1. A thorough introduction to the equipment used is fundamental as is the experience of hearing how an interpretation sounds in the delegate's headset.

The console layout must be explained in detail (incoming channel selector, outgoing channel selector, volume control on which the interpreter should keep his/her fingers at all times, cough button (to test cough button switch incoming to outgoing channel and listen to your own voice, then activate cough button to test interrupt), microphone on/off button, relay switch. It is also a good idea to get a technician to explain the equipment. Headphones must be worn so as to keep one ear free to monitor one's own output at all times.

Booth manners: sufficient distance from microphone, keep noise in booth down, have notebook and pencils at all time.

2. Exercises

Most people believe that the major difficulty in simultaneous are to listen and speak at the same time. However, the reality is somewhat different.

The two major difficulties are:

  • hearing everything acoustically and mentally (if your mind is doing something else like concentrating too much on your own output, you won't hear what is coming next);
  • speaking naturally and avoiding interference between source and target language (good simultaneous sounds natural, indifferent simultaneous always makes the listener do a lot of the work of understanding himself).

Thus, the first exercises must deal with learning to hear everything. For this purpose fairy tales and other well known stories or events can be used or material discussed in detail before trying it on students in simultaneous. As to the second point, the teacher should intervene right from the start if students translate literally. Just as note-taking in consecutive requires analysis and understanding before committing anything to paper, so in simultaneous, the interpreter must analyse and understand before committing anything to the microphone.

All exercises should start from B to A.


  Analysis Processing  


most difficult

less energy consuming

(if B to A)

When working from A to B attention sharing is reversed.

Use spontaneously recorded speech. Difficulty of material depends on how much consecutive students have had beforehand. Context must be given (students should be told which topic will be dealt with ahead of time, so they can prepare for it). Establish the following parameters before interpreting any speech: Who are you, who are you talking to, on what occasion and how. Then discuss subject (terminology) before class starts so that content and terms are familiar.


As a general rule, students should not be stopped in mid-sentence, but after they have completed a sentence. They should be told where the weakness was; one need not identify who did what wrong, students learn from comments made about their peers' performance. There should not be any peer evaluation in simultaneous. (On corrections, participants and other Workshop leaders felt that students appreciated criticism, that positive elements should be reinforced and that each class should have a goal with trainer correcting only if student was off goal.) Students should record their own output (if technically possible) so that tapes can be played back in class or at home. If mistakes have been clearly explained by the teacher during classes, listening to the tape again will remind the student of these mistakes and encourage him to become his own best critic.


After the first few classes, you find that your students have successfully passed the initial hurdles. How do you progress from there and, in particular:

  1. What technical and methodological advice can you give your students individually and collectively so as to guide them along the right path and avoid each class turning into a correction session for individual errors and omissions?
  2. How do you gradually increase the difficulty of the exercises while maintaining your initial objectives?

ad a) What technical and methodological advice can you give your students individually and collectively so as to guide them along the right path and avoid each class turning into a correction session for individual errors and omissions?

Students can already work with simple material and it is now important to know:

  • how to increase difficulty;
  • which kind of material to use;
  • how this material is presented;
  • what methodological advice the students are given.


Some see an increase in difficulty in increasing the complexity and the length of texts. They would introduce regional accents, vary the tempo and improve students' endurance. Students should be taught crisis management: how to deal with speaker's mistakes, how to handle read texts, speaker departing from text, unavailability of text, lack of familiarity with conference's subject matter. Students should learn to maintain a calm and unflustered delivery, concentrate on meaning and intention of speaker and bring out the important in a .speech. Identifying student's difficulty (whether linguistic - student must engage in language enhancement courses, or in listening - student has not understood meaning of original or in processing - student should follow principle of variable distance) allows for more pertinent methodological advice.


1. The interpreter should at all times concentrate on meaning and keeping the thread of meaning unbroken (keeping the story line running) while doing his best to maintain a calm and unflustered delivery.

2. Principle of variable distance: Get rid of what you can, hang back when you must, but keep the thread of meaning unbroken. In consecutive meaning comes in large chunks, in simultaneous in little bits. The interpreter should vary his distance with the original according to the complexity of syntax and/or meaning. Simple statements should be evacuated quickly leaving time to concentrate on more complex statements where a greater time lag between hearing and speaking will be necessary. However, the interpreter should always try to strike the right balance. Starting a complex sentence too early entails a high risk of having to ditch the sentence and start again, leading to a waste of precious time. At the other end of the scale, leaving too long a gap between hearing and speaking will interfere with hearing the next sentence or idea and the thread of meaning may be broken.

3. Start somewhere else in the sentence: A deliberate attempt to break the structure of the source language sentence will more often than not pay dividends in terms of a natural sounding output in the target language, all the more so as the structures of the two languages are different. It is not a technique that comes naturally and must be practiced. It is easier to do when working into A than when working into B.

Other Workshop leaders suggested including anticipation exercises (more important for some language combinations than for others); breaking up sentences and putting important information on hold until it is needed (proper nouns, figures).

4. Consecutive and paraphrasing: Consecutive should not be stopped once simultaneous starts but rather be integrated into the simultaneous class. One student does a consecutive on a 5-minute segment that has just been interpreted simultaneously. Comments on the consecutive should then be elicited from the simultaneous interpreter so that the teacher can assess whether he has fully understood the meaning of the passage he has just interpreted and whether he is aware of the differences, if any, in the two versions and can explain them. Another practical example: start the class with a consecutive (5 minutes) then send the student into the booth to do the same input again, or a summary of it, in simultaneous before continuing with the same text. In this way, the student is properly warmed up for simultaneous as he goes into the booth.

Upon leaving the booth students should be asked to paraphrase the material they have just interpreted.

By using these exercises at different times during the simultaneous course, consecutive and paraphrasing skills can be further developed while supporting the difficult task of learning simultaneous.

b) How do you gradually increase the difficulty of the exercises while maintaining your initial objectives?

Difficulty cannot be increased until students have mastered preceding level of difficulty. ("It can often take five years to produce a good simultaneous"). The task of the teacher must therefore be to concentrate on providing a good basis, in the form of sound technique, from which the students can go on to develop their skills with constant practice.

Structural complexity should be increased as should the number of subject areas treated per week (all classes deal with the same subject each week-such a coordination would be ideal). Political speeches can be taken from BULLETIN (Presse-und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung; for free subscription write t Deutsche Reportagefilm, Produktions-, Verlags- und Vertriebs- GmbH, Postfach 1149, DE-53333 Meckenheim, Germany), or Vital Speeches of Today (City News Publishing Company, P.O. Box 1247, Mt Pleasant, S.C. 29464) or British Information Services' Policy Statements (835 Third Avenue, New York 10022-6691).

Students must practice every day, not necessarily for long periods, use different texts, speakers and subjects. One class per week per language combination is enough, larger classes should be split.

Students need not necessarily be shown extreme situations but it is important for them to be on the right track in which case they will be well-armed to deal with the extraordinary.

If there is no separate class that deals with parliamentary procedures, this subject must be dealt with during the simultaneous class.


  1. Think carefully about when to start simultaneous. Your decision will influence the technique of learning simultaneous.
  2. Introduce students to booth technology and manners.
  3. Start simultaneous with simple, straightforward material and in the combination B (C) into A before A to B.
  4. Concentrate on techniques designed to improve technique and method.
  5. Gradually increase difficulty and introduce some unsupervised practice.

1. On entrance testing and predictive success see GERVER D., LONGLEY P., LONG J., LAMBERT S. 1984 Selecting trainee conference interpreters: a preliminary study JOURNAL OF OCCUPATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY, 57: 17-31

Recommended citation format:
AIIC Training and Professional Development. "Interpreter trainer workshops". September 18, 2002. Accessed September 19, 2019. <>.

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